MOTEGI, Japan (September18, 2011) – Team Penske’s Will Power earned a solid second-place finish on Sunday to take control of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship and claim the series road course title in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi.
Power and his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Honda maintained second place on a restart with two laps remaining in the 63-lap race, as he finished second behind Scott Dixon to claim his ninth podium result of the season. Meanwhile, Power’s championship rival, Dario Franchitti, finished eighth. The result moved Power into the series lead by 11 points with just two races remaining in the 2011 season.
"It was a solid day overall for Verizon Team Penske,” said Power, who started second on the day. “We tried everything we possibly could to get Dixon, but he was very aggressive and he really deserved the win. It was a good day for us points-wise in the championship, but I'm really not worried about points right now. I just need to keep finishing in front of the 10 car (Franchitti) the rest of the way and we'll be fine. We'll keep chipping away like we have been.”
Meanwhile, Team Penske’s other two drivers, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, encountered problems that hampered their results in a race dubbed “The Final” as it marked the last IndyCar race run at Twin Ring Motegi.
Sunday’s race was moved to the 2.9-mile, 14-turn flowing road circuit after the spring earthquake in Japan damaged the Twin Ring Motegi oval course.
Castroneves was assessed a penalty after the race and wound up with a 22nd-place finish while Briscoe suffered contact from Franchitti early in the event and he soldiered on to a 20th-place result with a damaged car.
After starting sixth, Castroneves went off course in the first turn after taking the green flag but he recovered in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car and looked to be headed toward a top-10 finish. He took the checkered flag in seventh place but after the race officials ruled that Castroneves passed cars under a local yellow caution flag in the closing laps and he was penalized to reflect a 22nd-place result.
“This is certainly not the way I wanted to end the final IndyCar race in Japan,” said Castroneves, who fell to 10th in the series standings. “First, I have to thank Hitachi for coming onboard this weekend. It was an honor to carry their name on our Team Penske car while racing in Japan. I would also like to thank all the Japanese fans. They have been incredibly supportive over the years and it’s unfortunate that we will not be racing here again in the immediate future. I have great memories of racing at this place. Now, for today’s race – I am very disappointed in the result and the decision to penalize us at the end. I have said it before – the decisions by Race Control have been very inconsistent, this season especially, and I think today was just another example. I am really upset about it and I think it is very unfortunate for the fans and my fellow drivers. Now, we move on to Kentucky and we will be working hard to finish the season strong on the No. 3 Team Penske car.”
Briscoe started fourth in the No. 6 Hitachi Team Penske machine and ran well in the early stages of the race, moving up to third place after the first pit stop. On a lap 26 race restart, Franchitti drove into Briscoe from behind to cause a multi-car crash. Franchitti was penalized for avoidable contact as a result of the incident and went to the rear of the field. Briscoe also fell back as a result of the contact but he was able to continue and finish 20th on the day.
"That was a tough result today,” said Briscoe, who remained sixth in the championship standings with Sunday’s result. “Our Hitachi Team Penske car was strong. We were running up front and Franchitti just drove into us on the restart. Obviously he was penalized for the move, but it really damaged both our car and any chance of fighting for the win. I want to thank my guys for their hard work in the pits again today and we will look to close out the year strong on the Kentucky and Las Vegas ovals."
Power’s effort was clearly the bright spot of the day for Team Penske. With the runner-up result, he clinched the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship for the second consecutive season following his stellar performances on road and street circuits this season.
“It's an honor to win the Mario Andretti award again,” added Power, who will try to claim the overall title as well with oval events remaining on the series’ schedule at Kentucky and Las Vegas. “I have such respect for Mario and all he's accomplished. Now we need to keep going and finish the season strong on the ovals."
Team Penske will swing back into action on Sunday, October 2 with the Kentucky Indy 300 at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway oval. Live coverage of the race will begin at 2 p.m. ET on VERSUS.
For more information from Motegi this weekend, visit the Team Penske race weekend media site at http://media.penskeracing.com/teampenskemedia/motegi.