Indy Japan 300

Twin Ring Motegi

Race Report - Indy Japan: The Final

MOTEGI, Japan Sept. 18, 2011 – Aside from seeing the impressive Twin Ring Motegi and its more impressive Japanese fans, the best part of this Asian trip for Vitor Meira and the ABC Supply team just may be the flight home. Meira started 24th and was punted from behind with two laps to go relegating him to the sand trap in turn 3 and 25th in the Indy Japan: The Final boxscore.

Scott Dixon won the race from the pole. Second through fifth were Will Power, Marco Andretti, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia.

“Very tough weekend to be honest,” Meira said afterwards. “We kept making improvements. In the race we picked up and got back to 16th and we were running an okay pace, not as competitive as we wanted to be, but okay. Unfortunately, on the last restart after I had passed Briscoe, in the next corner, [Charlie] Kimball maybe he braked too late but he ran into my rear end and took me out. So that was very disappointing, we charged hard all race long trying to make up spots and to get taken out when we were making up ground, it is disappointing.”

The weekend didn’t start out that bleak as Meira was 17th in the first practice and 13th in the second, so the progress appeared to be headed in the right direction. However, the third practice right before qualifying in which he was 25th became an unwelcome harbinger of things to come. He qualified 24th.

In the final practice on race day, he had mechanical/electrical issues that saw him sitting outside turn 9 for most of the morning warm-up, having gotten in only five laps in the 30-minute session.

Despite the questionable race start and subsequent restarts where only the first couple rows were in proper formation, Meira was in 20th by the first round of pit stops. However, a problem on the first pit stop when the car wasn’t aligned close enough for refueling necessitated the car to be wheel-jacked into position. By lap 21, he was back to 25th.

Meira didn’t give up and by running a clean race after that incident, he climbed to 16th before the contact with Kimball which pitched him into the sand trap backwards. Commentators noted that if a car entered a sand trap forwards the driver could drive through it and come out on track, but if he spun into it backwards, he would spin his wheels trying to extricate himself to no avail. Meira sat helplessly watching the field race by him the final two laps.

He slipped from 13th to 15th in the points standings.

“We have to move forward, giving up is not what we do,” Meira said. “The next race is Kentucky where hopefully we are competitive there. We have a lot of information and good things going for Kentucky so we push onwards and work for a better race result in Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Indy 300 will be broadcast live on Versus on Sunday, October 2, starting at 2:00 p.m. ET

Qualifying Report – Twin Ring Motegi

MOTEGI, Japan—Vitor Meira and the ABC Supply team will have their work cut out for them in the final Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi Sunday afternoon. Meira will start 24th in the 26-car IZOD IndyCar Series field which saw the 2.98-mile road course for the first time this week.

“It wasn’t what we expected,” said Meira. “We definitely need to step up our road course program. On the street courses, the car behaved very good and we were able to get good results but for some reason on the road courses we are struggling a little bit.”

Team director Larry Foyt pointed to the fact that the No. 14 didn’t gain speed on the alternate, red rimmed tires the way other cars did. Indeed, the car was 17th in the first practice, 13th in the second practice, and 25th in the third practice which turned out to be the predictor for qualifying.

The unknown factor of the tires – it was the first time ever the cars used this primary “black” tire, whereas the alternate “red” tire had been used in Edmonton—proved problematic for the single car teams. All qualified in the bottom half of the field with one exception. That exception was Conquest who hired Joao Paulo De Oliveiro, a Formula Nippon driver who has raced several times on the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Formula Nippon and Super GT 500, both open wheel series. The Brazilian De Oliveiro qualified 12th giving testimony to the importance of experience on this track as a deciding factor in performance.

Meira’s speed of 108.116 mph was actually 22nd quickest but because he was in the second and overall quicker group of 13, he will start behind two cars that were slower but qualified in the first group of 13. Scott Dixon won the pole with a speed of 109.143 mph, making him the only driver to win poles on both circuits of Twin Ring Motegi. Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six were Will Power (109.113), Graham Rahal (108.919), Ryan Briscoe (108.793), rookie James Hinchcliffe (108.558) and Helio Castroneves (108.501). Qualifying lap speeds throughout the field are close with slowest starter Tony Kanaan clocking in at 107.927 mph.

Meira remains optimistic for the race.

“This is not where we wanted to start but it’s a long race and tires will be a very big concern for everybody here,” Meira said. “It seems the reds don’t last as long here so it will be pretty critical on tire management and also tire choice throughout the race. I hope we can make up a lot of spots with that to fight and gain positions on the championship. A top-10 finish is still very much alive.”

The ABC Supply team will have a final 30-minute practice on race morning to get those red tires figured out on the No. 14 car. As for the goal of finishing in the top 10 in the IndyCar Series, Meira knows that it is crunch time for him and the team who are both currently 13th in the standings.

“A top 10 finish in the championship all depends on these next three races so if we do our job correctly, we’re definitely going to finish in the top 10 in the championship. This race will play a big part in that,” Meira concluded.

“Indy Japan-The Final” race will be televised live on Versus tonight (Saturday) starting at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time in the U.S.

NOTES & QUOTES: Indy Japan - The Final

• Vitor Meira on the Motegi road course: “All I know of the Motegi road course is the video game. I’ve been to the oval many times but I have no clue how the road course will be. On the track map and the video game it looks very good and I’m excited to go but that’s all I know.”

• Meira’s predictions? “I think the Motegi race will be good for us. It’s the first time we’re going to be on the road course at Motegi, but so is everybody else. With new tracks we’ve been doing well this year so a top-10 is very possible there. The primary goal is to finish well enough to gain positions on the championship point standings. The final goal is a top-five position and we can definitely do it.”

• Meira on the final race in Japan: “I’m sad because I really like to go to Japan, not only to race but also to meet the people – they are always very kind—and to know more about the culture in the country. I’m sad that it is the last IndyCar race held in Japan but for sure it is not the last time I will go to Japan. I will definitely go back there to visit.”

• Meira’s fondest memory of Japan? “What I most remember about Japan is how kind everybody is and how respectful of their own work everybody is. I admire that and I want to learn to appreciate more the things I do. On a lighter side, after every race we always go out and have fun in Tokyo, which is a fun city, so I remember a lot of parties and a lot of fun times that involved more drinking than I needed.”

• Rookie Andrew Copeland won the Jim Greer Award of Excellence for the Baltimore Grand Prix. Copeland, the newest mechanic on the team (he joined in 2010), became part of the over-the-wall gang and now changes the inside front tire on pit stops. His debut in Baltimore was flawless. Jim Greer, longtime friend of A.J. Foyt, created an award to recognize outstanding performance at race events among the Foyt team members. The recipient, determined by team manager Craig Baranouski and crew chief Tom Howatt, receives a monetary bonus and his name (and the race) engraved on a plaque which hangs in the AJ Foyt Racing Showroom.

• Texas wildfires: A.J. Foyt’s ranch as well as the homes of son Larry and several crew members were under evacuation orders for the last week but those orders have been lifted as the fires in the area have been 85% contained (as of this writing). Sadly, Foyt’s niece and her family (who were out of state at the time) lost their home in the ‘Bastrop’ fire near of Austin. However, it is the 'Magnolia' fire which was the source of the threat to the Foyt ranch. For the third year in a row, Foyt will not travel to Japan but that decision was made before the recent outbreak of devastating fires. Larry will be calling the race as he has for the team this entire season.

• Past performance in Japan (not especially relevant since all occurred on the oval track): Meira’s best start was seventh in 2005 and his best finish was 10th in 2006. The Foyt team’s best finish came in 2008 when Manning finished eighth and their best start was ninth in 2006 with Felipe Giaffone. Good news for Meira is that he is 10th in the road/street course championship (as opposed to 17th in the oval track series) so the switch from the oval to the road course in Twin Ring Motegi could result