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Castroneves Leads Team Penske Qualifying Sweep in Japan

September 18, 2010

Photo courtesy of Steve Swope



MOTEGI, Japan (September 18, 2010) - Helio Castroneves led a dominant Team Penske performance in qualifying on Saturday for this weekend's Indy Japan 300. Castroneves will start from the pole at Twin Ring Motegi for the fifth time in his career as he led a 1-2-3 qualifying sweep by Team Penske at the 1.5-mile oval.

The starting positions could prove significant in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship chase as Verizon Team Penske's Will Power leads Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing by 17 points in the standings with just two races remaining, including Sunday's Indy Japan 300.

Power will start third, next to Franchitti on the second row, when the green flag flies to begin the 200-lap race. It marked the second time this season that Team Penske swept the top three spots in qualifying as Power won the pole at the Watkins Glen International road course in July, followed by Castroneves and Briscoe. Saturday's result also gave Team Penske its 13th pole in 16 races this season.

Castroneves won the pole position in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda with a two-lap run of 54.1803 seconds - an average speed of 201.992 mph - around the egg-shaped oval. Saturday's success represented his second pole of the 2010 season and his first since the Indianapolis 500 in May.

"It's a great team effort. A 1-2-3 start for Team Penske is awesome," said Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion who won at Motegi in 2006. "These boys deserve it. They've worked really hard, especially on the ovals. I have to thank the guys at the shop as well. All of the hard work has paid off today. Now we have to make it happen in the race."

Ryan Briscoe will start second after posting an average speed of 201.594 mph over his two-lap qualifying run in the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda. It marked a good start to the weekend for Briscoe, who finished 18th at Motegi last season after he made contact with the inside wall while leaving the pits, shortly after he captured the race lead.

"Our car was really good today and it's great to have all of the Team Penske cars starting up front," said Briscoe, who admitted that he probably had some more speed in the car to threaten his teammate for the pole. "Congratulations to Helio for earning another pole for the team. I left a little on the table during my qualifying run because I missed a shift on my out lap. We are in the perfect position going into this race, now we just have to finish it off right tomorrow."

Power, who is racing at Motegi's unique oval this weekend for the first time, recorded an average speed of 201.463 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Honda.

"The track had a lot more grip than expected," said Power, who earned his sixth top-three starting spot on an oval this season. "So I think that I was a little bit geared wrong, but everyone's the same. I felt I could have gone quicker. But it's very good for me to come here and be ahead of the Ganassi guys, especially Dario. Yeah, that's what we need to do and we need to do that again tomorrow. I've got my mates out there, and it's a fantastic team qualifying result. As a team, we're due for a good finish. We've had pretty good lap times over the last couple of races. We're going to ultimately look to win it."

The 1-2-3 positioning of the Penske cars could prove to be critical in helping Power protect his spot in the championship standings.

"We're all helping each other out there, and we all want to bring the championship to the team," said Castroneves, who won the last race in the IZOD IndyCar Series, September 4 at Kentucky. "If that means making Will comfortable enough to capture his points on an oval, then we need to do it. We're willing to do everything we have to do."

Live coverage of the Indy Japan 300 will begin Saturday night at 11 p.m. ET on Versus.