Rear View Mirror: Japan

Okay, I admit it – it was premature of me to say that this season would be all about the "Red Cars" following the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But C'mon - after Dan Wheldon's almost supernatural performance at HMS, combined with Helio Castroneves' showing at St. Petersburg, you thought Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing would combine to stink up the 2007 season as well.

At the Indy Japan 300, Tony Kanaan demonstrated that his Andretti Green Racing machine could keep pace with even the quickest "Red Car" — which last Saturday was the Dallara of Dan Wheldon — en route to visiting Victory Lane at Twin Ring Motegi.

"I'm very happy and it feels good to bring the Team 7-Eleven car to victory lane because Dan (Wheldon) was really, really strong," admitted Brazil-born Kanaan.

It was the first victory for a non Penske nor Ganassi car in four races (Marco Andretti at Sonoma last season), but perhaps more important, it was the second win for a non "Red Car" on an oval since the beginning of the 2006 season (Ironically, Kanaan picked up the other oval victory last July in the ABC Supply Co 225 at The Milwaukee Mile).

Kanaan’s AGR teammate Dario Franchitti also performed well on race day in Japan – using a keen fuel strategy to pick up a third place finish – placing both drivers smack in the middle of any championship conversation after three races this season (for more, check out the Championship Report below).

"This was a very important win for the entire Andretti Green Racing team," said Kanaan. "Ganassi and Penske have been so strong on the one-and-a-half-mile tracks for the past year or so, while it was an area were we had to make some improvements. Our team worked very hard over the winter to improve our performance on the big tracks like Motegi, and that makes this win very sweet for us."

Look out for the AGR cars in the coming weeks – especially at the upcoming Indianapolis 500 – they are proving more than capable of scoring more victories and shortening the gap between themselves and those dominating "Red Cars" in the near future. Related: Kanaan Fuels to Japan Victory | Complete Results | Photos

What Do You Think?
Can Andretti Green Racing really challenge Penske or Ganassi in 2007? What are you thoughts on this weekend’s Indy Japan 300? Send your opinions to and make sure to check back with RacingOne to see what other’s think in this week’s edition of the "Fan’s Eye View" this Wednesday.

The End of Matsuura’s IndyCar Adventure?
With two consecutive DNF’s to begin the season, rumors were already circulating that Kosuke Matsuura’s time at Super Aguri Panther Racing could be running out.

But following his showing at Twin Ring Motegi in his native Japan, the clock might be at 00:00.

Despite having solid practices at the 1.5-mile oval — including a second-place showing in the second practice session of the weekend — and a ninth place starting position, Matsuura could be out of a job in the near future after crashing in Turn 2 of the first lap of the event.

"I don’t know exactly what happened," said the 27-year-old Matsuura. "I was racing into the corner and was not close to anyone. They were three-wide in front of me and Marco (Andretti) was on the outside passing me, so I lifted, and the car just spun. I think I hit some dirty air, and with the heavy fuel load and cold tires, the car just spun on me.

"It’s my mistake and very disappointing. I am so disappointed and sorry for the Japanese fans. The team did a great job this weekend, but this is my mistake, and I hope to pay back for my mistake over the next few races."

Should Matsuura lose his seat, the likely replacement is Super Aguri Panther Racing’s Indy Pro Series driver Hideki Mutoh. A veteran of the Japanese Formula 3 and Formula Nippon Championship, 24-year-old Mutoh is competing in his first season in the Indy Pro Series, scoring three top-five finishes in his three starts this year.

As a sidenote, Mutoh was in his native Japan this past weekend and was amongst the first people to check out how Matsuura was following the accident... Driver Pages: Matsuura

Kudos to Honda:
While some people in the sport question having just one engine manufacturer, Honda is quickly proving they not only deserve the right – but also are doing more then their fair share.

Despite going with a new engine package from 2007 – 3.5 liter vs. 3.0 liter in 2006 – and a new fuel (100% fuel grade Ethanol), Honda reported their third consecutive race without a single engine failure.

The 18 drivers and teams competing at Motegi completed 5,691 laps of practice, qualifying and racing this weekend – a total of 8,536.5 miles – without a single engine-related failure.

"Another perfect weekend for Honda, with 100 percent reliability throughout the weekend," crowed Robert Clarke, President of Honda Performance Development. "The job doesn’t get any easier for us, as we will be racing in Kansas next weekend and then on to Indianapolis for the ‘Month of May’, but I believe we are very well prepared once again."

All things considered – well done Honda.

…And to Firestone
Firestone had a trial run this weekend as they brought a new tire to Japan which will also be used throughout the "Month of May" and at the Indianapolis 500 (which I am told is a pretty big event)

Like Honda, they passed their test with flying colors.

"As usual...great tires," said race winner Tony Kanaan. "We did a stint-plus and they still look good for another 20. So I have to say, hats off for Firestone. I mean, as usual, they were great. It's good to know because it's the same tire we're going to try to win Indy with next month! So it's a good feeling."

As Firestone Racing Executive Director Al Speyer explained, several teams went through a stint and a half (about 70 laps) – like Kanaan – without a drop-off in performance.

With no engine or tire problems appearing, the Indianapolis 500 will come down to team strategy and driver skill – as it should be.

Championship Report
With the results from this weekend’s Indy Japan 300, the third race of the 2007 season, Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dan Wheldon has taken over the championship lead by three points over Tony Kanaan. Wheldon’s teammate and the points leader going into the weekend, Scott Dixon, is third – just a mere six points behind.

Helio Castroneves (17 points adrift) is fourth with Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. tied for fifth (27 points behind). Championship Standings

What’s Next?
IndyCar Series teams and drivers will not have much time to recuperate from their journey to Japan as they travel to Kansas Speedway for next Sunday’s Kansas Lottery Indy 300. Champion Sam Hornish Jr. is the defending race winner at Kansas, with Dan Wheldon being last season’s polesitter. The IndyCar Series will be the headliner of the weekend which features ARCA RE/MAX Series racing (Friday) and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing (Saturday).

Also of note, it is expected that Milka Duno will be making her series debut this coming weekend.

While not wanting to downplay Kansas, there will be no rest after that event either as the “Month of May” begins the following week – the buildup to the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Tickets | Kansas Schedule | 2007 Schedule

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