Thursday, September 15, 2011

One More Time: Motegi Japan Preview

Since Japan is ahead of the United States on time, I thought we’d jump ahead one day of when we normally do our race preview. We go into the final Motegi visit for IZOD IndyCar with a close championship battle, a close Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle, a TEAM money battle that is heating up, and the Mario Andretti Trophy on the line.

A Championship Decided: First and foremost, this weekend will decide whether or not Will Power can hold off Dario Franchitti to be road/street champ and gain the Mario Andretti Trophy. Power is 13 points ahead going into the final twisty of 2011. Of course, we’ll also be watching to see if Power can jump ahead of Franchitti in the overall championship point standings going into the last two races. You know Power wants to build whatever sort of lead he can before we hit the ovals.

Night Owls: That’s right, this race is on late (if you’re totally lost, tune into VERSUS at 11:30pm ET on Saturday night). If you find yourself up at 2am at some point during the weekend to listen in on practice or qualifying, give yourself Iron Fan status. Or possibly Insomniac IndyCar Fan status. Either way, for those of us in the Midwest or East Coast, this race will be over late in the wee hours of Sunday AM. I’ll be around to chat on Twitter with my fellow die-hards. Let’s have fun with it!

One and Done: This will be the first time the series has contested the Motegi road course. It will also be the last for the foreseeable future. Although many looked at the Motegi course as too narrow to have much passing, watching Formula Nippon gives some hope that the track should offering some overtaking here and again. It’s definitely a bit different from the normal courses we see on the schedule, which in and of itself might make for some shuffling in the field. I think this race will definitely have more action than some have suggested.

Rock Star Sato: If you don’t recall last year’s visit to Japan, Takuma Sato was a bona fide star with the Motegi fans. IndyCar’s fans in Japan are already a dedicated lot; seeing them swarm Sato was simply awesome. It’ll be great to see him get that same treatment this year.

Like Alphaville before him, Sato's Big In Japan.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
 
Rise of the One-Shots: In a nice switch, the two one-off drivers entered for this race should have a nice chance at a solid finish. Joao Paolo de Oliveira (Conquest) and Hideki Mutoh (AFS/SSM) are both familiar with the Motegi road course; in fact, de Oliveira has won here and is defending Formula Nippon champion. A Top 10 for both entries would not shock me one bit.

Rookie of the Year Update: James Hinchcliffe still trails JR Hildebrand by 3 points for Sunoco Rookie of the Year. This could be Hinch’s last chance to drop some big points on his competitor before we get to the last two ovals, where Panther should be in line for some solid runs.

Kimball’s Doldrums: Speaking of rookies, it’s been a tough stretch for Charlie Kimball since New Hampshire. If he wants to finish in the Top 22 in TEAM money, a good result here would be a nice start.

Rocket Ryan: Ryan Hunter-Reay has 7 Top 10s with a victory in his last 7 races. It would seem like he'd be in a good spot to keep that streak going this weekend, but we'll have to see how it plays out. He's been a constant good result for Andretti Autosport while their other drivers are still largely up-and-down.

The Revenge of Brazil: Given Danica's comments on Brazilian drivers yesterday, I can't imagine she'll see much courtesy from them on the track. And I can't say I blame them.

Other Weekend Notes: Giorgio Pantano gets another whirl in the #22 for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing; he’s been enjoyable to watch so far this year…Mike Conway’s livery is back to the @FollowAndretti format for Motegi—I wonder if they’ll get an influx of Japanese Twitter followers?...outside of our one-shots, I like James Jakes to finally break out a bit this weekend with a good result. He’s been close the past couple of weeks…Conquest’s #34 car will be sponsored by the Japanese wedding/funeral company Ceremony, which might be the only time a funeral company has sponsored the side of an IndyCar.

Best-Looking Car: Pantano’s Kona Deep #22 car is striking, but I sort of like purple and yellow Ceremony livery for the de Oliveira's #34.

Pole Position Prediction: No upset here; I like Will Power to win the pole...

Winner Prediciton: ...but I’m taking Takuma Sato to get the job done in front of a home crowd. Do it, Taku.

Take A Minute: Lost somewhere in the arguments over radiation and earthquakes, road and oval, Asian and American time zones, is the fact that a lot of folks in Japan are still feeling the effects of a truly epic disaster. I’m hoping the series will bring some commerce and diversion to our friends over there, but most of all, I hope it brings them some joy and happiness that they really need. If you think of it this week, take a moment to visit sites such as Takuma Sato’s With You Japan to see how you can help.

Enjoy the weekend, and get some rest, Eastern Standard Time brethren. We’ll need it on this one! Make sure to stop back by tomorrow for an all-new Six Quick Questions with a driver owning one awesome nickname!

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