Dixon Wins In Japan; Power Takes Point Lead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 18 2011

Scott Dixon leads Will Power during Sunday's IZOD IndyCar race at Motegi. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Pole-sitter Scott Dixon held off the relentless Will Power on a restart with two laps left to win Sunday’s Indy Japan: The Final and remain a factor in a revised IZOD IndyCar Series championship chase.

A self-described “stupid move” and the resulting avoidable contact penalty levied against three-time/reigning series champion Dario Franchitti just before halfway figured prominently in an outcome that saw Power return to the top of the point standings.

Power’s 11th top-five finish of the season raised his point total to 542 – moving him 11 markers ahead of Franchitti, who finished eighth. Franchitti began the 63-lap race on Twin Ring Motegi’s 2.983-mile, 14-turn road-course with a five-point lead over Power.

“We tried everything we possibly could to get (Scott) Dixon but he was very aggressive and he really deserved the win,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda fielded by Team Penske.

A two-time series champion, Dixon now is third and only 59 points out of first heading into the final two races next month on the 1.5-mile ovals at Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It was a good day for us points-wise in the championship, but I’m really not worried about points right now,” said Power, who clinched his second consecutive Mario Andretti Road Trophy as the top point- producer on the series’ 10 road/street courses. “I just need to keep finishing in front of the No. 10 car (Franchitti) the rest of the way and we’ll be fine. We’ll keep chipping away like we have been.”

The championship picture turned on a Lap 26 restart when Franchitti, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, swung to the right and made contact with the right-rear of the No. 6 Guidepoint Systems Dallara/Honda driven by Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe entering Turn 1.

Race Control levied an avoidable contact penalty on Franchitti, relegating him to the rear of the field in 25th. “It was a stupid move on my part,” said Franchitti, who started ninth. “I did a lot of hard work to get from ninth to fifth, and I’d been saving fuel the whole first stint. I thought there was a gap and Ryan was going wide on the entry and that was that. It was just a stupid move and we had a great fight back. We’ll shrug this one off, move forward and see if we can do better next (race).”

Next up is the Kentucky Indy 300 on Oct. 2 at Kentucky Speedway, where neither Power nor Franchitti has won. Dixon notched a victory at the facility in Sparta, Ken., in 2008. The season-ending and inaugural IZOD INDYCAR World Championships presented by Honda will be run on Oct. 16. INDYCAR last competed at LVMS in 2000, and none of the title contenders has a history on the track.

“I drove as hard as I knew how,” said Franchitti, who had finished second at Motegi in the previous two oval-track events. “I shouldn’t have put us in that position. We still have it all to play for, but I keep making it more difficult. If you win or if you lose, you always look at the championship as a whole. “Today, Loudon, Texas, Indy and on and on. You always look at these things, but Will (Power) can do the same with his races. That was a mistake today. Shouldn’t have made it. I own up to the mistake and Chip (Ganassi) is right to be critical. It was a stupid move, and I shouldn’t have done it.”

Briscoe also was taken aback by Franchitti’s uncharacteristic miscue. “We were running up-front and Franchitti just drove into us on the restart,” Briscoe said. “Obviously, he was penalized for the move but it really damaged both our cars and any chance of fighting for the win.”

Dixon, who led all but one lap (Power paced Lap 21) and won by 3.4 seconds, picked up his 27th Indy car victory to break a tie with Rodger Ward and deadlock Johnny Rutherford for 11th on the all-time list. Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Dallara/Honda, also earned the distinction of being the only series driver to win on Motegi’s 1.5-mile oval and road course.

Sunday’s race was run on the road-course after the oval suffered damage during the earthquake and tsunami that devastated large portions of Japan on March 11. Sunday’s race was the last scheduled by INDYCAR at TRM, which has played host to the series since 2003.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Team Target; they gave me a fantastic car. In some sections of the race I was just cruising trying to save fuel,” said Dixon, who won on Motegi’s oval in 2009. “Great pit stops and fuel strategy, and everything was flawless.” Dixon’s win also was Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s third at Motegi, including Bruno Junqueira’s victory in 2002.

Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport finished third in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy Dallara/Honda _ his best road/street course result of the season. And Alex Tagliani advanced 11 spots relative to his starting position to finish fourth in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.

Oriol Servia also made a major move _ from 16th to fifth in the No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing Dallara/Honda. “On the last restart we were fourth to Marco and I really wanted a podium. But in trying to get third I fell back to fifth, so I am just a little mad with myself because I didn’t get it. I almost had it,” said Servia, who is fourth in the point standings. “We can definitely do better but we cannot complain overall after a top-five finish.

“The car was deserving of a fifth-place but it was no challenge for Scott and (Will) Power. But I think everyone else was in a similar boat. I wasn’t super-happy with the balance but I could see cars around me that were really struggling. We came into Japan wanting to strengthen our championship points and we were able to do that.”

Four-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais finished sixth, his fifth top-10 result in the last six races for Dale Coyne Racing and matching his best effort of the season for the fourth time.

JR Hildebrand was the highest-finishing Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, placing seventh in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Honda. It was his best result since finishing fourth at Iowa Speedway on June 25. “I’m happy to see Dixie (Dixon) get a win,” Hilderbrand said. “I know how hard he works, and on top of that he’s one of the nicest guys in the paddock. It’s cool to see that pay off for him; he’s had a lot of tough luck this year, so big ups to the No. 9 car boys.”

Results of the Indy Japan: The Final IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.983-mile Twin Ring Motegi Road Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

2. (2) Will Power, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

3. (10) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

4. (15) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

5. (16) Oriol Servia, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

6. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

7. (19) JR Hildebrand, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

8. (9) Dario Franchitti, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

9. (20) Mike Conway, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

10. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

11. (23) Danica Patrick, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

12. (3) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

13. (8) James Jakes, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

14. (26) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

15. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

16. (18) Giorgio Pantano, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

17. (25) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

18. (22) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

19. (21) Ana Beatriz, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

20. (4) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

21. (13) EJ Viso, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

22. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Honda, 63, Running

23. (7) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, 62, Off Course

24. (17) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 62, Running

25. (24) Vitor Meira, Dallara/Honda, 61, Off Course

26. (12) Joao Paulo de Oliveira, Dallara/Honda, 19, Mechanical

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 96.635 mph

Time of Race: 01:56:41.0107

Margin of victory: 3.4375 seconds

Cautions: 3 for 8 laps

Lead changes: 2 among 2 drivers

Lap Leaders: Dixon 1-20, Power 21, Dixon 22-63

Point Standings: Power 542, Franchitti 531, Dixon 483, Servia 397, Kanaan 353, Briscoe 340, Andretti 327, Hunter-Reay 317, Rahal 302, Castroneves 302.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 18 2011
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