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Drivers enjoy slippery Motegi road challenge

The switch to the road course at Motegi may have been forced upon IndyCar by the worst of circumstances, but drivers and teams are quickly taking a liking to the new challenge.
Friday saw the first time that the IndyCar field has ever taken to the 2.983-mile, 14-turn road course at Motegi. The series has been coming here since 2003, and before that had hosted an annual CART/Champ Cars race, but that had always been run on the speedway oval at the facility.

With the speedway damaged by the massive March earthquake that devastated the region, IndyCar was faced with the choice of either cancelling or switching to the natural-terrain road circuit instead - and from the sound of post-practice comments on Friday they're very pleased they decided on the switch.

"It's a very, very nice circuit," said Penske's Will Power, who topped the day's timesheets. "It's smooth, flowing. It's one of the nicest circuits we've been to all year. I think it is going to be tough to pass ... Turn 11, after the long backstraight, that's a potential area to pass. Maybe down in Turn 3."

Dario Franchitti was equally taken by the new circuit, even though a switch from oval to road race might end up favouring Power in the championship. "It's a lot of fun to drive. It's challenging. I enjoyed my first session."

Franchitti ended up seventh in the standings on Friday despite topping the times for much of the session, and he confirmed that it was simply because he had opted not to follow the late trend to take fresh tyres. "I think a lot of people ran a second set of tyres. We ran just one set so I'm fairly happy. We'll work hard tonight and see where we come out tomorrow."

Instead, three of the top four spots were held by Penske drivers, who came out running with a point to prove this weekend - none more so than Helio Castroneves, who won the oval race here last year but hadn't won an event since. Despite last year's success on the speedway, even he was happy with the switch to the road circuit.

"It's impressive. The run-off areas are pretty nice. The track is very smooth, especially coming from our last race on a street course," he said after finishing in second place to Power in the Friday practice session. "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 ... We're very lucky that the car came out of the plane with the brakes set up."

Ryan Briscoe was fourth in the timesheets and admitted that he and the team still "have a little work to do to get the most out of the car." But he was another to give thumbs up to the road course: "The Motegi road circuit is very nice, but it's very slippery out there. I'm sure the track will grip up and we have a bit left in the car so tomorrow should be good."

The only driver to break up the Penske dominance at the top of the timesheets was Newman/Haas driver James Hinchcliffe, who revealed how he had prepared for this unknown challenge: "Now I can justify to my girlfriend why I was in the basement on PlayStation for three days!




Related Pictures

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General view of the road course at Motegi during Friday afternoon practice. [Photo credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
Mike Conway kicks up dusk on the road course at Motegi. [Photo credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
James Jakes kicks up dust on the road course at Motegi.[Photo credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
James Hinchcliffe poses for two photographs at the same time at Motegi. [Photo credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
James Hinchcliffe back in the car at Road America - September 29 2015. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
James Hinchcliffe back in the car at Road America - September 29 2015. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves goes off-course as the field streams by during the opening lap of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power apexes the Turn 9/9A chicane during the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power leads the field to the green to start the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon navigates the Turn 9/9A chicane during the final practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Will Power exits the Turn 9A chicane complex during qualifications for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Will Power, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar, celebrates after qualifying fastest Saturday, August 29, 2015, capturing the pole position for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. Power, the 2014 Champion Driver, has an outside chance to repeat during this final race of the season. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar, celebrates after qualifying fastest Saturday, August 29, 2015, capturing the pole position for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. Power, the 2014 Champion Driver, has an outside chance to repeat during this final race of the season. (Photo by Sam Cobb/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar, qualifies fastest Saturday, August 29, 2015, capturing the pole position for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. Power, the 2014 Champion Driver, has an outside chance to repeat during this final race of the season. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power celebrates after winning the pole position for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power celebrates after winning the pole position for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power celebrates after winning the pole position for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power celebrates after winning the pole position for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)

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