Running two races in one weekend is not an uncommon thing in racing. Many feeder or development series, from F1’s feeder GP2 to the local dirt track do this to have a big schedule while minimizing travel. The top level of American open-wheel has not seen it since the initial CART season of 1979, when they ran twice in Atlanta, Trenton, and Michigan. The IndyCar Series will be doing it for the first time this weekend. This weekend is not the same, however.
That’s because the Series is having two entirely different races with two entirely different fields on two entirely different continents. At midnight on Saturday, the Indy Japan 300 will run from Twin Ring Motegi. 37 hours later, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will run from the streets of the California city. Both races are sanctioned Indy Racing League events, and count as part of the Series standings.
The quirk exists because of the acquisition of the Champ Car series by the Indy Racing League. The Long Beach (on the CART/Champ Car schedule since 1984) race cannot be moved for logistical reasons. IndyCar’s sole engine sponsor Honda, who bankrolls the majority of costs for the race, declined to change the date of this race, both due to schedule congestion and an unwillingness to move for a race sponsored by rivals Toyota.
Considering that there are 27 full-time entries in IndyCar, a key concern for both races was the car count. However, this will not be a problem. The Motegi race will feature 18 cars (the usual count for IndyCar last season), while Long Beach will have a better-than last season total of 20 cars.
The Long Beach race has special meaning, as it is been conceived as a “series finale” for Champ Car. Teams will use the Panoz DP01 chassis used by CC last season, a very different beast from the Dallara chassis used by the IRL. It will also be bringing out of the woodwork several drivers and teams who did not make the switch to IndyCars.
There are nine drivers expected who have been racing IndyCars:
- Newman/Haas/Lanigan’s Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson
- KV Racing’s Oriol Servia and Will Power
- Conquest’s Franck Perera and Enrique Bernoldi
- Dale Coyne’s Bruno Junqueira and Mario Moraes
- HVM’s E.J. Viso.
Other rides include:
- 1996 CART champion and KV Racing co-owner Jimmy Vasser coming out of retirement for one last race.
- HVM will run two extra cars with veteran Roberto Moreno and Nelson Philippe joining Viso.
- Forsythe Racing, opting out of IndyCars, return with David Martinez and Franck Montagny. Former CART champ Paul Tracy raced for Forsythe last year, but after the team decide not to transition he has been trying to get out of his contract and get an IndyCar ride. It is unlikely he will run now.
- Rocketsports will run Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia and Finn Juho Annala.
- Walker Racing, unable to finance an IndyCar ride after Craig Gore took the Team Australia (and Will Power) to KV Racing, will run Alex Tagliani.
- Pacific Coast Motorsports (PCM) will run with boss’ son Alex Figge (nepotism is as much a part of auto racing as steering wheels and pit stops) and Mexican veteran Mario Dominguez. There have been rumors recently that this might be the team’s “debut” in the series.
The race itself will be a little strange. Nine drivers have all the incentive in the world to do well, since the results from this race will carry over to the IndyCar standings. It is wholly possible that one of them could be leading the points going into Kansas, especially Rahal. It may be a struggle for several of the full-timers, not only because they are switching back to a different car, but because some of them have never actually driven in a Champ Car race. Despite their “transition” label Viso, Perera, Bernoldi, Moraes have never started a Champ Car race.
The IndyCar race run with actual IndyCars will have a field that is almost all regulars, so you’ll be seeing Danica, Helio, and 17 other people who haven’t been in a swimsuit issue or on a dancing reality show in Japan. The only non-regular entry is that of CURB/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports, who will run Roger Yasukawa here and at Indianapolis.
Scott Dixon topped the charts at the first practice, the only driver to average over 200 mph. In the second session, the Kiwi was joined by Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, and Helio Castroneves (the order being Kanaan-Dixon-Wheldon-Castroneves). Close behind in the 199 mph range were Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, and Ryan Briscoe. Vitor Meira and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who both did well in St. Pete, have been towards the bottom, only ahead of the two Roth cars and Yasukawa.
A lot of the attention this week has been placed on the newest member of Andretti Green Racing, Hideki Mutoh. This is unsurprising as the rookie is the only Japanese driver in the race (Yasukawa is of Japanese heritage, but is from L.A.). He will have the fan support, but still has the uphill battle to contend.
All reports I’ve read have shown rain for today/tomorrow (stupid time zones!), which could mean no qualification session. I’m not sure what the procedure is for a rained out qualifying – the IndyCar website only shows qualifying rules for dry conditions. The last time I remember a rained out qualifying was in 2005, when Danica won the pole based on the best practice speed. If this remains the rule, her current teammate Kanaan would started on pole.
- Paul Tracy will be running at Long Beach.
- Qualifying was cancelled at Motegi due to rain. The field was set based on points, so series leader Helio Castroneves "wins" pole. It is his 25th career IRL pole in his 100th IRL race, so unless you're in 2nd grade you can figure out the percentage of pole positions for Helio.