2010 Indy Japan 300 – Click above for high-res image gallery
Heading into Saturday, only two races remained in the 2010 Izod IndyCar Series
season, and the championship is coming down to the wire. Team Penske's Will Power raced to an early lead in the standings, his dominating performances on the road and street courses earning him the inaugural Mario Andretti award as the road course champ.
Team Target Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon headed to Japan in second and third respectively and first and second in the oval championship standings. Power's lead before the green flag waved at Twin Ring Motegi was 17 points over Dario, the same lead Franchitti has over Dixon in the race for the A.J. Foyt oval champ award. This weekend's Indy Japan 300 was crucial, with the potential to end with both championships decided even though the season's final race at Homestead is still two weeks away.
Follow the jump
to see how it played out.
[Images: Jonathan Ferrey, Chris Graythen/Jiji Press/AFP
/Getty, Shizuo Kambayashi, Greg Baker/AP]
Qualifying found Helio Castroneves at the top of the timing and scoring sheets, his Penske teammate, Ryan Briscoe, a tenth of a second behind him in second. Series leader Will Power was third, followed by his main title rival, Dario Franchitti. Behind Dario were three Andretti Autosports cars, but Danica Patrick was not among them. Although she won this race in 2008 to record her only IndyCar Series victory to date, the sometime swimsuit model could do no better than 12th.
As has (unfortunately) become the norm this year, within seconds of the green flag flying, the yellow was out in its place. This week's first to go was Bertrand Baguette, the young Belgian who has shown incredible promise all season. His crash in Turn 2 brought out the yellow and several cars pitted during the cleanup. That staggered pit strategy could pay off in the end, but there were still 190-plus laps to run before we'd find out.
The restart on Lap 11 saw a back-and-forth battle begin between Dario Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe for second behind Helio Castroneves. The two swapped positions at just about every turn for a couple of laps before Franchitti remembered there were still over 180 laps to run and settled into third.
A problem with Alex Lloyd's car brought out another yellow around Lap 42, which turned out to be the perfect time for everyone to pit. When the race went back back to green seven laps later, it was Helio, Briscoe, Dario, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti in the top five spots. Danica Patrick had moved up to sixth just ahead of Dixon, Dan Wheldon and Will Power. They stayed pretty much in those same spots until Mario Moraes went into the wall in Turn 2, bringing out the day's third caution.
It took track officials quite a while to extricate Mario, but he was seen gesturing so his injuries didn't appear life-threatening. Most of the leaders used the opportunity to pit again, and on Lap 78 when green flag racing resumed, non-stopper Rafael Matos was out in front, followed by Hideki Mutoh and Helio Castroneves. By the halfway point, Briscoe and then Castroneves had moved past Matos, while Franchitti passed Mutoh for fourth.
Paul Tracy's was the next car to make contact with the wall, although it was just a brush. Still, the powers that be decided to bring out the full-course yellow, giving all racers a chance to refuel and make up whatever gaps they were facing under green. Alex Lloyd hit the same spot around Lap 148, his car skidding along the wall and catching fire in a scene eerily similar to Simona de Silvestro's incident earlier this year. Thankfully, Lloyd was able to get himself out much quicker.
Castroneves, Franchitti, Briscoe, Power, Patrick, Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal were the top ten when the racing back to green on Lap 168 of 200. The last laps ticked away with no major changes save one: Ryan Briscoe started slipping back. When the checkers flew it was Helio Castroneves claiming victory, followed by oval champ Dario Franchitti and Will Power, who goes into the final race of the season with a slim 12 point lead.
Join us October 2 for the final race from Miami-Homestead to see if Power can hold on and win the championship. And don't forget to check out the full results and standings below.