Target Chip Ganassi Racing (TCGR) driver Scott Dixon piloted the No. 9 Target Honda Dallara to its second win of the 2011 season in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. The victory was Dixon's 27th career win, which also marked the 86th for TCGR and145th for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. Target teammate Dario Franchitti took the checkered flag in eighth.
Dixon started from the pole and ran at the front of the field for the opening 21 laps of the race. After extending his lead over second place to just more than two seconds, he brought the No. 9 in for its first green flag pit stop. When he returned to the track, he was able to maintain his lead over the rest of the field. He secured the bonus points for leading the most laps and then stretched out to a more than four-second lead. On lap 44, Dixon came back to the attention of the pit crew for four tires and fuel during his final scheduled stop of the race. Following the full cycle of green flag stops, Dixon held onto the lead, survived a late-race restart and took the checkered flag ahead of his challengers.
Franchitti started the day from the ninth position, but quickly moved up to sixth by the end of lap one. As the race wore on, he made another move to put himself into the top-five. His first scheduled pit stop came on lap 21, but one lap later the yellow flag flew for a full-course caution. On the following restart, the No. 10 Target car was involved in an on-track incident, which dropped him back to the 23rd position. By lap 34, Franchitti had made his way back up to 19th, and after his final stop of the day moved into 13th. After avoiding multiple incidents in the closing laps, he cut through traffic to finish eighth.
“I have got to give a lot of the credit to Team Target today,” the Kiwi said after the race. “They gave me a fantastic car, and in some sections I was just cruising trying to save fuel. But the Firestone tires performed brilliantly for my car, which was fantastic. But huge credit goes out to the team. Great pit stops, great fuel strategy, everything was flawless and that is what we needed to win here.”
Dario Franchittis said; “First, I’d like to congratulate my teammate. (Scott) did great job all weekend. The incident was totally my mistake, totally my mistake. I did a lot hard work to get from ninth to fifth, and I’d been saving fuel the whole first stint. I made a risky move on the restart. I thought there was a gap and Ryan (Briscoe) 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. Great job by the guys in the pits and I drove as hard as I knew how. I shouldn’t have put us in that position. We still have it all to play for, but I keep making it more difficult. If you win or if you lose, you always look at the championship as a whole. Today, Loudon, Texas, Indy and on and on. You always look at these things, but Will (Power) can do the same with his races. That was a mistake today. I shouldn’t have made it. I apologized to Graham and I apologized to Chip. Briscoe and Charlie (Kimball) I will apologize to when I see him. I own up to the mistake and Chip is right to be critical. It was a stupid move, and I shouldn’t have done it.”
The Novo Nordisk team proved to adapt well on the 14-turn, 2.983-mile Motegi road course when Charlie Kimball captured his season-best qualifying effort of seventh, marking his third top-10 qualifying effort of his rookie season.
Kimball hastily slid the No. 83 Novo Nordisk car into fourth-place on the first lap. The team held on to a spot in the top-five for much of the first stint. Kimball had a solid run going in the top 10 until he was forced to veer off into the gravel to avoid an on-track melee on lap 26, causing the unharmed No. 83 to drop back to 21st. With two laps remaining, Kimball was running 19th when he would make contact with another car, which resulted in a 23rd-place finish for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing.
With the finish, Kimball maintains third-place in the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year point standings and 19th overall.
With Chip Ganassi drivers all over the field and after running near the top of the speed charts during the practice sessions, the No. 38 Service Central car advanced to the Firestone Fast Six for the fifth time this season, nabbing a third-place qualifying position for Graham Rahal.
Rahal kept his third-place starting position for the first stint. The Service Central team would quickly complete their first pit stop on lap 20, allowing the No. 38 Service Central car to maintain its top-five run with fresh tires and a full tank of fuel. The strong run by Rahal came to an abrupt stop when he was innocently collected in the fracas of lap 26, but would avoid losing a lap and restart 24th. The Service Central car charged through the field and gained 12 positions before bringing home a 12th-place finish for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing.
Rahal advances one position to ninth in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings.
“It was a frustrating day for the Service Central team,” said Rahal. ”We were collected in an incident early in the race, which put us at the back of the field. No. 38 Service Central car was fast all weekend and had the pace to finish up front. The Service Central guys did a great job. It's just a disappointing finish, especially as we head into the final two races. We needed good points.”