Random Thoughts On Twin Ring Motegi
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.