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Castroneves Finishes 10th at Japan, Briscoe Loses Lead

September 19, 2009

Photo courtesy of IMS Photo



MOTEGI, Japan (September 19, 2009) - Ryan Briscoe and Team Penske battled to the finish Saturday and their championship dreams are still alive, despite an untimely incident that cost the team a solid finish in the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300.

Briscoe and the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda crew will compete for the IndyCar Series crown in three weeks at the winner-take-all season finale in Miami.

On Saturday, Briscoe was leading at Twin Ring Motegi when his car spun and made contact with the retaining wall while Briscoe was exiting the pits on the 106th lap of the 200-lap race. His crew worked hard to repair the damaged car and Briscoe returned to the track to finish 18th to keep him in contention for the championship.

After entering the weekend with a 25-point lead in the title chase, Briscoe is eight points behind Motegi race winner Scott Dixon going into the October 10 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and just three points behind Dario Franchitti, who finished second in Saturday's race.

The incident, which occurred as Briscoe appeared to be on his way toward a good result that would bring him one step closer the championship, was disappointing but simply provides another challenge for the team.

"I saw a great opportunity to come out of the pits in the lead and I was trying to get to the blend line as quickly as possible," said Briscoe. "I just got on the throttle too hard, lost it and hit the wall. The team did a great job fixing the car but we just lost too many laps in the pits.

"The good news is we're only behind by eight points in the standings. I feel really good about going to Homestead and we're going there to win the race and the championship."

Meanwhile, Helio Castroneves finished 10th in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda after starting 21st on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval.

"We were shooting for a top-10 finish for Team Penske here in Japan, and we got it today," Castroneves said. "It was very difficult to pass out there, but we did the best job we could. The team made some great calls and we had good pit stops. It's a shame that Ryan lost the points lead, but we know we will be strong at Homestead. Our goal is to bring home a championship for Team Penske."

After hard contact with the wall in Friday qualifying, Castroneves started from the rear of the field but quickly worked his way forward and was running inside the top-15 after his first pit stop. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner kept working to improve his position and was able to crack the top-10 before taking the checkered flag.

Under overcast skies Saturday, Briscoe came into the pits two laps after the other two title contenders and had just taken the lead when the No. 6 car slid sideways under throttle and struck the wall. The incident forced Briscoe to return to the pits several times for extensive repairs.

Briscoe said he is determined to make up for the Motegi mishap at Homestead, where the tight season-long championship battle will finally be decided between the Team Penske racer, Dixon and Franchitti.

"I'm feeling good going to Homestead," said Briscoe. "I'm going to put it behind me in just a minute, and my focus will be 100 percent on Homestead. It's exciting for us and all the fans. It's going to build up a lot of hype going into Homestead. It's going to be a tough one. It's a flip of a coin as to who's the favorite. All of us are fully capable of winning at that track. I'm going to be as motivated as I've ever been, after this race."

One of the closest championship battles in the history of the IndyCar history will be decided in Miami. With just eight points separating the top three contenders going into the final race of the season, it ranks as the second-closest margin among the top three in league history.

Qualifying for the Firestone Indy 300 will be televised on Versus beginning at 6 p.m. ET on October 9. Race coverage on Versus will begin at 4 p.m. ET on October 10.