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INDYCAR Report Warns Teams Of Risks In Japan

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011

The IndyCar Series teams and drivers have been warned about post-earthquake conditions in Japan. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

A comprehensive report prepared by Dr. Terry Trammell for members of the IZOD IndyCar Series traveling to Twin Ring Motegi for this weekend’s road-race concluded that the trip to Japan may expose participants to an increased level of radiation “unlikely to pose a long-term health risk.”

But the report also noted that “numerous aftershocks continue throughout the area” around TRM from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated large portions of the island nation on March 11. “The issue is if there has been previous damages at Motegi, it is possible that another earthquake could damage the road leading to the track and make it impassable,” the report stated.

Additionally, the report’s “best recommendation” on the risk for food from radiation was to “avoid fresh meat…(and) fresh produce” from prefectures located northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that suffered damage during the twin natural disasters that left almost 20,000 people dead or missing across the northeastern coast.

Taken in context, the 26-slide report apparently formed the basis for superstar Danica Patrick’s concerns voiced during a news conference prior to a NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Richmond International Raceway last Friday. Patrick, who scored the only victory of her seven-year IndyCar Series career at Motegi on April 20, 2008, said she and her husband were so concerned about contaminated food that they planned to pack their own provisions for the trip.

Quizzed on those concerns during a teleconference on Tuesday, Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, said the sanctioning body had done its due diligence via Dr. Trammell’s report and

Will Power signs autographs for fans in Japan.

consultation with the U.S. State Department prior to deciding to compete on TRM’s 2.983-mile, 14-turn road-course. The race originally was to be contested on the Honda-owned facility’s 1.5-mile oval, which was damaged during the quake.

Earlier this year, INDYCAR announced that this race would be the organization’s last at Twin Ring Motegi, which is owned by Mobilityland Corp. TRM opened in 1997 and has played host to open-wheel events since 1998. IndyCar has competed at Motegi, located 86 miles north of Tokyo, since 2003.

A copy of Dr. Trammell’s report was emailed to RacinToday.com by a member of IndyCar’s public relations department who is staffing the event in Japan. The email was in response to an article, and subsequent reader’s comment backing Patrick, posted on the website on Tuesday.

Entitled “Environmental Risk Factors to Participants Attending the INDYCAR Event in Motegi,” Dr. Trammell’s report covers items relating to radiation, contamination of food and water and seismic activity. The report contained detailed charts, maps and “radiation physics” in an attempt to calculate and explain daily exposure rates in comparison to post-quake levels in Japan.

The report noted that the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site is located more than 100 kilometers northeast of the city of Utsunomiya, headquarters for various IndyCar personnel in the Tochigi Prefecture. An item from the State Department dated July 19 noted: “While the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant remains serious and dynamic, the health and safety risks to land areas which are outside of the 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius…are low and do not pose significant risk to U.S. citizens.”

In regards to radiation risks from food, the report cited “elevated” levels in unspecified items grown northwest of Fukushima. “Beef has recently been quarantined from the area,” the report noted. Addressing drinking water, the report stated that an adult would have “negligible increased exposure if drinking contaminated water for a year.

“Potential for exposure to radiation while in Japan for one week presents little, if any, health risks in the area where the participants will be. Travel to the north or west of Motegi, if not restricted, is not advised.”

The report confirmed that “numerous aftershocks” continue throughout the area. “These in/of themselves do not seem to pose a threat,” the report noted. “Seismic activity is unpredictable _ but this is currently a seismically active area.” That said, an earthquake registering magnitude 6.2, centered about 137 miles east of Tokyo, was felt at Twin Ring Motegi and Mito _ where many teams are headquartered for the Indy Japan – at about 5 p.m. local time on Thursday.

“Just a little shaking to keep us all awake,” said Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Interesting to sit in your hotel room and see your TV walk across the desk,” Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay joked.

In addition to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, multiple inquiries were made to private sector companies with operations in Japan, including Honda, Boeing and McGraw-Hill.

Championship runnerup Will Power topped the time chart Friday with a lap of 1 minute, 39.4745 seconds around the 2.983-mile, 14-turn Twin Ring Motegi road-course during opening practice for Indy Japan: The Final.

Seeking to wrap up his second consecutive Mario Andretti Road Trophy, Power and the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda paced three Team Penske drivers hot-lapping in the top five. Helio Castroneves (1:39.5965) was second-quick and Ryan Briscoe (1:40.1887) was fourth.

Rookie James Hinchcliffe placed third in the No. 06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing Dallara/Honda, while Marco Andretti was fifth in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy entry for Andretti Autosport. The top 10 drivers were separated by less than a second, while favorite son Takuma Sato was 10th in the No. 5 KV Racing Technology-Lotus.

“It’s a very, very nice circuit,” said Power, who enters the 63-lap event five points behind leader Dario Franchitti. Power, in turn, leads Franchitti by 14 points in the Mario Andretti Road Trophy chase.

“It’s smooth, flowing,” said Power, who finished third on the TRM oval last fall. “It’s one of the nicest circuits we’ve been to all year. I think it’s going to be tough to pass. I think (the best opportunity is) Turn 11, after the long back straight. Maybe down in Turn 3, too.”

Castroneves, who won last year’s oval event at Motegi from the pole position, compared the TRM layout to the 4.048-mile, 14-turn natural terrain Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wis. “It’s impressive,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Dallara/Honda. “The runoff areas are pretty nice. The track is very smooth, especially coming from our last race on a street course (in downtown Baltimore).

“It looks like there are a lot of places for overtaking. It’s very challenging. The corners are long. Sometimes we got too hot coming into a corner and it upset the exit. Sometimes we were too slow coming in and we had plenty of exit. It’s very technical. We’re very lucky that the car came out of the plane with the brakes set up.”

Franchitti, the three-time/reigning series champion, said trying to figure out the new circuit was a challenge. “I enjoyed my first session,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. “I’m sure everyone is going to go back and look at their teammates’ data to find out the areas where they are really good and areas they are really bad and try to tie it all together for (Saturday). That’s the usual thing on a new track. I think a lot of people ran a second set of tires. We ran just one set so I’m fairly happy. We’ll work hard tonight and see where we come out tomorrow. ”

Saturday’s busy schedule will start with a pair of one-hour practices followed by mid-afternoon Peak Performance Pole Qualifying, including the Firestone Fast Six. Indy Japan: The Final is a 63-lap race scheduled for 1 p.m. (JST) on Sunday. The telecast will air live in the United States beginning at 11:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday on VERSUS and be broadcast by the IMS Radio Network.

Cars and pit equipment are carrying a sticker in honor of Chris Griffis, the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Firestone Indy Lights team manager who died at age 45 Monday in Noblesville, Ind. … With three events remaining this season, Danica Patrick of Andretti Autosport could reach 51 consecutive races running at the finish before departing for a fulltime stock car ride in 2012. … Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology-Lotus will make his 147th consecutive start at TRM. Kanaan won on the oval at Motegi in 2007. …

Helio Castroneves needs 25 laps-led to pass Paul Tracy (4,238) for sixth on the all-time open-wheel list. Mario Andretti tops the category with 7,595 laps-led on a list covering 1946-present. … Castroneves had four pole starts, producing victories in 2006 and 2010, on the Twin Ring Motegi oval. He needs to win in the final three races of the season to extend his series-record streak to 12 years. …

Andretti Autosport has a series-leading four victories on the TRM oval: Dan Wheldon in 2004 and ‘05, Kanaan in 2007 and Patrick in 2008. Michael Andretti, now team-owner of Andretti Autosport, won the 2000 Champ Car race at the track. … Panther Racing has added engineer Michael Cannon, who earlier this season was with KV Racing Technology-Lotus and HVM Racing. Cannon is working under technical director David Cripps on the No. 4 National Guard Dallara/Honda driven by Sunoco Rookie of the Year point-leader JR Hildebrand. … Fields for IndyCar Series races this season have averaged 27 entries; there are 26 cars entered at Twin Ring Motegi.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011
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