DIXON SAYS SAYONARA TO THE FIELD AT MOTEGI
By Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com
MOTEGI, Japan -- The Indy Japan was Scott Dixon's from the start, which is just what the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver needed to make a championship push as the IZOD IndyCar Series season winds down.
Dixon held off Will Power -- the new championship front-runner and repeat Mario Andretti Road Trophy titlist -- to win the final race at the mountaintop motorsports retreat and remain a factor in the title chase.
That race within a race turned on a Lap 26 restart when Dario Franchitti, who carried a five-point leader over Power into the 63-lap race, swung to the right and made contact with the right-rear of the No. 6 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske car driven by Ryan Briscoe entering Turn 1. Franchitti engaged reverse gear and continued, while Briscoe and Graham Rahal continued after being restarted.
"That was a pretty ambitious move," team owner Chip Ganassi said before Race Control levied an avoidable contact penalty on the reigning series champion, which sent him to the rear of the field.
He advanced 16 spots to finish eighth (after a post-race penalty to Helio Castroneves for passing under a local yellow on Lap 63, which dropped the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car to last on the lead lap at 22nd).
"It was a stupid move on my part," said Franchitti, who started ninth. "I did a lot hard work to get from ninth to fifth, and I’d been saving fuel the whole first stint. I thought there was a gap and Ryan was going wide on the entry and that was that. It was just a stupid move and we had a great fight back from (25th).
"We'll shrug this one off, move forward and see if we can do better next (race)."
Power's 11th top-five finish of the season bumped his point total to 542, which is 11 points ahead of Franchitti. Dixon is 59 points out of first heading into the final two races -- both on 1.5-mile ovals.
"It was a good day for us points-wise in the championship, but I'm really not worried about points right now," said Power, who clinched the Mario Andretti Road Trophy for the top points producer on the 10 road/street courses. "I just need to keep finishing in front of the 10 car the rest of the way and we'll be fine. We'll keep chipping away like we have been."
Dixon, who won by 3.4 seconds, picked up his 27th Indy car victory, breaking a tie with Rodger Ward and tying Johnny Rutherford for 11th on the all-time list. He has the distinction of winning on the 1.5-mile oval and now the 2.983-mile road course. A day earlier, he tied Emerson Fittipaldi for 18th with his 17th earned pole.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Team Target; they gave me a fantastic car. In some sections of the race I was just cruising trying to save fuel," he said. "Great pit stops and fuel strategy, and everything was flawless.”
Marco Andretti finished third in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy car -- his best road/street course placing of the season -- and Alex Tagliani advanced 11 spots relative to his starting position to finish fourth in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. Oriol Servia also made a major move -- from 16th to fifth in the No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing car.
Sebastien Bourdais, competing in his final race of the season in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing, finished sixth for the fourth time in the past six races. Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader JR Hildebrand posted his best finish since Iowa (fourth) in June with a seventh place in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car.
“We all worked together this weekend to get a car that wasn’t necessarily the fastest in the field, but one that was easy to sit back and rip off some laps," Hildebrand said. "And for today’s race, that’s what you needed."