INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 14, 2011) – For the ninth consecutive year, the teams of the IZOD IndyCar Series have packed and flown halfway around the world for a race at the Twin Ring Motegi multi-purpose motorsports facility in Tochigi, Japan. It will be the first time, however, that the teams will not race on Motegi’s 1.5-mile, egg-shaped oval track.
When the IndyCar teams, including the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins crew of Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM), begin unpacking the shipping crates, they will be unloading cars prepped and ready for road-course competition, not oval racing. As a result of damage suffered during the 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake in March, the Motegi oval is not suitable for racing. According to series officials, raised ridges to the racetrack surface prevent the oval from being used.
The Indy Japan 300 will be run for the first time on Motegi’s 14-turn, 2.98-mile, natural-terrain road course.
Like most of the IndyCar Series drivers, SSM’s Alex Tagliani has no experience on the Motegi road course. For a driver as intense as Tagliani, track familiarity is usually a focal point headed in to a major race weekend. But for this Motegi event, the circuit itself is taking a back seat to the fact there is a race at all in 2011 at Twin Ring Motegi.
The world watched in fear and awe as the earthquake and tsunami devastated coastal communities of northeast Japan last spring. With the epicenter a little more than 100 miles from Tochigi, few would have guessed that the IndyCar Series would be racing at Motegi just six months later.
It was announced early in 2011 that this would be the last year that a Motegi race would be on the INDYCAR calendar. It would have been easy just to cancel the event and say goodbye to Japan after the earthquake, but the decision was made to move forward with the race – for the Japanese people who have so loyally supported their local racetrack since it first staged an Indy-style oval race in 1998.
With just three races left in the 2011 season, Motegi will be a pivotal race in a tight championship battle. And like all the other races this year, one driver will claim the pole position and one driver will cross the finish line first. However, the real winners of the Indy Japan 300 will be the thousands of Japanese fans who get to escape their recovery for a few hours to enjoy an afternoon at the racetrack.
Alex Tagliani, Driver of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
What is your opinion on the IZOD IndyCar Series going to race in Japan after the earthquakes and tsunami?
“Japanese fans are really passionate about racing. The fact we’re going back there after the devastation of the earthquakes, I think it will give them something to enjoy and to be entertained. Hopefully, it will help them take their minds off of stuff. It is going to be a little uncomfortable going there to race, knowing these people have been through so much. I have mixed emotions. Once we get caught up in the race events, I don’t want it to come off as if we’re indifferent to what they’re going through. The weekend should be an eye-opener and help us appreciate all that we have in life and not to take things for granted.”
Due to damage from the earthquake, you will be racing on the Motegi road course. Talk about that.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the Motegi road course every time I’ve been there. Obviously, it’s in the middle of the oval. It looks like a very beautiful road course. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never driven on it, but it should be quite nice. It will be fun. I never thought we’d have the chance to do it, but this time we get to. It will be very interesting, and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”
Rob Edwards, Team Manager of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
How far in advance do you start planning to ship the team and equipment to Japan?
“We really started planning for the trip in the middle of July. That’s when we start putting the manifest together of people, travel arrangements and the information from the track on what our other needs will be in terms of equipment and other logistics of looking after the team while we’re over there. ”
“What is the most challenging part of planning the Japan trip?
“It’s gotten to the point now where it’s not that different than doing a domestic race. In the early days, when we first started going overseas, or fly-away events, there was a lot of new stuff every time so we were learning each year. Now, particularly with Japan, we’ve been going there for so long, it’s really a well-oiled machine. Planning for Japan, apart for some extra paper work involved and the manifest from a customs point of view, is really not that different from a domestic race. ”
Were there major changes in planning the Japan trip since the events of 9/11?
“I don’t think there were changes from 9/11, specifically, from what it means to load up and do the fly-away races. Since travel has generally become more difficult, we feel the impact of 9/11 more on the domestic races than the fly-away races because, on the fly-away races, most of the time we are on a charter (flight), and that’s on an aircraft arranged by the promoter. From my perspective, that hasn’t changed a lot since 9/11. When it comes to moving 25 to 30 people domestically, I would say both 9/11 and the consolidation in the airline industry caused by the effects of 9/11 have actually had a much greater impact on us than the overseas races.”