Castroneves wins Indy Japan 300

by Jim Armstrong

The Associated Press

MOTEGI, Tochigi Pref. — Pole-sitter Helio Castroneves of Brazil won the Indy Japan 300 on Sunday to ensure the IndyCar series championship will come down to the final race of the year.

Castroneves gained the lead from Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe on a lap 118 pit stop and held on through 200 laps to earn his third win this season.

“It’s always a tough race here,” said Castroneves who won at Motegi in 2006. “I trusted my car and trusted my team which did a great job in the pit stops.”

Defending series champion Dario Franchitti of Scotland was second, followed by series points leader Will Power of Australia. Franchitti trails Power by just 12 points heading into the final race of the season on Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Power, who dropped down as far as ninth place during Sunday’s race, said he was pleased to recover but was disappointed he didn’t finish ahead of Franchitti after starting third on the grid.

“The team did a great job to get me back up to third,” Power said. “I’ve never finished ahead of Dario on an oval. I’m getting closer and I really want to finish ahead of him next time.”

Franchitti, who was second here in 2000 and 2009, beat Power to the finish line by just 0.4997 of a second.

“Will did a great job to get back in the race but I managed to keep some length from him,” Franchitti said. “Now it’s all up to Homestead and I’ve just got to beat him.”

Castroneves led for 153 laps to clinch two bonus points for most the laps led. He is now third in the overall standings with 501 points, but has been eliminated from the title chase along with New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, who finished sixth.

Briscoe, who started on the front row with Castroneves, was fourth. Danica Patrick, who won here in 2008 to became the first female winner in IndyCar history, was fifth.

Former Formula One driver Takuma Sato finished 12th for the best finish among three Japanese drivers.