Motegi Preview

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What was originally supposed to be nothing more than the final appearance for the IZOD IndyCar Series in Japan; has become a tragedy, a controversy and a supposed symbol of hope to a nation that has been devastated by earthquakes, a tsunami and radiation exposure.

When it was announced that this would be the last appearance at Twin Ring Motegi, most IndyCar fans were elated. Each year, this race was a major inconvenience to the teams, a needless expense for most sponsors and a pointless television production that always threatened to set a record low for viewership.

Twin Ring Motegi was constructed on the top of a mountain in 1997. The facility gets its name due to the fact that there are two separate overlapping tracks on the premises – a road course and an oval. While driving for Pat Patrick, Adrian Fernandez won the first CART event on the 1.5-mile egg-shaped oval in April of 1998. CART ran at Motegi from 1998 through 2002. In 2003, the Indy Racing League made its first appearance. The IRL ran at Motegi each spring from 2003 through 2008, when Danica Patrick won her only IndyCar race. In 2009, the race was moved to September for reasons that are still beyond me.

Familiar names such as Michael Andretti, Kenny Bräck, Scott Sharp, Tony Kanaan, Bruno Junqueira, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon have also graced the top step of the podium at Motegi, along with Ms. Patrick.

This was never an exciting race. Perhaps it was because it was always run around midnight (US time) and it was hard to stay awake. It could also be that the track produced bad racing. I’ve never understood why oval tracks that are wide and promote passing can be known for boring races, but Twin Motegi generally has. I cannot remember a single race at Motegi over the past thirteen years that held much excitement at all. At the end of each race at Motegi, I always turn off the television in the wee hours of Sunday morning, thinking I could have been sleeping. But I’ve watched every one.

When it was announced in June that this year’s race would be run on the road course instead of the oval, due to damage from the earthquake that took place on March 11 – I made the mistake of going to Twitter and expressing my displeasure that the series was losing another oval and picking up another road course. This made the balance 10-7 in favor of road courses. Silly me.

I was immediately besieged with nasty comments on Twitter by people that I normally get along with. I also received direct (private) messages via Twitter from others that at least had the good taste to not blast me in public while disagreeing with me. These weren’t people that were road course devotees. These were people claiming I was insensitive toward the Japanese people; uncaring and selfish to be worried about racing when there was something much bigger at stake here and pretty much represented everything that was bad about the human species. Hence the ongoing jokes from commenters on this site claiming that I hate Japan and am a proud supporter of Godzilla (which was one of the best I’ve read in quite a while – good one, JB).

So, for the record…I don’t hate Japan. My heart goes out to them as they try to rebuild after such devastation. My comment was simply bemoaning the fact that an oval was lost off the schedule. Had the series planned to race at the oval at Homestead and then decided to race on their road course instead – it would have gotten the same reaction. But because of the earthquake involved, I was portrayed as Archie Bunker.

Not to stir up any more controversy – but my opinion was and is that the race should have been cancelled. I’m not sure that having this race on the road course is really going to bolster the moral of the Japanese people. Under normal circumstances, this track was very difficult to get to. With damaged roads and more pressing matters, I question how well this event will be attended.

What I was hoping would happen was that another oval track be found in the US, that would be willing to hold a benefit race in its place and that all proceeds be donated to Japanese relief efforts. That obviously didn’t happen. I know if there were another oval available, the series would already be racing on it. Ovals don’t just magically appear, but that was my hope anyway.

For once, I’ll agree with Danica Patrick who expressed her concerns about going into a region exposed to radiation. Danica also publicly questioned the safety of the food and water in Japan. I’ve heard all the claims that there is more radiation in Rome than at Motegi and that over a four-day period, the teams and drivers will be subjected to the same amount of radiation received from two chest X-rays. Still, I would be very uneasy about going there. Call me ignorant and an uninformed redneck (or worse), but I would be very concerned about going. I think those that would criticize the loudest would be those that have no intention of actually setting foot over there.

Many drivers have admitted serious concerns about going, but those drivers, their teams and INDYCAR officials have made the trip regardless. I’m not sure I would be so brave. My hat is off to them.

But they will race. The track is not supposed to be a great track for passing, but that’s nothing new. From what we saw at Baltimore, Team Penske has reversed its summer swoon. I look for that momentum to continue across the globe. It would be ironic that the race that threw me into so much controversy would be the one to bring me my first correct pick so late in the season, but I would be foolish to pick anyone else on a road course that no one has raced on before. Therefore, my pick to win the final Indy Japan is Will Power, who will return stateside in the points lead – with two ovals to go. October will be good.

George Phillips

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22 Responses to “Motegi Preview”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    The only potential bright spot is, the fact that this is a new course for all the teams and the possibility exists albeit small and remote, for a few surprises… E.G. that one of the smaller teams (perhaps several even) seize inadvertantly on the ideal set up/s and pit strategy for both qualifying and race day, creating an exciting, racy experience for all of us to enjoy into the wee hours of Sunday morning ….
    And then I woke up… !!!!

  2. Just read about practice day. I don’t care if a track is smooth and flowing. I don’t care if it’s technically and aesthetically beautiful. I don’t care about perfectly executed timing and off-sequence pit strategeries. I know I’m just a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather, but I want to see drag races on straighaways, cars fighting for corners and cars passing each other like a buzzing swarm of hornets on the track. I want exciting and competitive car racing.

    Okay. I feel better now. Willpower will win by 30+ seconds.

  3. But you still hate Canada and Sarah Fisher, right?

  4. Hmmmm How do you agree about Brazillians that go “Whoooo” on the first lap?

  5. I think IndyCar and Randy were in a tough spot with this one. Like you, I’m not excited about the race, but it is what it is. I’d like to think the reason this boring track has been on the schedule for so many years is out of respect to Honda, who without their support and loyalty the past decade, there might not be an IndyCar series today.

    • If a track owner/renter/race promoter has contracted with IndyCar for a race and paid the price, I don’t believe it’d be ethical for IndyCar to renege on a contract with a long-time good partner.

      Incidentally, I’m content to view a road course race, and I’m a night owl who is content to view TV from 10:30 p.m. onward in the U.S. central time zone.

      Other IndyCar fans can record the show with a DVR or VCR
      if the TV partner refuses show the race on Sunday afternoon, evening or night.

      • I have to agree with Brian here. This race is taking place because it was contracted and paid for. Actually “overpaid” for by Honda and Bridgestone. Indycar uses the excess bucks for other things. I don’t believe it is any more complicated than that.

        And while I am not a Danica hater, how do you think it comes across to people who have lost their homes, jobs, and perhaps loved ones to hear wealthy (by comparison) IndyCar drivers whining about having to bring their own food? Sheesh!

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      ya think…?

  6. Indycar should have dumped Motegi early when it had the chance. The track Indycar agreed to run was gone, so canceling shouldn’t have been a contractual issue. But at least WE Shall Not Return. Ever, I hope.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Can you say Honda, for without them, this series, or whats left of it, would have been done for a few years back…

      • Except didn’t Honda drive out chevy and Toyota??

        • GM and Toyota wimped out of top-tier open-wheel racing in North America while Honda (a non-bankrupt, profitable, engineer-founded, engineering-heavy company) continued.
          Kudos to Honda.
          Racing improves the breed and promotes sales of Honda-brand products!

        • Bent Wickerbill Says:

          Drive them out…???
          No, I think they both decided that either a. They could not compete with Honda or b. It wasn’t worth the cost of re-developing existing powerplants or designing new mill/s for a series that at that time was somewhat shaky to say the least, with low viewership. Geez, does that scenario sound familiar or what???

  7. Don’t get too excited everyone. Were dumping Japan, an
    Oval, and supposedly adding a race in China. How many ovals are there in china (I’d guess zero)? The series is obviously turning back into what CART was in the 90s but with better leadership. I personally think this is a good thing. I also think it is a good thing to go global if the $$$ is there. Just don’t ignore the Midwest. The schedule says they won’t.

  8. Well, I am a day late here and the grid has been set, but in my strongest opinion, Danica is no longer trying. You would think that this being the place where she got her only win that she would be putting it out on the line, but I don’t see it. Winners race. Always. I backed her from the start, but I am now dissapointed with her.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      She has been phoning it in for months…

      • Brent, in some way, I was trying, in my post, to be kind to her, but, yes, she has been phoning it in for a while and is a non-factor. Besides my new found lack of respect, I am now apathetic towards her as well as all things Danica and I won’t be watching NASCAR any more or less because of her.

        • Bent Wickerbill Says:

          Yes I agree Lapper, I generally record most of the nationwide and cup races because I can no longer tolerate the usual 10-15 yallers, nor the repeated green white checkers finishes, the “competition” yallers, the yallers for when a cheese doodle blows onto the track, or the lucky dog for that matter. In fact, the only reason I watch at all is because I love to see that shrub, rowdy Kyle Busch whup up on all them good ole’ boys. I think that it is also going to be pretty amusing to watch Danica deal with the guys over at tin tops… All I can say is, it’s a good thing for her Nascar took the IRL’s cue for installing safer barriers and requiring HANS devices for all entrants…

  9. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    A somewhat dissappointing race last night, not that it was unexpected, but it is clear how close in general these cars are perfromance and driver wise, except for Dixie and Power of course…

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