Saturday’s IndyCar race at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi wasn’t a good one for Dario Franchitti. While team-mate Scott Dixon qualified on pole and led all the way to score his second win of the year, Franchitti qualified ninth and spent a good deal of the race working his way back through the field after colliding with Ryan Briscoe during a restart. Dario eventually made it up to eighth as championship rival Will Power drove a flawless race to finish second and take an 11-point lead over the Scot with two rounds to go.
Indycars have raced at Motegi since 1998. CART ran there from 1998-2002 with the IRL taking over in ‘03. The first 13 races were run on the 1.5-mile oval, but this year’s event was on the 2.983-mile road course after the oval was damaged by last winter’s earthquake. Despite drawing a pretty good crowd, Motegi never was able to make a profit on the race, and sorganisers announced last February before the earthquake that this would be the last IndyCar race at the track.
The road course proved slippery but challenging as most drivers struggled to put down the power. Dixon was well down the order on the opening day but came through to beat Power to pole before driving a perfect race. Power chased hard but couldn’t put any serious pressure on the leader, eventually finishing 3.4 seconds behind.
Through the opening 20 laps Franchitti moved from ninth to fifth before trying too hard on a restart and running into Briscoe’s tail. The collision delayed Franchitti, and Briscoe also collided with Dario’s team-mates Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball who spun. It was probably Franchitti’s worst moment of the season and neither he nor team owner Chip Ganassi were pleased.
“Dixon had a great day,” said Ganassi. “He did everything he possibly could for the team and there’s obviously going to be some tough conversations. Before the race we said to Dario, ‘Drive like a champion.’ And that move in turn one was very disappointing. He took out two of our cars. So it’s good news and bad news. Dario is obviously still a champion and still a great driver, but it wasn’t his day.”
“It was a stupid move on my part,” admitted Franchitti. “I saw what I thought was a gap and went down the inside and the gap closed quickly. If I had to do that again I’d definitely not make that move. I’d done a lot of hard work getting from ninth to fifth and basically screwed it up.
“I’ve apologised to Ryan, and Charlie and Graham as well, two of my team-mates to whom I was nothing helpful. I apologised to Chip too. If I’m going to win this championship I’m going to have to stop making mistakes.”
On the other hand, Power could not have been happier: “We raced pretty hard for the win but Scott was just solid all day. But it was a great day because we gained points on Dario and can’t be disappointed with second. Of course, we’d love to win every time, but at no point during the race was I settling for second. It was as good as we could get. If we can win the championship it will be perfect.”
Both this year’s final two races are on 1.5-mile banked ovals – the Kentucky Speedway on October 2 and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16.