Random Thoughts On Twin Ring Motegi

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The IZOD IndyCar Series has completed its eighth visit to Twin Ring Motegi, with Helio Castroneves coming away with a dominating victory. While the race itself wasn’t overly exciting, the storyline of the championship battle was very intriguing. Will Power’s lead continues to dwindle. Fortunately for Power, Helio Castroneves did his part for his teammate and ran off from second place Dario Franchitti. Power can take solace in the fact that he earned his first-ever podium finish on an oval, by taking third.

The race was pretty ho-hum. A KV car crashed early and a Penske car won – pretty much business as usual. But the good thing was that there were three different teams represented in the top-five. Ryan Briscoe took fourth for team Penske, while Danica Patrick came home fifth. In all honesty, I thought this was a more impressive drive for Danica than when she won there two years ago. She started twelfth and steadily moved up throughout the race, with most of the passes actually coming on the track.

The entire Andretti Autosport team had a good day, having three of their drivers finish in the top ten, with Marco Andretti finishing eleventh. That almost didn’t happen as Ryan Hunter-Reay almost did to Tony Kanaan what Marco did to him two years ago at Indy. While Kanaan was having to go high in turn three due to slower traffic, Hunter-Reay tried to dive down to the inside and force the issue. Unlike Marco in 2008, Hunter-Reay thought better of it and backed off.

There were a few single car accidents. Bertrand Baguette had the honor of first to crash, when he slapped the wall in turn two on lap two. The hardest hits involved Mario Moraes, who was airlifted to a nearby hospital, due to back pain; and Alex Lloyd who damaged the SAFER barrier with his hit.

There was no Chicago or Kentucky style side-by-side insanity. Instead, there was just enough passing to keep it fairly interesting. I only dozed off once, and missed Paul Tracy brushing the wall in the process.

TV Coverage: After all these years – I wish that Robbie Buhl would learn to pronounce Helio’s name. the “H” is silent, Robbie. It’s Éh-le-o, not Héh-le-o. However, I’ll give all of the guys in the booth a pass for this race, since they were sitting in a studio thousands of miles away in Indianapolis. All things considered, I thought they did a good job. What I appreciated was that they didn’t try to hide the fact that they weren’t actually at the track.

Jack Arute gets no such consideration, since he was actually at the track. The pre-race show started out with Jack Arute wearing a sweat-drenched oxford-cloth dress shirt. He explained the reason for the heat was due to the fact that Japan is on the other side of the equator and that they are just now heading into their summer. Huh? Um, Jack…Japan is about the same latitude as Indianapolis and they are also heading into fall; just like we are.

His ridiculous “In Color” segment is now teetering on the edge between cheesy and scary. This one featured Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske. While Ganassi looked willing to play along, Roger Penske looked like he would rather be getting a root canal than to be sitting there. Any minute, I expected him to stand up, turn on the lights and say “I’m done with this nonsense”.

There is nothing worse than a sports announcer that thinks he or she is as much of a star as the athletes they are covering. Darrell Waltrip falls into this category. Sadly, Jack Arute has crossed the line and fallen into this trap as well. His over-the-top interviews and his deliberate use of props have grown tiresome. Jack knows the sport, but he needs to dial it back some. There are few viewers as it is. We don’t need to be running anyone off.

I did enjoy the quick segment on Charles Burns, the IndyCar head of security. He is a very imposing figure that is always visible at most events. Hearing him speak reminded me of Clint Eastwood. I wouldn’t mess with either of them.

Points Battle: Although Will Power had his best finish on an oval, his inexperience is costing him. That showed up again last night when his margin was trimmed from seventeen points to twelve. When the IZOD IndyCar Series runs the final race at Homestead in two weeks, I don’t think he’ll win there either. But I do think he will win the championship, albeit by the narrowest of margins. Dario did not have a very good car there last year, but the events played out for him to grab the race win by playing the fuel mileage game. Hopefully, this championship will come down to the best driver and the fastest car between the two. I think that will be Will Power.

All in all: It wasn’t riveting, but I’m glad I stayed up to watch it. Unlike his win at Kentucky where everyone felt he stole the win – Helio had the field covered at Japan. He had the fastest car all weekend and pretty well dominated the race. This was Helio’s third win of the season, but again – it comes just a little late. Helio Castroneves was eliminated from the championship with the victory. Even if he had been credited with the victory at Edmonton, the middle part of the season got him again. Helio must improve the June through August portion of his seasons if he is ever going to win a championship.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Twin Ring Motegi”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Another good clean race for PR and TCGR….
    What was is that lovers of ovals were saying about road and street races being boring ? Again, it is not necessarily the track or form of racing per se, but instead it is frequently the domination by the two top teams in this ‘spec. series’, that no other team (although AA did not have a bad showing this week), can seem to match.
    Personally and despite what appears to be a valiant effort by Randy Bernard and his team, I am not convinced that the IIRL can last for yet another season like this before these major chassis and engine changes come to fruition. During Jack Arute’s interview with CG and RP from the (not sure if it was the ‘Temple of Doom’ or the set of ‘Young Frankenstein’), the Captain in between several moments of what appeared to be wanting to flee the building, commented on how remarkable it was that the league was able to field 23 cars in the current economic environment. Actually, I have to agree with Mr. Penske, that it is indeed remarkable that this many teams (better than half of them) are willing and able to 1.) even obtain sufficient sponsorship to begin with, it makes me curious about where some of that money is actually coming from and 2.) be willing to get spanked as back markers week in and week out…. Bottom line is, a sole de-tuned, rev limited powerplant, single chassis choice, sheetmetal and tire combinations, lend themselves to one winning theme, whomever polishes the BB the best…. This condition alone is what frequently leads to long boring races regardless of whether they take place on road courses or ovals.
    One other thing, would somebody at Versus please buy Jack Arute a world atlas and a couple of clean spare shirts, geezus what a goofball….

  2. Wow! Jack Arute has now eclipsed the boogity boogity guy. He has truly become an embarrassment to the series. At the very least he should trade the sweaty shirt next week for a circus clown outfit.

    A solid race by Danica. She has skills and week in and week out her pit crew is one of the best. Amazing work by Power’s crew to get him out ahead of her on the last pit stop. I believe, though I am not sure, that she has been running at the end of every race this season.

    It appeared to me that the crowd was one of the biggest of the season. While the owners may not like making the long trek to Motegi and back, I have not read any negative comments by the drivers. Great fans over there.

    I also enjoyed the segment on Charles Burns. At the Milwaukee Mile event recently he was very popular with autograph seekers. 15 minutes of fame.

    I agree with George that Power has become just skilled enough on the ovals to squeak past Franchitti at Homestead for the championship. Hopefully the AA boys and girl can mix it up with them and make things interesting.

    Only one more race:( Damn!

  3. To paraphrase–”some spec cars are just a little more equal than other spec cars.” It’s Penske (and Ganassi’s) jobs to be the best. It’s up to the others to catch up to them. If it’s only the fault of the racecars, then why are cars from lesser teams suddenly very racy at certain racetracks? I think it has almost as much to do with where they race as what they race.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Redd…. I think you just partially answered your own question/comment regarding why some not normally racy teams are racy. I agree that it certainly has much to do with the track where they are racing, but since it happens so infrequently, I beleve these aberations to be based more on chance than deductive engineering…. There is no question that the top ten or so cars are all within a half a second or so of one another. This is clearly a symptom of the spec series currently being run…. I also realize that it is the job of the other teams to meet or beat the benchmark that PR and TCGR have set. However, since this does not seem likely to occur any time soon, I am not certain that what is left of our fan base can withstand yet another season of this. That was the point I was trying to make. I should have been more clear about that with my initial post. Oh, and one other thing, the league/teams had better hope that they can attract some new engineering / crew chief type blood, or they will be equally up the creek, regardless of what chassis, engines and aero components they choose. Obtaining and retaining good talent outside of the cockpit is equally important to achieving consistant positive results.

  4. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    It wasn’t the best race I’ve ever seen, nor was it the worst – a solid 2.5 out of 5. Great drive by Helio, he thoroughly deserved the win.

    As for the statistic of the least lead changes/leaders that Jenkins noted at the end of the race, I tend to ignore those as they very rarely ever reflect what happens in an actual race.

    Meanwhile, Homestead should be fun – and on at a more reasonable time of 11pm for me. :)

  5. ZZZZZZ……ZZZZZZ……. thank god for the race chat on versus and twitter, otherwise not sure I wo uld have made it. TV coverage was… horrific, to say the least. I mean, wow… send the people to Japan! Make Honda fork over a few more bucks or something, becuase the tv coverage was horrible…

    Race wise, I was a little suprised it had the fewest lead changes and fewest leaders but I guess when the cautions last that long, it’s not that unbelievable. Although I think they meant least leaders/lead changes for an oval, since i recall Dario leading every lap at Infineon last year.

    Not very exciting to see the same two teams win every pole and race, week after week. Until that changes ,it really doesn’t matter what Indycar does, it’s not going to get much more popular…

  6. I’m with Dylan. The TV coverage was indeed horrific. After a while I turned it off and switched to various in-car cameras on the IndyCar website.

    While I admire the Penske and Ganassi teams, maybe for the good of the league they need to start giving everyone a two lap head start. Something, anything! Are Tonya Harding and Jeff the whacker Gillooly still available?

  7. Damn. If I’d known Jack Arute said that Japan was on the other side of the equator and the seasons were reversed, I’d have kept my satellite service. I hope that makes it to YouTube.

    I tried watching on RaceControl but was deluged with “buffering….” and jumps. I hung on until the restart after the Baguette incident and I couldn’t take it anymore. From what I’ve read, it sounds like I didn’t miss anything.

    I’m not trying to be a hater; I really do like Indycar racing. But I feel like I’m watching the Yankees sweep the season–again.

    • Jameso, I agree with your analogy. I love baseball, but would get really tired of watching the Yankees vs. Redsox every weekend.

  8. Valid points, George, redd and bent wickerbill. It’s good to see some intelligent IndyCar fans. They make up for the likes of Dylan, the most negative, uniformed misanthropic whiny poster ever-and sadly not an anamoly.

    Was the race the most exciting? No. However, once again, to reiterate, Honda is the sole engine supplier, sponsor for several races and, along with Firestone-which is owned by Bridgestone of Japan-one of the only sponsors who actually activates sponsorship for the series. So, if Honda wants IndyCar to come to the home country to display to the homefolks what all the yen they are spending to support the series is for, I have no problem with it. That is how businessess are. And as long as Honda is paying for this shindig, it will be on the schedule. And I’m okay with that.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    It’s tough for both the television coverage and the racing to look good when you’ve got what seemed to be one of the longest cautions in history after the Alex Lloyd wreck.

    There was some good mid-pack action and I was happy to see good drives by Danica and Graham.

    This season makes me want the old CART points system, though. Using it, Franchitti and Power would be tied going into Homestead.
    And thank goodness we don’t use the old USAC system, or else Franchitti would have wrapped up the championship last month.

  10. I don’t know why HVM Racing bothers to finish the season. The car they have for Simona is an embarrassment — on the ovals it’s consistently been slower than the rest of the field (it’s not even good enough for her to be faster than the likes of Duno …come on!), and all too frequently it’s been a mechanical issue nightmare. If they don’t obtain for her some good equipment for next year (read: TWO late model Dallaras that can legitimately compete with the leaders), then if I’m her agent I’m shopping her somewhere else …anywhere else …that has the means to allow her to properly demonstrate her skills (surely the IICS doesn’t want to lose someone with her potential to the likes of F1). Yes, I know …she needs more sponsorship; but that’s not going to happen unless she has a much more promising racing situation to bring to the table.

    I know HVM did provide Simona with the unexpected opportunity to compete in the IICS this season, but nevertheless in my opinion they have totally dropped the ball and not done justice by her. If a team can’t afford to compete at a respectable level, then it should not have been in the game.

  11. “Ladies and Gentlemen…….Starrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt Urr Enjizz!”

    Truly Awesome. Through the years has anyone done that better?

    Regarding delta3′s notion that HVM should give up on the season: What a shallow, simplistic way of looking at competitiion! Maybe all the backmarkers should just give up. Do you know of anyone else who was willing to come forward this season and give Simona a chance to “properly demonstrate her skills”? I think Simona has shown herself to be a very talented driver and I am grateful that HVM gave her a chance to demonstrate that because apparently no one else was interested in doing so. One of Simona’s many endearing qualities is that she is grateful for the opportunity she was given and she does not badmouth her team. Hopefully the HVM team will not be too crushed if they should find out that they are not meeting your expectations.

    • Mr. Ford, you were quite right to chastise me for dumping on HVM. I’m sure they have been doing their best in spite of the results. I admit to thoughtlessly venting as a result of the frustration of watching Simona (she has quickly become my favorite driver) having to endure the almost unbelievable string of bad breaks that has marked her season. But for me to suggest that the team “should give up on the season” …in essence saying that being a quitter is acceptable behavior …was way over the line. As you stated in essence, it is an attitude unworthy of anyone engaging in competition of any form. In fact, this “shallow” suggestion of mine actually goes against my own standards of conduct. Indeed, on a list of my favorite quotations is this one attributed to Richard Nixon (of all people): “A man is not finished when he’s defeated; he is finished when he quits.” So I offer my apology to you and anyone else offended by my rash and foolish comment; and especially to HVM Racing …if they should happen to read my “criticism” (and the irony of your last statement was very good …it made me smile).

      And by the way, your comments on Simona’s talent and good character are certainly warranted. She has faced much adversity this season with graciousness and aplomb. As the Scots would say: Full marks to her, for a great attitude.

    • No, nobody has done it better than Tochigi Prefecture’s governor. Download it from here: http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/444478/start.mp3

  12. I gave the broadcast crew a thumbs up for making it more enjoyable than it was. It was a good race but they made it better. Also, the mountain views around Motegi is gorgeous.

  13. To delta3:

    Thanks for your follow-up remarks. That was a classy thing to do. After I responded to your first post it occurred to me that you simply like Simona as much as most of the rest of the racing community. Of course, I have never made a rash and foolish comment. LOL. Not more than once a week anyway. Here’s hoping she can finish the season on a high note.

  14. In defense of Versus’ coverage, would you, as a business entity, send all of your crew, staff, engineers, and announcers (at your expense) to a race that is run in the middle of the night (U. S. time) and almost no one watches.

    That being said, at least send Lindy if you’re going to do it again. I’ve always respected Jack Arute, but he’s gotten a bit full of himself, espcially with the “In Color” segments. Jack, it’s not you we came to watch.

    Posters on several sites have suggested moving this race back to spring. Ok, we tried that the first few years and the weather was about as bad as it can be at Indy in May. (Does anyone really like to hear the word “weepers?”) With the time/travel involved, Japan is not a setting for a race that can be pushed (weather wise) into a second weekend.

    Now, let me throw a radical idea out here. How about the IICS run at Talladega the Saturday night before the NASCAR crowd runs on Sunday?
    I know, the purists will say, “F*** NASCAR,” but the fact is that while all entertainment franchises are struggling, they’re still getting more butts in seats and their hard core fan base far exceeds that of IndyCar.

    If you impress the fans of that series with on the track racing, isn’t it fair to assume that some of them will tune in to watch when the two series don’t occupy the same airtime?

    Isn’t the idea to get MORE fans?

    (And besides, imagine how fast an IndyCar could go at ‘Dega.)

    • The problem there, Skip, outside of the super-duper-scary-fast pack racing that Talladega would provide for IndyCars, is that NASCAR has to play along. Based on how they treat their own subsidiary/sister series GrandAm, they wouldn’t put an IndyCar race on a Saturday before a Cup race, they’d put it on the Wednesday before a Cup race. They’d want all of the IndyCar haulers out of there before the most fevered Cup fan even rolled his RV into the infield.

      Mind you, this isn’t me hatin’ on NASCAR (though I do plenty of that, just not right now), it’s based on recent history. They put the July 4th Daytona GrandAm race on at like 11:00 AM the morning before the night Cup race. That’s for a series that they own and so you’d therefore think they’d get better treatment than they’d give a theoretical competitor like IndyCar. The Watkins Glen Cup/GrandAm weekend shakes out about the same, with the GrandAm race taking place on Saturday several hours after Cup qualifying is over, so therefore about an hour after most fans have left the track. NASCAR and ISC have shown very little desire to help out their own sister series, and so I’d doubt they’d show any at all to lend a hand to IndyCar.

  15. How about that 19-lap caution, folks? The only thing that made this race entertaining for me was the Versus chat. It was VERY business as usual, but the fact that a lot of drivers finished right about where they started made this feel like Richmond last year.

    If this track wasn’t integral to the schedule – Honda owns it, after all – it’d be gone, or there would be some wholesale changes to make the racing more interesting. Granted I love the Motegi race and its atmopshere – the Japanese fans sure do love their IndyCar – but we can’t have more events like this one played out.

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