NEW CAR/SPONSOR FOR CUNNINGHAM THIS WEEKEND
Kiwi Wade Cunningham has a new car and new sponsor for his second IZOD IndyCar Series race of the year in Kentucky this weekend.
The 27-year-old from Auckland made his debut in the IZOD series at the double-header sixth round at the Texas Motor Speedway in June, qualifying eighth fastest, but was punted off the track late in the first race by a lapped driver.
That was in the car which, only the month before won the Indianapolis 500 with British driver Dan Wheldon behind the wheel, so it has now been ear-marked for a place in the circuit's museum.
In its place Cunningham's team, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, has allocated the Kiwi their #17 car carrying the livery of new sponsor Air Ride Pallet.
Cunningham is one of 29 drivers entered for this weekend's 480km (300 mile) race round the 2.4km (1.5 mile) 14 degree banked tri-oval in Sparta Kentucky.
Though he is one of six rookie drivers in the field this year the Aucklander has plenty of experience at the circuit, having won a Firestone Indy Lights series race there in 2009 and claimed other spots on the podium in 2005, 6 and 7.
He also tested at the circuit earlier this month and is looking forward to getting back out onto the track over the weekend.
"We had four hours of testing on the 23rd. That knocked the rust off and allowed me to get my (rookie) mileage allocation in meaning I will be ready to go the minute I get in the car on Saturday."
And what are his plans for the race?
"Kentucky is an extremely bumpy track and because the ride heights are affected so much because of this the mechanical balance becomes that much more important as the tyres degrade. If we have long stretches of green flag running the final 15 laps of each stint will become the most important."
This weekend's meeting will be the second of three 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series ones Cunningham will contest this season. He will also start the final series round in Las Vegas in a fortnight's time.
Cunningham's compatriot Scott Dixon has emerged as a late - albeit outside - title threat as the IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Kentucky for its penultimate 2011 round.
Australian Will Power continues to lead the points standings with 542 points with Dixon's teammate, Dario Franchitti, just 11 points behind in second and Dixon a further 48 points back in third.