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Motegi forced to switch to road course

4 June 2011

It had already been announced that this September's IndyCar race at the Twin Ring Motegi motorsports facility in Japan would be the last time the event would be on the series calendar.

But the earthquake and consequent tsunami and nuclear problems had thrown even this last swan song visit into doubt, with not only the local infrastructure affected by the recent disaster but the 1.5-mile, lozenge-shaped oval track itself damaged by the 9.0 quake in March.

On Friday, it was confirmed that the oval - the only one of its kind in Japan - would not be repaired in time to hold the IndyCar race on September 18, but that the series still wanted to race in Motegi: both to show solidarity with Japan as it rebuilds from the disaster, and to have the chance to say goodbye to a venue that hosted CART events from the year after the facility opened in 1997; and for IndyCar for the last eight years.

As well as the oval track, the facility also features a 2.98-mile, 14-turn clockwise natural-terrain road course which shares the front-stretch and pit lane with the oval track.

The road course is a busy circuit and hosts events for Formula Nippon, Super GT and Super Taikyu; the MotoGP race scheduled for April has already been postponed to October in the wake of March's earthquake.

“In conjunction with Mobilityland, we have made the decision to move forward with our race in Motegi after closely monitoring the on-going situation in Japan for several months,” said Randy Bernard, CEO of IndyCar. “After weighing a variety of options, we felt it was best to move the race to the road course. We understand that Japan is steadily moving forward with reconstruction and we look forward to entertaining our strong fan base at Motegi with our inaugural run on the road course.”

The road course is being repaved this week to take car of any quake damage.

“We had examined the option of restoration work to the oval, but considering the large-scale public works impact on society in this circumstance and the cost entailed, we felt it was best to move the race to the road course,” said Hiroshi Oshima, president of Mobilityland Corp. "Though we have been forced to change what we have been doing by the earthquake disaster, we will make sure our fans experience another exciting race.”

The switch from an oval to a road event will please some drivers like Will Power who has been dominant on the street and road events so far this year, but will frustrate those drivers who are less happy with off-oval excursions.

In particular, Danica Patrick will be disappointed not to be able to compete one last time at the oval track where she won her one IndyCar series victory back in 2008. Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon have both won here twice, and Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan have also taken the chequered flag on the Motegi oval in the past.

Motegi is leaving the IndyCar calendar by mutual agreement, as the tough economic climate batters the motor industry as a whole, including Honda Motor Company which owns Motegi through the Mobilityland Corp. subsidiary company.


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