Random Thoughts On Motegi

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Oh, what might have been. There is no way to sugarcoat Ryan Briscoe’s race at Twin Ring Motegi. He just blew it. Briscoe entered the race with a twenty-five point lead in the points and had just benefited from a combination of getting excellent fuel mileage and some luck by having Mike Conway tag the wall just after Briscoe entered the pits after everyone else had pitted under green. All Briscoe had to do was complete his stop and ease on out onto the track. Unfortunately, Briscoe sustained an ill-timed case of the yips as he was leaving the pits. In a move reminiscent of his pit exit at Indy in 2008, Briscoe’s car got squirrelly as he gave it too much throttle and it simply got away from him – the car, the race and possibly the championship all in a fleeting instant.

You’ve got to feel for Briscoe whether you were pulling for him or not. As he was sitting in the car staring straight ahead with his crew working feverishly outside of the car; I could see was Roger Penske towering above it all on the pit box. All I could think of was I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes to explain to The Captain what had just happened.

I’m an admitted Briscoe fan, so I’m biased – but I was very impressed with his attitude after the race. He still had a smile on his face and was looking on the bright side how fortunate he was to commit such a blunder and still be only eight points back. As he said, all he has to do is win at Homestead and not have to worry about what the Target guys do. He acknowledged that he was very frustrated but was very anxious to move on to the final race. It’s probably just as well for Briscoe that he has three weeks to completely get over this. If Homestead were next week, the lingering effects would probably still be evident.

A tip of the hat goes to Scott Dixon. After two sub-par performances found him thirty-three points out of the lead as he boarded the plane for Japan, he did all he could possibly do in securing the pole, the most laps led and the race win; to net the maximum fifty-three points available for this race – and head back home with the points lead. I wouldn’t count out Dario Franchitti either. He has been lurking in second place for the past several races but is only five points back. While Dixon and Briscoe consider each other to be their archrival, Franchitti could slip in and steal it from both of them.

I also came away very impressed with Newman/Haas/Lanigan. They parlayed solid starting spots for both of their drivers into a third place finish for Graham Rahal while Oriol Servia came in fourth. NHL has made great strides in their oval program this year. Although many have disagreed with me, I’ll reiterate my stance that Servia should be with this team for next year. Rahal may be headed elsewhere, but whether Rahal stays or they add Alex Lloyd to the team for 2010 – I’m a firm believer that Servia should be a part of NHL.

It was not a great day for Andretti-Green. Danica Patrick had the highest finish on the team, bringing her car home in sixth while Marco moved up to seventh from his fourteenth place starting position. Tony Kanaan started at the back of the field after having his qualifying run disallowed. He had company back there as teammate Hideki Mutoh and Helio Castroneves both crashed their cars in qualifying and were moved to the back as well. Helio finished tenth while Kanaan came home in eleventh.

Two drivers who showed promise early found struggles in the latter going. Mario Moraes started on the front row, yet a fueling problem relegated him back to nineteenth. He stayed with it though, and worked his way all the way back to finish fifth. Dan Wheldon seemed poised to turn his season around as he was lurking in third place for a great portion of the race. However, he ended up eighth.

TV Coverage: Most of the TV coverage deserves a pass this week. Versus had to rely on the Japanese feed and was pretty much at the mercy to show what was given to them. That explained the many shots of the Japanese drivers at the back of the field. The three in the booth were not at the race, but were stateside commenting on what they saw on their monitors. Jack Arute made the trip but was the only one of the Versus crew actually at the track. Given the circumstances, I thought they pulled it off pretty well.

The only negative comment goes to Jack Arute. Mario Moraes has been on a roll lately. I’m beginning to have some newfound respect for the kid who I admittedly didn’t care too much for, at the beginning of the summer. Jack Arute needs to move on from questions about his father who passed away in early August. Jack seems to be inferring that the death had some spiritual way of suddenly making him find maturity. Moraes seems uncomfortable with the questions and tries to explain that he had been distracted with his father’s illness. Now that he has passed away, he is now able to focus. Yet Jack keeps trying to tug away at the emotional angle to see if he can make him tear up. Jack needs to give this a rest.

Overall: Had it not been for Briscoe’s miscue at the halfway point, this would have been a real snoozer. It actually was anyway, as I dozed off a couple of times. Quite honestly, as I write this – I really have no idea how Wheldon fell back from third to eighth. I fell asleep for about fifteen laps. When I awoke, he had disappeared.. It was an extremely safe race with only two single car accidents – one involving Mike Conway in turn four and then another with Ryan Hunter-Reay coming out of turn two. This track has never produced exciting side-by-side racing like some of the other mile and a half ovals, so I wasn’t tremendously disappointed in that regard. The start of the race was interesting as cars near the back of the pack were running four-wide entering turn one.

As far as yesterday’s article, I’m not sure that I got my intended point across. I fully understand that the IRL goes to Motegi to satisfy Honda. I also understand that Honda is a tremendous partner to the league and that the league should honor any reasonable request that Honda makes. My point is, Honda should not continue to expect that the IRL go to this much trouble and expense to travel to this event every single year – especially at this point in the season. There was a slight chance that the IRL could have crowned their champion half a world away at close to 1:00 am on the east coast. Although Briscoe’s incident prevented that from happening, that’s not the way to showcase your series.

*Please note – I plan to take a few days off away from the site. but will return either Tuesday morning or Wednesday morning (Sep 22 or 23) next week. Thanks for reading.

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Motegi”

  1. I don’t understand while some people think it’s a big deal if the Champion is crowned outside the States. No one is watching, it makes the scroll on ESPN, and Sportscenter shows 30 seconds of highlights. With the late start time is it really any different then the Chicago race? I remember 30 years a go watching the Indy 500 on tape delay after listening to it on the radio and I used to love this sport and still do but I firmly believe there is no momentum.

  2. I have DirecTV so I didn’t see it. I watched it on the live Indycar feed with the IMS radio audio. The video wasn’t much–I heard all about MM’s pit incident but no video at all. And it seemed the video and audio were at least a minute out of sync: I saw Mike Conway in the wall and wondered if anyone was ever going to mention it at all. Ultimately I just settled into an easy chair and listened to the audio only, and then drifted off to sleep just after Ryan did the victory lap with the cone. I didn’t find out who won until this morning.

    The best comment I’ve seen comes from My Name is IRL’s LiveBlog: “If you’d take the first two cars off the track this would be a heck of a race.”

  3. Wheldon pitted just before the Hunter-Reay crash occurred (and before several others had pitted). Dixon and Franchitti were not hurt by the crash because they had pitted before and remained on the lead lap (why everybody hyped this up as a lucky break for them I didn’t know since they were 1-2 before that), but Wheldon was so far behind the Ganassi cars that he lost a lap when he pitted, and those that hadn’t pitted yet, such as Rahal, Servia, Moraes, Danica, and Marco were able to pit under yellow and remain on the lead lap. Wheldon was waved around but because he had to pit under green and lost a lap, he fell behind all those other cars that pitted under yellow and couldn’t end up passing any of them.

    I agree with you that Servia should be there next year, as a mentor to Rahal to Lloyd. I questioned whether the two Newman-Haas cars were equal when Rahal was crushing Doornbos for the first half of the season, but with Servia going in there and pretty much matching Rahal race-for-race, it appears that the struggles were on Doornbos rather than the #06 team. Lloyd deserves a ride but it’s disappointing that a consistent and proven veteran is going to lose out again to an unproven kid with potential and money…

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I would very much like to see Oriol employed, employed by a competitive team and employed by a team for more than one consecutive year. He is a talented, skilled, personable, fan-friendly and sponsor-friendly racer who, like Tony Kanaan, may be a useful ‘mentor’ for a young gun.

  4. Ryan just handed Dixon the 2009 IRL Chanpionship with his Motegi Pit-Lane Blooper (or should I say Looper? :) )

    I have Comcast so my VERSUS HD was not pulled… Jack Arute’s Mario interview was lame… Why does Jack have to pull this crapola? IMO, it instantly cancels out the many good things he does. Hopefully the VS. broadcast production team reads these blogs & passes on the “CUT IT OUT JACKIE” message along (before the next MM interview).

    BTW, Jack almost had Danica doing the on camera tears too (with him doing the Barbara WaWa “feelings” line of questioning…) Both work for ABC… contractual requirement ?

  5. George, the beautiful mountains and hills that surround the track make for a wonderful backdrop and I like the track. Enjoyed the race and I didn’t mind staying up to watch it.

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