Following the wave of emotion, national unity and pride that last weekend’s commemorations of the September 11, 2001 disaster brought to the United States, the show that is the IZOD IndyCar Series must go on, this weekend heading to Japan, another country still coming to terms with a disaster of its own – albeit a natural one.
Our resident IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon – who will shortly be heading to the USA on assignment to cover the final races of the championship at Kentucky and Las Vegas – takes a look at the year’s final road course event at Japan’s Motegi circuit…
The Twin Ring is located in Motegi, approximately 145kms roughly north-east of Tokyo and is always very well attended by eager race fans who never leave disappointed. Normally this event is held on the oval circuit, however following the devastating earthquake and tsunami earlier this year, a sufficient amount of damage was caused to the oval which was unable to be adequately repaired in time to host the 2011 race. Therefore, for the first time, the series will race on the infield road- course, which is also used by MotoGP.
Prior to the natural disaster, IndyCar management had decided that the 2011 running of this event would be its last for now, due to a business decision to increase the number of domestically held races each year and to maximise television viewing audiences.
Former Andretti and Newman Haas driver Hideki Mutoh makes a return to the IndyCar series this weekend, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in front of his home crowd. Also making his debut in the series this weekend will be Formula Nippon champion João Paulo de Oliveira, who only weeks prior won the Formula Nippon event on this very road-course. He will bring his extensive knowledge of the circuit to Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing entry.
Will Power has cut Dario Franchitti’s series points lead to just five points in the championship standings, and will take this weekend’s change from the oval to the road course in his stride as he looks to claim the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship for the second year running. With the momentum firmly in his favour, it is up to Franchitti to do what he can to avoid losing the championship lead with only two races remaining after this one. Will we see another dominant Power victory? Will a new driver add their name to the winners list in 2011? Will Japan see a home-grown winner in either Mutoh or Takuma Sato?
Emotion among Mutoh and Sato (who has been carrying a plaque supporting Japan in its recovery efforts all season), and all racegoers will be more than evident, however as it always does, the IndyCar Series never fails to deliver a show, and this weekend will be no different.