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Briscoe Qualifies Fourth; Castroneves Hits Wall in Japan

September 18, 2009

Photo courtesy of IMS Photo



MOTEGI, Japan (September 18, 2009) -- Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe continued his quest for an IndyCar Series championship Friday with a solid qualifying effort that earned him a fourth-place starting position for the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Briscoe completed four laps in 1:48.9772 - an average speed of 200.849 mph around the 1.5-mile oval - and will start Saturday's race on the outside of the second row. Briscoe enters the second-to-last event on the series' calendar 25 points ahead of his closest competitor, Dario Franchitti, who will start third.

"It was pretty good," said Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda, after the qualifying run. "I was just a little bit loose on the first two laps, so I really didn't have the confidence to put the throttle down out of turn 4. I left a bit on the table, but the car was pretty good in practice, and we had some long runs today. It's going to be a tough race here. It always is here. Hopefully it doesn't come down to a fuel event, which it usually does. But if it does, we'll be ready for it."

Meanwhile, Team Penske's Helio Castroneves looked to be on his way to securing a starting spot inside the top-five before he made contact with the wall in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda during his qualifying attempt. After leading the morning practice session, the winner of the 2006 event at Motegi crashed on his third qualifying lap after positing two solid opening laps. Castroneves will start 21st in the 23-car field.

"Everything was going great and then we just had unexpected understeer in the exit of turn 4," Castroneves said. "I really don't know why. The Team Penske car was running smoothly, but unfortunately it didn't work out the way we wanted. I feel bad for the team but I know they'll work hard tonight and we will have a good car tomorrow. We will do our best to drive from the back and make our way up front."

Briscoe said his approach Saturday won't necessarily be conservative, but it will be cautiously aggressive. Franchitti needs to finish third or better to stay in the championship race heading into the season finale October 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"If I don't win it, one of the Ganassi cars (Franchitti or pole winner Scott Dixon) probably will," Briscoe said. "Twenty-five points might sound like a lot, but it doesn't seem like much to me. We've got to go out and try to beat those guys. That usually means winning the race. The pressure is on them to beat me, but it's definitely not a comfortable situation for me. It's the equivalent of a six-point lead in Formula One. Our point system just makes it sound like it's more than it really is."

Briscoe is buoyed by the fact that he was solid throughout Friday's two practice sessions, even though the team was searching for more consistency at the unique oval track. "We've been here and there during practice, so I haven't found all the confidence I've needed," Briscoe said. "I was probably hesitant on the cold tires to really go for it in qualifying, but the car felt good for four laps. We finished strong. It's not pole, but we stayed toward the front."

The Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 begins shortly after 11 p.m. ET on Friday night - noon Saturday in Japan. Live television coverage on Versus begins at 10:30 p.m. ET.