Will Power tops opening practice for Indy Japan

THE FINAL AT MOTEGIWill Power topped the time chart with a lap of 1 minute, 39.4745 seconds on the 2.983-mile, 14-turn Twin Ring Motegi road course in the initial practice session for the Indy Japan.Power, seeking to wrap up his second consecutive Mario Andretti Road Trophy, was among the three Team Penske drivers in the top five. Helio Castroneves (1:39.5965) was second and Ryan Briscoe (1:40.1887) was fourth.Rookie James Hinchcliffe placed third in the No. 06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing car, while Marco Andretti was fifth in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy entry for Andretti Autosport. The top 10 were separated by less than a second. Local favorite Takuma Sato was 10th in the No. 5 KV Racing Technology-Lotus car."It's a very, very nice circuit," said Power, who enters the 63-lap race Sept. 18 five points behind front-runner Dario Franchitti in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship chase and leads Franchitti by 14 points in the Mario Andretti Road Trophy duel. "It's smooth, flowing.  It's one of the nicest circuits we've been to all year.  I think it is going to be tough to pass. I think (the best opportunity is) Turn 11, after the long backstraight. Maybe down in Turn 3, too."It's the first time the IZOD IndyCar Series, which has competed at Twin Ring Motegi since 2003, has utilized the road course. Damage to the 1.5-mile oval from the March 11 earthquake prompted the switch to the road course.DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:The IZOD IndyCar Series will compete in the Indy Japan The Final, a 63-lap race on the 14-turn, 2.983-mile road course at 1 p.m. (JST) on Sunday. The race broadcast will air live in the United States beginning at 11:30 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday,***Live timing and scoring reports from the Indy Japan The Final are available on the Internet at www.indycar.com. The live timing and scoring module provides statistical information, including track segment speeds, lap information and much more. Feature stories, reports, driver quotes and notes, and photos will be posted on the site each day. More detailed information, including media advisories and VNF coordinates, is available at media.indycar.com. Real-time information is available via the IZOD IndyCar Series PR's twitter account at www.twitter.com/indycarpr.***Drivers will have 15 total pushes of the Honda overtake assist - an ECU software alteration employed by Honda Performance Development - each lasting 15 seconds during the Indy Japan The Final. It is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout. There is a 10-second recovery period between pushes. One overtake assist push is available for the final practice session.***Each of the 26 entries receives six sets of Firestone Firehawk primary (black sidewall), three sets of alternate (red sidewall) and five sets of rain tires for the race weekend.The primary tires are new for this race, and the alternate tire was used at Edmonton. The rain tire is also new for this year, and this is the last time this particular spec will be used this season."We're tremendously excited to make our debut on Twin Ring Motegi's road course, as it will give the Japanese fans their first chance to see our alternate tire program in action," said Firestone Racing executive director Al Speyer, who at the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 4 marked Firestone's 200th IndyCar victory since re-entering the sport in 1996.***·         Tony Kanaan, who raced from the rear of the field to finish third in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, is the Firestone Tire-ific Move of the Race recipient via a poll on www.indycar.com.•          The field for IZOD IndyCar Series races this season has averaged 27 entries (there are 26 for Twin Ring Motegi).•          Andretti Autosport has four victories - most of any IZOD IndyCar Series team - at Twin Ring Motegi (on the oval): Dan Wheldon in 2004 and '05, Tony Kanaan in 2007 and Danica Patrick in 2008. Michael Andretti won the 2000 Champ Car race at the track.•          Castroneves had four pole starts, producing victories in 2006 and 2010, on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval. He needs to win in the final three races of the season to extend his series-record streak to 12 years.•          The Nos. 3 and 6 Team Penske cars are carrying Hitachi as a sponsor this weekend.***A dozen teen-age male students huddled around Ana Beatriz in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing garage, half-listening to the interpreter's explanation of the steering wheel while fixing their eyes on the IZOD IndyCar Series driver from Brazil."I don't think they were expecting a female race car driver," their teacher from the Bunsei University of Art High School in Utsunomiya said, "and such a lovely and personable one at that."A few feet away, teammate Giorgio Pantano was similarly pointing out the functions of the multitude of buttons on his steering wheel. Polite smiles and light applause (not giggles and wrapped attention) were his reward on Friendship Day at Twin Ring Motegi.Tens of thousands mingled at the racetrack, swarming drivers and series officials such as Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr. for autographs and photos like flocks of birds upon sighting. Beatriz, attempting to keep up with requests during the formal autograph session on the oval racing surface, maintained a cool demeanor on a humid day."It was great to show (the students) what IndyCar is like and they see something that they haven't seen before and they might get to love it," said Beatriz, who a few hours later participated in the initial practice session on the 2.983-mile, 14-turn road course."Japanese people are so polite so you have to say, 'Come on, guys, let's go over here,' to see the car. They don't just walk over and look. I wish I could speak Japanese so I could relate to them. They are such great people."The Indy Japan is more than a race in 2011; it is welcome for an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. The quake damaged a section in Turn 3 of the 1.5-mile oval, prompting the switch to the recently repaved road course.Rebuilding efforts in the northeast part of the country continue, but they've been slowed by government red tape. The power grid isn't a full capacity as far south as Tokyo (86 miles), so only half of the Ginza's neon shines nightly and some businesses have incorporated off hours of operation to conserve electricity.A tremor was felt at the racetrack Sept. 15 - quite a welcome for the IZOD IndyCar Series."It's absolutely necessary to race here especially after what happened on March 11 with the devastating earthquake and tsunami," said KV Racing Technology-Lotus driver Takuma Sato, a Tokyo native who has been leading the promotional charge for the event and relief efforts. "Japan needs energy and IndyCar has great energetic excitement."Seeing the enthusiasm of the spectators on Friendship Day, rookie driver JR Hildebrand compared it to Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - sans the alcohol-induced revelry."Coming here, hopefully we can have a positive impact on the people," he said. "You can see from the reaction of the people that they're real excited to have the race going on. Maybe people can use this to have some time with their family, be a distraction. We need to do everything we can as a group to make this an entertaining event for the spectators' sake."Added Alex Tagliani of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, who also hosted a group of students: "The weekend should be an eye-opener and help us appreciate all that we have in life and not to take things for granted." ***The Graham Rahal Foundation will play host to the inaugural Race for Research, benefiting the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps and Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation on Oct. 12 at Pole Position Raceway in Las Vegas.For additional information, visit www.grahamrahalfoundation.org.***Cars and pit equipment will carry a sticker in honor of Chris Griffis, the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Firestone Indy Lights team manager who died earlier this week... With three events remaining this season, Danica Patrick could reach 51 consecutive races running at the finish before departing for stock cars. ... Tony Kanaan will make his 147th consecutive start. ... Helio Castroneves needs 25 laps led to pass Paul Tracy (4,238) and become the all-time leader.INDY JAPAN THE FINAL POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing): (About the new circuit): "It's a lot of fun to drive.  It's challenging. I enjoyed my first session." (About where they can make gains on track):  "I'm sure everyone is going to go back and look at their teammates data to find out the areas where they are really good and areas they are really bad and try to tie it all together for tomorrow. That's the usual thing on a new track.  The Target boys did a good job showing up with a car that was quite close. I think a lot of people ran a second set of tires.  We ran just one set so I'm fairly happy. We'll work hard tonight and see where we come out tomorrow. "RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Hitachi Team Penske): "The Hitachi car felt pretty good out there today, although we have a little work to do to get the most out of the car. The Motegi road circuit is very nice, but it's very slippery out there. I'm sure the track will grip up and we have a bit left in the car so tomorrow should be good."ORIOL SERVIA (No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing): "The track is smooth. It's a lot more slippery than we thought. Next time, I will make sure to play (the Motegi course on) Gran Turismo like James did. Obviously our car is not bad with James running as well as he is. I just need to pick it up a little. As expected, we received a great welcome from the Japanese people. Yesterday was interesting to feel the earthquake but I hope there are no more. The fans are great as usual. I really hope this isn't the last time we come back to race in Japan. My visor went for 50,000 yen which, I think was a high number. It felt good to help raise money for a good cause."JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing): "Now I can justify to my girlfriend why I was in the basement on Playstation for three days. The track is quite cool. You can tell that everything was laid out well here. The place is immaculate and it's the smoothest place we run on all year. The layout is cool with some technical sections and great braking zones. The track is very slippery though. It felt like an out lap every lap because it's so slippery. The big challenge will be to predict what will happen tomorrow. Since there are no support series here with us, the track won't come up to grip as quick as a normal weekend. This weekend will be about hard work and trying to stay ahead of everything. (About jetlag:) "Yesterday was pretty rough. I had to force myself to stay up to 9 p.m. but then I managed to sleep 11 hours straight and I feel right as rain."WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske): "It's a very, very nice circuit.  It's smooth, flowing.  It's one of the nicest circuits we've been to all year.  I think it is going to be tough to pass. I think (the best opportunity is) Turn 11, after the long backstraight, that's a potential area to pass. Maybe down in Turn 3.  It seems like it's going to be hard to pass.MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom): "The track is fun and I think it's going to race well, but there's just no grip out there right now. Even the guys in the top five aren't totally happy with their cars I'm sure. We'll go through our data tonight and hopefully keep the Venom car running in the top and qualify well tomorrow."RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop Citrus Soda): "We started out really well with the DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop car - when everybody was still learning the track, but we ended up too far off. I think we're going to have to change the game plan for tomorrow. Weather might play a factor as well with the chance of rain, but regardless we're going to have to change the car quite a bit."MIKE CONWAY (No. 27 @FollowAndretti): "The circuit is cool and I had a lot of fun but we still have a long way to go on getting the @FollowAndretti car right. It's still quite difficult to get around at the moment but we can work on it. One of the team cars is in the top five so we'll see what we've got and go from there."DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy): "The track is really nice and it seems relatively straight forward to get going. It's not extremely tricky and that's probably in part because it's so nice and smooth you can put the car where you want it. But we're struggling for grip out there, it's very slippery and the Go Daddy car never really took a set like it needs to in corners. I was just waiting for it as it slid through corners and the corners here are so long so you lose so much time when that happens. We continue to make little improvements along the way but we still have a ways to go."HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske): "This track is more like Elkhart Lake. It's impressive. The runoff areas are pretty nice. The track is very smooth, especially coming from our last race on a street course. It looks like there are a lot of places for overtaking. It's very challenging. The corners are long. Sometimes we got too hot coming into a corner and it upset the exit. Sometimes we were too slow coming in and we had plenty of exit. It's very technical. We're very lucky that the car came out of the plane with the brakes set up."JP de OLIVEIRA (No. 34 Ceremony Conquest Racing): "The car feels very different from what I'm used to, so I need to re-adapt in terms of driving style, but I feel like we progressed through the session. We had an issue with the pedals as my feet are not touching the floor when I have to push the brake and throttle pedals. That compromised a lot our lap time through the session, however I was able to get the feeling from the car and start chipping away."SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE (All times local)

9 - 10 a.m.

IZOD IndyCar Series practice #2

12 - 1 p.m.

IZOD IndyCar Series practice #3

3 - 4:20 p.m.

PEAK Performance Pole Qualifying (Knockout qualifying and Firestone Fast Six)

***The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Indy Japan: The Final on Sept. 18 at Twin Ring Motegi. The race will be televised live at 11:30 p.m. (ET), Sept. 17 by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Kentucky 100 on Oct. 2 at the Kentucky Speedway. The race will be televised by VERSUS.