Danica is listed in the Champ Car Media Guide and being 5'2" tall and weighing 120 pounds. So if you're thinking the trophy for her first win is larger than she is, you're right! I am pretty sure that trophy stays at the Motegi race track, possibly in the Honda Museum which is part of the facility. It appears to be very similar to the "Indy 500 Borg-Warner Trophy", which has a bas relief of each Indy 500 winner's face on it.
This seems to be everyone's favorite photo of Danica Patrick and her race-winner's trophy on the Victory Podium at Motegi. Her posture and facial expression really tells a story.
By working closely with her pit crew and crew chief, Danica ran a smarter race than any of her competitors, taking on fuel which put her out of the expected pit stop rotation. When her fellow racers all had to duck into the pits for fuel with less than 10 laps to go, Patrick was able to stay on the track and take the win, just like two-time NASCAR defending series champion Jimmy Johnson did a couple of weeks ago.
From left, Helio Castroneves placed second (aka "Twinkletoes"), Team Penske, winner Danica Patrick, Andretti Green Racing and third place, Target/Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon.
From left, Michael Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing (his partner, Michael's father, Indy 500 winner and former World Driving Champion (F1) Mario Andretti and Marco Andretti, whose race at the Motegi Honda 300, which ran 200 laps, came up somewhat short ... By about 199 and 2/3 laps. The infamous "Andretti Racing Luck" can be brutal!
Danica Patrick ran a swift and smart race for her first victory, which came in the last-ever Indy Racing League event (it's now combined with Champ Car and called "Indycar"). All of the race cars in the series use Dallara chassis, Firestone tires and naturally-aspirated Honda "Indy V8" engines which produce about 650-horsepower. This kind of racing, with these super-light, super-fast and super-twitchy race cars, is not for the faint of heart of any sex!
They say that American racing great and eternally-young Dan Gurney "invented" the now-expected champagne on the winners' podium at LeMans in 1967. He and his co-driver, a Texan named AJ Foyt, won the "24 Hours of LeMans" driving a Ford GT40, defeating Porsche, Ferrari and all the rest. That GT40 was developed by another Texan, this one named Carroll Shelby. The tradition caught on, and in a big way, and Danica not only participated in the spraying at Motegi, but she also took a couple of big swigs from the bottle, thrilling the Japanese fans even more than she did by winning the race.
After winning at Motegi, Danica Patrick was mobbed by the media ... It was almost a bit of a blessing in disguise for Patrick, because the mob scene which would have ensued here in the States if she had won would have been even larger, perhaps even unmanageable to some extent. So she got to experience kind of a "dry run" of what will happen when she wins a major event in the US.
To be honest, in watching the event live on a Saturday night, California-time (is there any other?), I was surprised to see so many "non-Japanese faces" at the event. But then I thought --- Every American newspaper and magazine writer and photographer in Tokyo was no doubt at the race, drawn to the promise of being around a lot of cool people from "home", and, in any case, an Indycar race in Japan, even one tough to get to, would offer more fun than a lot of those men and women might have had in some time. Having been there for weeks at a time, I know Tokyo is a lot of fun, but after just a few days, McDonald's starts to look really good. In popping into one of the "Golden Arches", as plentiful in Tokyo as in Los Angeles, you'll always find us Westerners, half-thrilled and half-ashamed to be there ...
Click on this photo to enlarge it to really appreciate the true mob scene which Patrick caused with her win!
In 2005, when Danica Patrick first entered the Indy Racing League, driving a race car for the Bobby Rahal/David Letterman race team (yes, THAT David Letterman --- Who did you think? The OTHER one?), great things were expected ... and right away. Letterman/Rahal had won the Indy 500 the year before with driver Buddy Rice (and where has HE gone?) and the team was one which had gotten used to being a "winner", not only for the team members and its owners, but for the public, too. Rahal, whose 19-year old son, Graham, won the opening race of this 2008 Indycar season, in St. Petersburg, FL, is considered one of the smartest men ever in motor racing; if I remember right, Rahal has advanced engineering degrees, and I know for certain that he owns several car dealerships in his home state of Ohio. But the pressure on Danica Patrick was intense, both from her team and from the public ... Not to mention the internal pressure she put on herself.
Signing-up with the Michael Andretti/Barry Green team and becoming part of a four-car team, with Andretti's son Marco, proven veteran Tony Kanaan, newcomer Hideki Mutoh and Patrick makes things a bit easier for her. Marco Andretti instantly garbs the most media attention, Kanaan has a "been there, done that" cool attitude which helps Patrick learn more about dealing with the media and the pressure, and Mutoh, from Tokyo, brings with him confidence and a huge sponsorship package in the form of Panasonic.
Patrick's work with her pit crew and crew chief got her the win; for many newer race fans, the kind Patrick has attracted to the sport, this event might have the first race where the importance of communication and cooperation between a driver and her pit crew (or his pit crew) had never been clearer. After her off-rotation final pit stop, Patrick took on enough ethanol to finish the race, while her competitors, at least those with a shot at the win, too, had to stop with only a few laps left for a "splash-and-dash" of fuel. Patrick was also able to slow down a bit and take the best care of her race car in those final laps, while those with her in the running for the win were forced to make crazed, feverish pit stops, the kind where mistakes are more easily made.
Patrick handled all her Motegi pit stops like the experienced pro she is. Keeping the car running through the pit stop and not stalling the engine (something Patrick had done a few times when she was newer to the sport) when leaving is the driver's job; as is resetting various gauges, especially the fuel gauge, taking care to not run over any of your pit crew, or members of other pit crews, when entering and leaving your pit box and not running over any of the four air hoses which are needed to change all four tires ... There's a lot going on for the driver during a pit stop; it's not a time for the driver to "take a breather".
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon finished fourth. Here he's completing a pit stop and some of his crew members appear to be giving the car a push to get it headed in the right direction. In reality, because of the distinct possibility of the car stalling as the driver is trying to leave their pit box, two or more pit crew members always position themselves to push the car in case the driver needs to re-start the engine. Anyone who has ever owned an older car with a manual transmission (especially a British one, as I have) will recognize this exercise as a "bump start".
Helio Castroneves maintained his IndyCar Series points lead by finishing second in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. Castroneves was leading with two laps remaining when his No. 3 Team Penske Honda/Dallara began to run low on fuel. He held on to finish second behind winner Danica Patrick, maintaining his lead in the championship standings after three races this season. Teammate Ryan Briscoe finished ninth in the No. 6 Team Penske Honda/Dallara. Meanwhile, on the same weekend, 7,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean at the 34th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (California), the Penske Racing duo of Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France) maintained their LMP2 championship points lead over the American Le Mans Series with a second-place finish in their Porsche RS Spyder at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach’s Tequila Patron ALMS street race, while teammates Patrick Long (USA) and Sascha Maassen (Germany) finished third in class, equaling their best finish of the season. And if that wasn't enough for one weekend for Penske Racing, Penske Racing driver Sam Hornish Jr. performed well in his first experience in a NASCAR road course event, with a 13th-place finish in the No. 12 Penske Truck Rental Dodge Charger in the Corona Mexico 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series event. Indy 500 winner Hornish, Jr., will also be driving the team's #77 "Mobil 1" Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series this year, too. He's joined on that team by series veterans Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch. Whew!
Marco Andretti seems to have the "Andretti gene", or whatever it is which has so often stopped his father (Michael) or his grandfather (Mario) in their tracks in too many races. Andretti had turned 21 just a few weeks before the Motegi race, and he almost certainly needed (or severely wanted) a drink --- a hard drink --- following his "performance" at the Honda 300. The ambient temperature at the track was only 59 degrees when the race was started; Indycar series races are usually run in warmer weather. But seeing the crews and fans at the track, it was obvious that 59 degrees might have been an optimistic reading of the local thermometer. Temperature has a lot to do with the amount of grip which tires have on the track, and cold tires equals little or no grip. After the green flag fell to signal the start of the 80-lap event, Andretti headed into the first corner of the race's first lap, pushed a bit too hard on the gas pedal (ethanol pedal?) and that 650-horsepower Honda "Indy V8" engine spun the car's rear tires so fiercely that the car was virtually uncontrollable, and young Marco was just "along for the ride". The actual "hit" was not very hard; in fact, if it had been a closed-wheel stock car, Marco might very well have been able to continue the race. But the Indycar, with its completely exposed front suspension components, was harmed too much to continue. Now Marco understands why Formula 1 race teams use heated blankets to cover the tires until the very start of a race; the more controlled the temperature of the tires, the easier it is to predict many things about the car's performance.
Mr. Danica Patrick, uh, we mean Paul Hospenthal, Danica Patrick's husband, left, shakes hands with Andretti Green team co-owner Michael Andretti following Patrick's victory in the Honda 300 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi. Her husband is a physical therapist, certified strengthening and conditioning specialist, and personal trainer. Paul has trained athletes in all major sports. Paul runs the Desert Institute of Physical Therapy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Paul is a Contributing Writer for "GOLF MAGAZINE" and has been featured in "Sports Illustrated" magazine. He made a VHS video, "17 Pros & The Secrets To Golf Fitness."
Japanese sports fans are known for their strong loyalty and their appreciation of the sports they support. In a country where the "national sport" is Sumo Wrestling, which was created almost 1,000 years ago (and whose idea was it, anyway? "Hey, let's find the two fattest guys in the country..."), motor racing of all kinds is definitely in the Top Ten Favorites list of that country. Being an island nation, boat racing of all sorts is naturally a favorite, and every form of motorcycle and auto racing are extremely popular and racing stars, Japanese or not, are well-known throughout the country. In fact, The Nippon Foundation, a private charity organization with headquarters in Tokyo, was founded by the late businessman, fascist and organized crime figure Ryoichi Sasakawa, once indicted for Class A war crimes. Despite its funding of many public health and welfare programs, the foundation has been criticized as an organization with right-wing, nationalist motives. What does this have to do with racing? In 1962, Sasakawa established the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, using funds from a gambling concession that he received from the early post-war Japanese government for "services rendered", whatever those services may have been; that post-war era remains a very dark and secretive one. This organization received a percentage of all proceeds (admissions, concession sales, and gambling) from the speed-boat racing business which Sasakawa controlled. The Foundation's mission was later expanded and it became known as The Sasakawa Foundation ... One of the wealthiest of all charities in Japan and in the world, and it was all based on money from boat race gambling. See, you never know what you'll learn here!
These ladies served as trophy girls/hostesses/window dressing at Motegi. If you've seen any of our Photo Albums from the Tokyo Motor Shows we've reported on the past decade, you've already seen for yourselves the Japanese male predilection for women dressed in the latest gear --- For 1965, that is. At least some of those Tokyo Motor Show ladies have apparently branched-out and they spent the weekend at the Honda 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. Japan is at once a very repressed nation, but pornography is freely and easily available. The interaction between the sexes is publicly very regimented and even quite boring, at least to some Westerners, but Japanese railway companies have had to introduce "Women-Only" train cars in Tokyo and other large cities to try and cut down on the remarkably large incidence of men molesting women (of all ages) on packed rush-hour trains. I've seen several polls which show that Japanese men are most turned-on by women in uniform, nurse, nun, whatever ... The uniform's the thing for them! Japan is a great place to live, if you're a man with a 13th-century mentality. For women, it's another story, and often a sad one, too. But Hey! Check-out those white plastic heels!
With all said in the previous photo caption about the sad state of affairs for many women in Japan, if not most of them, this photo is encouraging ... Imagine what these little girls, who attended the Honda 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, must have been thinking when Danica Patrick crossed the finish line in first place and won the race! It's very possible that they didn't even realize that the #7 Motorola race car was being piloted by a female ... And to see that car win, then to see its driver remove her helmet and there was a GIRL under all that Nomex and fiberglass, well, I'm just sorry we weren't there in-person to see the crowd's reaction, especially the reaction of the women in the grandstands. It's impossible to overstate the differences between Japan and the US when it comes to matters concerning women, in every aspect of our societies. But Japan's love of All Things American and their hero-worship mentality, combined with Patrick's win, the first-ever for a woman, perhaps had to happen in Japan to have a very specific effect on that society. We says "It's all good".
The typical Indycar team owner, as a rule, is generally cool, calm, collected and quick to anger, at least publicly. But when it comes to the Target/Chip Ganassi team, well, that's the exception which proves the rule. Ganassi tried open-wheel motor racing himself, but had little success in it. He did, however, see the business potential of owning a successful race team, and he's been able to do just that in NASCAR, CART, Champ Car and the Indy Racing League ... With those three latter series now all combined together (once again) into something called "Indycar". Ganassi, who inherited a fortune from his father's trucking business, has turned most everything he's touched, at least racing-wise, into gold. But if you're looking for a calm demeanor, a guy who can "hold it all in", then Ganassi's definitely not your man. But if you're need is for someone unashamed to rant and rave publicly, if that's what it takes to create a winner, then you'll love him. And the single-best way to determine if Ganassi's "way" works? That a company as large and, almost by definition, as conservative as Target, sticks with Ganassi through thick and thin, through the wins and the losses. Just a few weeks before the Honda 300 in Japan, Ganassi publicly criticized his NASCAR team, going so far as to call everyone on the teams, the drivers, the crews, the crew chiefs and more, "pathetic". His drivers are making millions of dollars a year, so publicly calling these athletic thoroughbreds, these primma donna race car drivers "pathetic" is something most might think a negative. Time will tell with his NASCAR staffs, but as far as Indycar goes, Target/Chip Ganassi racing recorded a third (Dixon, pictured) and fourth place (teammate Dan Wheldon) finish at Motegi's Honda 300. Not too bad at all, but, knowing Ganassi, not good enough, either.
Tony Kanaan, a teammate of Danica Patrick's on the four-car-strong Andretti/Green Indycar Race Team, ran strongly at Motegi, but come the last few laps, Kanaan knew a podium-finish (top three) might be possible for him, but a win was out of the question. Being one of the most experienced, smartest and most-liked drivers in Indycar, and whatever other series in which he's competed, he's held a warm spot in fans' hearts for years, so Kanaan no doubt enjoyed Patrick's win, too. Kanaan, whose full name is "Antoine Rizkallah Kanaan Filho", was born on New Year's Eve (December 31st), 1974, in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, stands 5'5", weighs under 150 pounds and now lives in Miami, FL, with his wife, Daniele, whom he married in 2003. He started racing in karts, which is the typical start for future South American and European race car drivers, building them as well as driving, and earning the use of a kart instead of a paycheck, which kept him on the race tracks and off the streets. He's an accomplished tri-athlete, and competed in the California Half-Ironman in April, 2003. Kanaan also enjoys bicycling, go-karting and watersports and he's a former rollerblade instructor (at least that's what his official bio says; though maybe it's just something he used to "tell the girls"). He speaks English, Portuguese, Italian and some Spanish and lists Ayrton Senna and Alex Zanardi as his racing idols (something we definitely agree on). Crowned 1997 Dayton Indy Lights Champion, Kanaan was also named the 1998 Jim Trueman CART Rookie of the Year (Trueman was Bobby Rahal's team owner and partner for many years, before his death from cancer at a too young age). He was the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, and finished second in the 2005 Series championship. He has not won the Indy 500, but did win the pole position in 2005, and has had seven career IndyCar Series wins and six IndyCar Series poles; he also won the CART race at Michigan in 1999.