Castroneves In Charge At Motegi

MOTEGI, Japan – On Saturday afternoon at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, Helio Castroneves was able to prove that it doesn’t matter if it’s rain or shine, road course or oval, nor America or Japan – he has been the best IRL IndyCar driver in 2006.

After "driving like he stole it" to win the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 2, the Marlboro Team Penske driver proved just how dominant he has been by winning the Indy Japan 300 from the pole position with well over a six second margin – the widest margin for a winner of this event.

"My car was unbelievable, especially at the end of the run. The car was getting better and better," said Castroneves, who ran his fastest lap of the race on lap 190 with a speed of 199.910 mph.

For the Brazilian born Castroneves, it is his ninth career victory in the IRL IndyCar Series and 15th in an Indy-style car. The victory also extends his series points lead to 42 points. While it may be early in the season to start counting points, leading the championship proved to be vital for Castroneves as it rewarded him with the pole after rain washed-out qualifying yesterday afternoon.

"We were fast from the very start this week, which is good because there wasn't a lot of practice time. But today was perfect, and the car was perfect, too," said the race winner. "I said yesterday that I wanted to finish where we started, and I don't think it was ever in question. We were fast all day."

Two-time defending race winner Dan Wheldon finished second, ending his bid to become the first driver in IRL history to win three consecutive events at the same venue.

Tony Kanaan finished third with Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Rice rounding out the top five. Bryan Herta, Japan’s Kosuke Matsuura and Danica Patrick were the only other drivers to finish the race on the lead lap.

While Castroneves’ victory wasn’t in serious jeopardy throughout the day, having led 184 laps, two of his closest competitors suffered from self-inflicted problems in the pits late in the day that kept them from mounting an attempt for the victory.

Scott Dixon led twice for five laps on the day before stalling his car during his final pit stop on lap 148. The problem kept him in the pits for over 30 seconds, dropping him from race contending second place to a ninth place finish – one lap down.

"I’m pretty disappointed because we had such a good run going, and the Target car was just fantastic," said Dixon. "On that last stop, I lost the clutch, stalled it and fell back too many spots too late in the race to make a decent comeback. It really is a shame."

The other top challenger on the day, Dario Franchitti, also had problems in the pits when two of his crew members were injured after the Scotsman pulled in for service. The team had trouble refueling the car as a result and also was on pit road for a lengthy period of time during their last stop on lap 145.

The Andretti Green Racing driver finished the day in 11th place overall.

Scott Sharp, the winner of the inaugural Indy Japan event, also had a day to forget as it was cut short after suffering damage due to an incident on Lap 40.

As Sharp was headed to the green flag for the restart following the first caution period, he spun coming off Turn 4. In an effort to miss the Delphi Fernandez vehicle, rookie P.J. Chesson checked-up and got hit from behind by Jeff Simmons, who was making his debut in the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda Panoz Firestone car for Rahal Letterman Racing.

"Obviously, I am heartbroken to throw all this away," said Sharp. "I am not sure exactly what happened. I spent a lot of time warming the tires up as everyone else did with the 10 or 12 laps we were running under caution. I did a bunch of burn-outs and got everything warmed up.

"As everyone accelerated, I accelerated with them and all of a sudden the car just started to come around. I wasn’t that high on the revs or anything for that to happen. It’s very strange."

All three cars were forced to retire because of the accident.

Unlike previous crash-marred events in Japan, the Sharp incident involved the most cars and was only one of three yellow flag periods.

With the conclusion of today’s race, the focus shifts to Indianapolis as teams ready for the month of May, concluding with the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28th at 1 p.m. (ET).

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