IndyCar » 19 September 2010
Castroneves wins in Motegi
There was no stopping Helio Castroneves as he chalked up a dominant win at Twin Ring Motegi, while right behind him the title contenders Dario Franchitti and Will Power played a cagey game of strategy.
Beautiful conditions (blue skies, sunshine, and very hot) combined with a holiday weekend saw one of IndyCar's best crowds at Motegi to cheer on local hero Takuma Sato in particular. The Japanese fans also had Hideki Mutoh and Roger Yasukawa to support, even if strictly speaking Yasukawa is a Californian by birth; his appearance in a Conquest car for this race meant that Sato was missing his regular spotter, and the change (and non-nonsense instructions from the replacement spotter, Nick Harvey) seemed to do a world of good for Sato's race discipline.
At the start, Helio Castroneves got a strong getaway from pole with Ryan Briscoe safe in second place, but Will Power seemed a bit sluggish, started to fall back and was quickly overtaken by both Dario Franchitti and Marco Andretti - perhaps he just wanted to stay out of trouble and put Franchitti ahead where he could keep an eye on him for the race.
The green flag barely lasted a lap before Bertrand Baguette seemed to get unsettled on the bumps through turn 2 and was sent into the wall, bringing out the first of the day's five cautions. While it was obviously far too early for any of the main players to consider pit stops, a few of the backmarkers such as Justin Wilson, Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani came in for top-offs, perhaps inspired by the dramatic advantage that seemingly innocuous strategy had given Helio Castroneves two weeks ago in Kentucky.
Dario got a great run on Ryan Briscoe at the restart and passed him going into turn 1, but Ryan wasn't about to give up and counter-attacked, the two of them trading the position and running side by side until finally Briscoe stamped his control on the tussle and reclaimed second for himself, Franchitti opting to live to fight again later in the race.
The race had settled into a nice green flag stint by lap 40, when Alex Lloyd suddenly lost power down the backstretch with a broken throttle linkage, and had to pull down to the apron in front of the leaders who were approaching to put him a lap down. The distraction gave Dario the opportunity to slip past Ryan for second again, and Will Power dropped back several positions to tenth as he throttled back in expectation of a yellow which didn't immediately materialise. Instead it was another two laps before it became clear that Lloyd wasn't going to make it back to pit lane without help and the second yellow of the afternoon did indeed came out.
Lap 44 was really too early for pit stops for making it to the finish on the planned three stops, but it was still a no-brainer for everyone to come into pit lane for fresh tyres and fuel all the same. Briscoe had a great stop, retook second place from Dario with a better exit, and nearly collected his own team mate Helio as they raced for the exit line.
At the restart, Helio had no trouble in taking control again ahead of Briscoe and Franchitti. Further back Takuma Sato was thrilling his fans with a great run on Graham Rahal for 14th on lap 50 while just behind them Alex Tagliani and Mario Moraes had a great battle for 16th. The race ran green until Mario Moraes ended up in the wall in turn 2 on lap 68, after a shower of sparks were seen coming from the left rear of Moraes' car before he lost control indicating a mechanical failure. The impact in the wall was a heavy one even allowing for the SAFER barrier, and Moroes - described as awake and alert after the accident - was carefully extracted and put on a stretcher before being taken to the hospital for observation and evaluation for reported back pain.
Faced with another out-of-schedule yellow flag period, the leaders thought it over and duly decided there was no way around a four-stop strategy now and accordingly filed into pit lane. Raphael Matos and Hideki Mutoh alone opted to stay out and had the opportunity of leading the field when the race got underway once more on lap 77. Being deprived of the lead seemed to unsettle Helio, who got a poor restart and was passed by both Briscoe and a flying Franchitti, who passed them both in a single extended move.
It didn't take long for the Penske duo to rally, however, and on lap 81 they were back past Franchitti and over the next half dozen laps Briscoe led the way past Matos and Mutoh to claim the lead, which he held for the next 32 laps. Helio was soon moving up to support him in second, but Ryan had a 3s lead and looked comfortable in front until Helio started to feel the benefit of the clean air and was able to whittle down the gap. Dario had to wait until Matos and Mutoh came in for their off-sync green flag pit stops just past the half distance mark to move back to third place.
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