If anyone other than your humble host was up watching the qualifications last night on Indycar.com, you were no doubt treated to quite a show – in Japanese. I didn’t understand a word of it save for the occasional mention of driver names (“Dohn-eee-kah Pah-toh-reek”) and the incessant interjection of “Hai” (Yes) by co-hosts, but I couldn’t stop watching.
Maybe it was the driver interviews in English – which always included “are you satisfied with your performance?” and were promptly translated back into Japanese. Maybe it was the Motegi girls hawking IndyCar merchandise while butchering the pronunciation of names. Maybe it was that Humpty Dumpty looking mascot dude. Maybe it was the Pokemon-style graphics with crazy headshots of the drivers. Whatever the case, it was total entertainment.
Also entertained was Helio Castroneves, who captured the pole for the Japan Indy 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. Spiderman hopes to not only repeat his winning performance in the last race in St Petersburg, but also his last race here in Japan. In other words he really wants to win, although it remains to be seen if he wants to win as much as Danica Patrick does.
Here is the ranking of this weekend’s competitors in order of likelihood to win at this notoriously brutal track. Use this list at your own peril, whether it be for betting or amusement.
1. Wheldon – Last three races here: 1st, 1st, 2nd. There’s your favorite, and let’s hope he doesn’t run away from everyone like he did at Homestead.
2. Castroneves – Only slightly less than Wheldon based on Dan’s total domination of Homestead, but clearly Castroneves is expected to be up at the front all day. He’s the defending chamion and that form has held through two races in 2006.
3. Kanaan – He’s the Vitor Meira of Motegi. Two podiums without being on the top step in the last three years here. He’s the most likely to make a challenge against the Red Scare of Penske and Ganassi.
4. Patrick – Maybe it’s this Kool-Aid I’m drinking, but that doesn’t change the fact that Danica! led 22 laps here two years ago in a 4th place finish. Strong lap times this week indicate she has as good a chance as anyone if Wheldon or Castroneves make a mistake.
5. Rice – No, this is not a mistake. Jesse James must love the sushi, because in his last three races here he’s finished no worse than 6th. Two words: Dark Horse.
6. Hornish – There must be something about this egg-shaped track, because the Lord of the Oval Rings has never finished higher than 4th in four races here. What’s up with that?
7. Dixon – In three races the Iceman has never bested 5th place at Motegi, but the Ganassi equipment should help…yada yada yada. He’ll need to do better than that to stay atop the points standings.
8. Franchitti – Mr Judd led 67 laps here two years ago before crashing out, and he’s never finished better than 7th. On the positive side, starting from 7th is his best yet at Motegi.
9. Matsuura – The announcers were going crazy last night when he qualified P3, but then watched as he got bumped all the way down to 9th on the starting grid. In three ICS races here he’s always between 7th and 9th – expect more of the same.
10. Meira – Meira qualified in 13th and complained of a sore back from his crash earlier in the week, so it seems he’s looking to simply finish this race and take whatever points he can get on the way to Kansas. His best finish here is 10th.
11. Andretti – He was never in contention in his debut here last year and finished in 12th, last of the AGR cars. He qualified lowest of all the AGR cars this year, so this is clearly a track he’s struggling to learn.
12. Scheckter – He’s looked above-average by posting Top 10s in both races of 2007, but he’s never bested 10th at Motegi. Don’t let the qualifying fool you, as he’s started as high as fourth here in the past.
13. Sharp – The Immortal’s record at Motegi: 1st(’03), 9th(’04), 2nd(‘05), 16th(’06). Hey, it’s an odd-numbered year so he’s going to the podium - right? Yeah, sure, you betcha.
15. Manning – Danger Mouse previously recorded very respectable finishes of 4th and 8th for TCGR, but he’s not in a TCGR car anymore. Qualifying in last for Foyt Racing just threw a bucket of ice water on the feel-good story of 2007.
14. Fisher – In here lone race here in ’03 she started 14th and finished 23rd. Since here return to the ICS last year she has completed all four races, but staying on the track here will be a big test for The Queen.
16. Foyt – Quattro’s 14th here two years ago was his best, and after taking out his teammate in St Pete we can safely say the expectations are very, very low.
17. Carpenter – Highest finish at Motegi for ECG is 16th, and twice he’s been Dead Freaking Last. It would seem this track owns him, so let’s say there’s a lot of room for improvement.
18. Simmons – Simmons ended up on his head at Motegi last year, has been involved in accidents the last two races, and qualifed next to last on a tricky race track. You never want to predict a driver will have an accident, but…let’s hope he goes without incident.
Money says: “Hmmmm....I am gonna go with Kanaan.” That’s the same driver he picked as last race, so maybe this a double-or-nothing style call. Clearly his confidence is shaken after breaking the winning streak last week.
Enjoy the show!
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