IndyCar championship leader Will Power led the way in opening practice for the penultimate round of the series at Motegi, while there were disappointment for the home crowd as Takuma Sato became the first man to crash this weekend.
Sato got just 15 minutes into the morning practice session before spinning into the Turn 1 wall - with a component failure suspected as the cause. He was unhurt in the incident but the car suffered significant rear end damage, forcing the KV Racing team to begin preparing Sato's back-up chassis for the rest of the day.
A long yellow was required to clean up Sato's debris, so the session was extended by 15 minutes to make up for the lost time – although soon after going green it was briefly interrupted again when Raphael Matos (De Ferran Dragon) brushed the Turn 4 wall.
There were no more incidents after that though, allowing Power to notch up a mammoth 53 laps. The Penske driver has not raced at Motegi before, and is keen to reassert his authority this weekend having seen his championship cushion dwindle to 17 points in the last two oval races. He was fastest for the majority of the session.
Helio Castroneves – whose lap tally was a more ordinary 21 – made it a Penske one-two, and led the way for a while before Power's 27.1908s lap put the Australian back on top in the final minute.
Dan Wheldon continued his recent strong form for Panther Racing with third place. The Briton is the team's only representative again this weekend as Kentucky star Ed Carpenter's part-time deal does not include the trip to Japan.
Andretti Autosport's Tony Kanaan was fourth ahead of Ganassi duo Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, who dominated at Motegi last year.
Alex Tagliani had a good run for FAZZT to take seventh, with Andretti duo Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2008 Motegi winner Danica Patrick eighth and 10th, split by Penske's third driver Ryan Briscoe, whose 2009 title bid was ruined by a pitlane crash at this track.
While Sato's crash left him at the bottom of the timesheets, his countryman Hideki Mutoh took 14th for Newman/Haas, just ahead of Japanese-American returnee Roger Yasukawa, making his now annual Motegi appearance with Conquest in the car recently driven by Tomas Scheckter.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Will Power Penske 27.1908s
2. Helio Castroneves Penske 27.3587s + 0.1679s
3. Dan Wheldon Panther 27.3784s + 0.1876s
4. Tony Kanaan Andretti 27.5047s + 0.1263s
5. Scott Dixon Ganassi 27.5568s + 0.3660s
6. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 27.6045s + 0.4137s
7. Alex Tagliani FAZZT 27.6285s + 0.4377s
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 27.6338s + 0.4430s
9. Ryan Briscoe Penske 27.6410s + 0.4502s
10. Danica Patrick Andretti 27.6420s + 0.4512s
11. Marco Andretti Andretti 27.6445s + 0.4537s
12. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas 27.7152s + 0.5244s
13. EJ Viso KV 27.7261s + 0.5353s
14. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas 27.7763s + 0.5875s
15. Roger Yasukawa Conquest 27.8131s + 0.6223s
16. Mario Moraes KV 27.8306s + 0.6398s
17. Paul Tracy Dreyer & Reinbold 27.8641s + 0.6733s
18. Bertrand Baguette Conquest 27.8754s + 0.6846s
19. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne 27.9637s + 0.7729s
20. Simona de Silvestro HVM 28.0488s + 0.8580s
21. Vitor Meira Foyt 28.0505s + 0.8597s
22. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 28.1216s + 0.9308s
23. Raphael Matos De Ferran Dragon 28.2101s + 1.0193s
24. Milka Duno Dale Coyne 28.7343s + 1.5435s
25. Takuma Sato KV 28.7702s + 1.5794s