With one over-ambitious lunge, Dario Franchitti took a rather large step backwards in his quest for another IndyCar Series championship, turning a five-point lead into an 11-point deficit to his nearest challenger Will Power, as team-mate Scott Dixon took an emphatic victory in today’s Indy Japan 300, as our resident IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon writes…
With it, Power wrapped up the Mario Andretti road-course championship for the second consecutive year as Franchitti spent most of the afternoon catching and passing cars from the back of the field. Up front, Dixon was untouchable and never headed all afternoon.
After a poor qualifying effort by his high standards, Franchitti had worked hard to climb to fifth position by the time the first full-course caution came, caused by debutant João Paulo de Oliveira stopping on course. At the restart on Lap 26, Franchitti earned the ire of team boss Chip Ganassi by diving up the inside into Turn 1, punting Ryan Briscoe off along with himself and two of his three team-mates in Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball, who were both running very well in their own right. Earlier, De Oliveira did nothing to enhance his popularity in Japan by tangling with hometown hero Takuma Sato and sending the KV driver through the gravel trap.
Further negative light was shined on chief steward Brian Barnhardt as the only penalty Franchitti received for “causing an avoidable incident” was being sent to the back of the field, where he already was following this incident. Barnhardt’s consistency when issuing penalties, or lack thereof, has been a talking point all season long. Later in the race, Tony Kanaan received a drive-through penalty for nothing more than speeding in the pit lane.
A late stoush between Sébastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, which also resulted in Vitor Meira beaching his machine in the gravel was all that kept the track marshals busy in the final stages of the race.
Back in pit lane at the end, Franchitti graciously admitted his fault, saying he saw a gap that quickly closed and which he wouldn’t have gone for if he had his time again. Fair enough.
Up front however, Dixon, who became a father for the second time a few days previously, became the only man to have won on both the oval and road course in Motegi, winning from Power, Marco Andretti, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servià. Franchitti ended up finishing where he started in ninth place, however a late penalty issued by the stewards to Hélio Castroneves for overtaking under yellow flag conditions relegated the Brazilian to 22nd place, and promoted Franchitti to eighth.
With the conclusion of the road courses for another season, the focus turns to Kentucky Speedway in two weeks, where Power will find himself defending a points lead instead of chasing it. Twelve months previously, Franchitti had a larger points gap to Power than he does this year and successfully chased it down. This time, the momentum is not with him, which makes the task just that bit more psychologically difficult.
2011 Indy Japan Final Classification (63 laps):
|1.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||63||1:56:41.0107|
|2.||Will Power||Team Penske||63||+ 3.4375|
|3.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||63||+ 4.4782|
|4.||Alex Tagliani||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||63||+ 5.5913|
|5.||Oriol Servià||Newman/Haas Racing||63||+ 6.1621|
|6.||Sébastien Bourdais||Dale Coyne Racing||63||+ 6.6399|
|7.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||63||+ 7.6856|
|8.||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||63||+ 8.7436|
|9.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||63||+ 9.0690|
|10.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||63||+ 9.3816|
|11.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||63||+ 10.1187|
|12.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi||63||+ 10.6995|
|13.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing||63||+ 11.4555|
|14.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||63||+ 12.0651|
|15.||James Hinchcliffe||Newman/Haas Racing||63||+ 12.5498|
|16.||Giorgio Pantano||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||63||+ 14.4549|
|17.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||63||+ 15.8407|
|18.||Hideki Mutoh||AFS / Sam Schmidt Motorsports||63||+ 16.3024|
|19.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||63||+ 20.5159|
|20.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||63||+ 38.5887|
|21.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||63||+ 1:39.0777|
|22.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||62||1 lap behind|
|23.||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing||62||1 lap behind|
|24.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||62||1 lap behind|
|DNF.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||61||Contact|
|DNF.||João Paulo de Oliveira||Conquest Racing||19||Mechanical|
[Images via IZOD IndyCar Series]