Taking advantage of the smallest IndyCar Series field of the year, and her acknowledged enjoyment of the Twin Ring Motegi oval, Danica Patrick finally opened her victory account with Andretti Green Racing in round three of the 2008 season.

Always hitherto in the mix for a decent result, many believed that Patrick's chances of winning a race had lengthened with the unification of America's two open-wheel series - and further still with a change in the weight rules that mitigated against her tiny frame - but the Motorola-backed driver came through to take victory in the Japan Indy 300 as those in front of her had to pit for fuel in the waning laps.

"Finally!" Patrick said in victory lane, choking back tears of joy, "This has been a long time coming.

"It was a fuel strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me. I knew I was on the same strategy as Helio [Castroneves] and, when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous."

Polesitter Castroneves had appeared to be on course for his own late run at victory, only for Patrick to catch and pass when the Brazilian's Penske Dallara slowed momentarily. Making his 100th IndyCar Series start, Castroneves finished 5.8594secs behind.

"I'm again part of history," said Helio. "The car was really good in the beginning, then we started picking up a vibration. It looks like we pitted a little bit long. We were having problem in the pits. I'm disappointed with that.

"With five laps to go, I was saving fuel. When Danica passed me, I realised she was the leader. She did a great job, passed me fair and square and that shows you how competitive our series is."

Scott Dixon, who held the lead heading into the final 20 laps, meanwhile had to settle for third having had to stop to pit for a splash of fuel on lap 195.

"It's just one of those races where anything you tried, you didn't know exactly what to do," said the Kiwi.

"You had people in the back who were pitting and taking fuel under yellows. If we had had a yellow, we would have been stuck back there. But it worked out perfectly for the guys who made it a fuel race. Really frustrating because we had the car to beat, but I guess that's the way it goes."

Dixon's Ganassi team-mate Dan Wheldon and AGR's Tony Kanaan had to follow suit on lap 196 and pit too, opening the door for Castroneves and Patrick, whose last pit-stop has been on lap 148, giving them enough fuel to run to the flag.

Wheldon finished fourth and Kanaan fifth, ahead of Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Darren Manning, Ryan Briscoe and Townsend Bell.

"It became a fuel mileage race," reflected Dan, "To be quite honest, we have some work to do on our pit stops. It was a good day for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, but not what we wanted."

Kanaan also reckoned his pit tactics had been wrong: "The Team 7-Eleven car was good today but we seemed to miss on the strategy. It's pretty frustrating but it is what it is," he added.

For the full race result click here.