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Sharp seizes opportunity to win Indy Japan 300
13 April 2003
Scott Sharp wasn't the fastest driver on the track, but he was in the right place at the right time to win the Indy Japan 300 on April 13 and continue his streak as the most consistent winner in IRL IndyCarTM Series history.
1996 series co-champion Sharp won the first overseas Indy Racing League event in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone as the race ended under caution.
1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1998 series champion Kenny Brack finished second in the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone, with 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone third in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.
With the victory, Sharp extended his Indy Racing League record streak of winning at least one race in seven consecutive IRL IndyCarTM Series seasons. It was his eighth career IRL victory, tying Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier for the all-time series lead.
Sharp also took the series points lead with the victory after entering the race in sixth place. He averaged 129.090 mph and earned $148,400 for the win.
''We improved the car's balance throughout the day, and we were really fast when it mattered,'' Sharp said. ''There was a lot of stuff that happened right in front of me, but the man above was looking out for me.
''I knew we had to get to the finish. In a lot of these races, the competition is so close. We're running just inches apart at times, but you have to get to the end to have a chance to make a run for the win.''
Sharp took the lead on Lap 178 when pole sitter Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan collided and crashed in Turn 3 while dueling for the lead. It was the last of 13 lead changes among six drivers in the race.
That incident came just 10 laps after Tomas Scheckter - who led Laps 124-159 - crashed in Turn 4 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone while attempting to make a high pass of Kanaan's No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone for the lead.
Brack looked ready to make a late charge toward Sharp, but an accident between Shinji Nakano and Jaques Lazier on Lap 194 of the 200-lap race caused the race to finish under the caution flag, delivering the victory to Sharp.
''The car was really, really good, but we picked up a puncture, and we had to fight our way back through the line and everything,'' Brack said. ''Second is better than third. We ran out of laps in the end. I think we could have won had we had 10 more green laps because we were clearly fastest, but we had another yellow.
''But we're happy. It was a great comeback for us. It's our third race in a new formula. It says a lot about the team and the engineers and everyone on the crew to make a car that good.''
Sharp led three times during the event for 26 laps. He led Lap 103 and Laps 162-163 during pit stop sequences before taking the lead for good after Kanaan and Dixon wrecked with 23 laps to go.
Kanaan, Dixon and Scheckter controlled the race before the incident-filled final 40 laps. They combined to lead 140 of the first 160 laps and were the only drivers to turn a 200-mph lap during the race. Kanaan led 70 laps, more than any other driver.
But the race doesn't always go the swiftest. Especially on the tricky 1.5-mile Motegi oval on a day that threw a curve ball at drivers and teams.
The first two days of this event took place under cloudy skies and cool temperatures. But a bright sun this morning heated a track washed clean by all-night rains, raising the track temperature to 120 degrees at the start. It was much warmer than the track temperatures either of the first two days of the race.
Those condition changes could have contributed to a rough first 45 laps in which two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Sarah Fisher, Shigeaki Hattori, Roger Yasukawa and Scott Mayer were involved in accidents.
But the field settled into a groove for the next 120 laps before dramatic, race-changing incidents started sprouting at the front of the field over the last 35 laps.
Kanaan was the only driver involved in any of the incidents to require further medical attention. He was awake and alert when transported by air to Dokkyo University School of Medicine Hospital in Tochigi, Japan, for X-rays of his right leg and left arm.
The next IRL IndyCar Series race is the 87th Indianapolis 500 on May 25. Practice for the ''Greatest Spectacle in Racing'' starts Sunday, May 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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