IPS: IRL: Indianapolis/500: News and notes Freedom 100 qualifying day

CUNNINGHAM CLAIMS POLE FOR FREEDOM 100 AT INDIANAPOLIS INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 21, 2006 -- Wade Cunningham has history on his side in the Freedom 100. Every winner of the 40-lap race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has started from the...

CUNNINGHAM CLAIMS POLE FOR FREEDOM 100 AT INDIANAPOLIS

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 21, 2006 -- Wade Cunningham has history on his side in the Freedom 100.

Every winner of the 40-lap race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has started from the pole position (Ed Carpenter and Thiago Medeiros, who both will compete in the 90th Indianapolis 500 on May 28) and Jaime Camara last year.

Cunningham put the No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing entry in the No. 1 starting spot after topping the speed charts in two practice sessions earlier in the day. The reigning Indy Pro Series champion recorded a two-lap average SWE Race Car Parts qualifying speed of 186.423 mph (1 minute, 36.5546 seconds) on the 2.5-mile oval.

Jay Howard, who started from the pole in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway and has three top-five finishes in as many races, will join Cunningham on the front row for the May 26 race (12:30 p.m. EDT). Camara, driving the No. 11 CELG car for Andretti Green Racing, will share Row 2 with Cheever Racing's Chris Festa.

"Wade is doing what we did last year," Camara said. "He found something on his car, and we're all trying to figure out how to catch him."

Cunningham won only one race -- the season finale at California Speedway in 2005 -- but earned the championship with 13 top-five finishes in 14 races, including seven seconds. The Auckland, New Zealand, native is focused on winning this year, which would boost his prospects of moving to the IndyCar Series.

"We've been working hard ever since I joined Brian Stewart Racing. Now we're really working together and kind of peaking towards as good as we can get and everything went well today for us," said Cunningham, who posted his second career pole and first on an oval.

"It's a great achievement for the team more so than me because qualifying is often about the limitation of the car and setup. We're confident going into tomorrow."

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FREEDOM 100 PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING NOTES:

On this date in 1986, Bobby Rahal passed Kevin Cogan on a Lap 198 restart and claimed his only Indianapolis 500 victory as a driver. On this date in 1980, Johnny Rutherford earned his third Indianapolis 500 victory driving the #4 Pennzoil Chaparral.

***

In celebration of the 90th Running of the Indianapolis 500, various personalities associated with "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will give their favorite "500" memories. Here's today's memory:

GEOFF DODGE (2005 Knoxville Nationals Fast Track to Indy winner): "In 1988, I was sitting on my couch in my living room watching Rick Mears drive the Penske car off the pole. It was the Pennzoil car. I remember he dropped way back in the race and he came back and won the race. I was 5 years old, and I think that was the point in time that I became really impressed with Rick and decided that I really wanted to come to Indy."

***

Did you know?: In just its fifth season, the Indy Pro Series has put eight graduates on the fast track to the Indianapolis 500. Six of the eight Pro Series graduates entered in the 90th Indianapolis 500 qualified for the race. They are: Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, P.J. Chesson, Arie Luyendyk Jr., Thiago Medeiros and Jeff Simmons.

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Indianapolis 500 entry update: Car name for #61 is now: #61 CheapCaribbean.com/Blue Star Jets Panoz/Honda/Firestone.

***

James Chesson, who will attempt to qualify for the Freedom 100 in the No. 76 PSI entry, is also the spotter for his brother, IndyCar Series driver P.J. Chesson. James Chesson made three Indy Pro Series starts in 2004, with a win at California Speedway.

JAMES CHESSON (No. 76 PSI Dallara/Firestone): "I love spotting. It was pretty nerve-wracking at first, but it turned into being something I enjoy. There's a good group of guys up there, so you always have a good laugh before and after. Spotting for P.J. and knowing him gets interesting, because he can turn into a werewolf over that radio. Sometimes you have to tell him to tone it down. I think it's good and bad. You know he's motivated. You know he's going."

P.J. CHESSON (IndyCar Series driver, #91 Carmelo Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I love having him. I couldn't ask for a better spotter. He's the best spotter to have. He's a great racer and my best friend, and when he talks on the radio, I listen. I respect him. It gives me a real good feeling and a sense of confidence. It's great."

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Two Indy Pro Series teams have direct ties to teams with cars in the Indianapolis 500. Cheever Racing, which will field cars for Eddie Cheever and Max Papis in the "500," also fields full-time entries for Chris Festa and Nick Bussell in the Indy Pro Series. Andretti Green Racing, which has five entries in the Indianapolis 500, fields two full-time entries, for Jonathan Klein and defending Freedom 100 winner Jaime Camara.

***

Sean Guthrie, who is making his Indy Pro Series debut this weekend, is the son of three-time Indianapolis 500 starter Jim Guthrie.

***

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Montae Reagor visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday during American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day.

MONTAE REAGOR: "It's always good to be out at the Speedway. I really enjoy seeing all of the excitement that is already building up for the '500.' I get to come out here and meet fans that I never thought I would meet." (About the Minnie Indy Charity Race): "It was a fun event for the kids. I got a kick out of it myself because I was excited to see the characters. It is great to see the excitement out here even when it is Disney characters. The kids were competing for position and bumping into cars, acting like the race car drivers." (Attending the Indianapolis 500): "I've been out here the past two years, and it is an emotional rush that you will never feel anywhere else in your life. The way those drivers maneuver at those speeds is absolutely amazing. They handle the pressure of an event like this in an incredible way."

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Sam McNew, a 21-year-old Special Olympian from Noblesville, Ind., was the honorary starter for the second Freedom 100 practice session today.

SAM McNEW: "I want to thank everybody for letting me come. I went out there and did my best, and I thought it was really cool. I just did it. I want to thank the race car drivers for being here. I admire the race car drivers."

***

SWE RACE CAR PARTS POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:

* This is Wade Cunningham's first career SWE Race Car Parts Pole Award of the season and the second of his Indy Pro Series career. This is Cunningham's first pole on an oval. His last pole came at Watkins Glen International last September.

* This is the second pole position for Brian Stewart Racing. The team's last pole position was with Cunningham at Watkins Glen International last September.

* The winner of the SWE Race Car Parts Pole Award has gone on to win the Freedom 100 every year since the inaugural race in 2003. Ed Carpenter (2003), Thiago Medeiros (2004) and Jaime Camara (2005) each won the race from pole.

* Rookie Jay Howard will start second. He has qualified on the front row for each of the Indy Pro Series races on ovals. Howard is second in series points behind Jeff Simmons, who is not competing in this event.

* Defending race winner Jaime Camara qualified third, matching his best qualifying effort of the season. He also qualified third for the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

* Alex Lloyd, who is making his first start on a oval, will start fifth. Sean Guthrie, who is making his first start in the series, will start 12th.

* Tom Wood qualified sixth despite missing his turn in line because the team was changing the engine following the second practice.

***

Geoff Dodge did not present for qualifying due to engine change after second practice.

GEOFF DODGE (No. 33 Knoxville Fast Track To Indy): (About his day): "We went out in the first session today and struggled a bit. I was pretty frustrated with our performance, and then went out in the second practice session and had some engine problems. It may have dropped a valve, but in any case we dropped a cylinder, so we had to change motors. Unfortunately, we didn't get the motor changed in time for qualifying, so that means we'll be starting from the back tomorrow. That means that the only place to go is up. The guys worked real hard to get us back out there. We didn't have a chance to even put the car on the setup pad, so this last practice was all about making sure the motor was running and that there were no major problems. I have to give my guys credit. They worked really hard to get this car back together and get us back out there for a little practice this afternoon. It was a tough day for us, but we got through it." (About his strategy for the race): "Anytime that you start from the back, it's really hard to formulate a strategy. A lot of it has to do with what kind of race car we have tomorrow. If everyone falls into line and looks like they're minding their P's and Q's pretty well, then we'll start to try to pick them off. I know this is the biggest race of the year and there will be some nervous race car drivers out there. A lot of guys will be looking to go out and prove something, so there could be a lot of crashes too. I think the best plan for us is to get the start and see where everybody stacks out and if the opportunity presents itself to move forward quickly then we will, and if not then we'll hang a little while and let things settle down."

***

Jimmy Bowker, a fourth-grade student from Highland, Ind., and his teammate, Indy 500 rookie Arie Luyendyk Jr., won the Minnie Indy Charity Race on May 24 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bowker was awarded an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland in Southern California to take with his immediate family, and Luyendyk won a $25,000 donation from Disney to donate to a charity he selected, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Each of the 35 drivers competing in the Minnie Indy Charity Race was awarded $1,000 from Disney to donate to the charity of their choice. The "Minnie" race took place during American Family Insurance Community Day in honor of the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, "The Happiest Place on Earth," and the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500, "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Thirty-five fourth-graders from Johnston Elementary in Highland, Ind., were selected to ride with 31 drivers competing in the 2006 Indianapolis 500 and four Indy legends, Johnny Rutherford, Lyn St. James, Tom Sneva and Jim Rathmann, in cars taken from the Disneyland Autopia attraction.

ARIE LUYENDYK JR. (No. 61 CheapCarribean.com/BlueStarJets Panoz/Honda/ Firestone): "It was nice to win something for charity. I'm sure Jimmy will remember it forever. Jimmy did a great job. I was really happy he won the trip, and it was a lot of fun."

***

Team Leader Motorsports will welcome former "Survivor" contestant Rupert Boneham to its garage (E2) at 3:15 p.m. Friday for a special photo event. Boneham will place a "Rupert's Kids." sticker on the #98 Curb Records Team Leader Special, and the Care For Kids Foundation also will place a sticker on the #98 Curb Records Team Leader Special for "Hearts Remembered," an initiative to recognize 700 children buried in unmarked graves in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

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Ethanol industry leaders, politicians and the Indy Racing League will discuss the benefits of renewable energy and its use in the 90th Indianapolis 500 today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman announced a new award in memory of IndyCar Series driver and biofuel advocate Paul Dana. Dana, who was fatally injured in an accident earlier this year, was a proponent of ethanol and Indiana's biofuel industry.

GREG DANA (Brother of the late Paul Dana, about how Ethanol Summit came together due in large part to his brother's efforts, and about the award the state of Indiana created in his brother's honor): "We're very, very proud of Paul, and we are very thankful of Tony (George) and the staff at the Speedway of embracing his vision. We're really amazed with the turnout and the support it's gotten, and very, very honored as a family that Governor (Mitch) Daniels and Lieutenant Governor (Becky) Skillman have chosen to honor Paul with the Paul Dana Award for Leadership in Biofuels. I can't think of a greater honor for Paul, we're very happy that the governor has chosen to use his name to encourage people to push this issue, to break through barriers and improve the use of ethanol and all bio fuels, which is a great benefit and long-term plan for the state of Indiana and our country."

BECKY SKILLMAN (Lieutenant Governor of Indiana): "This is an exciting day for Motorsports; this is an exciting day for Hoosiers and the future of the state of Indiana. The Indy Racing League, such a partner with us now and helping us raise the awareness of bio fuels, and more important than that, they are now a role model in our efforts to raise that awareness. This is a great day for Hoosier farmers, of course, who produce the raw materials to make that ethanol and soy bio diesel, it's a good day for the environment. These new ethanol production facilities create a number of new jobs for Hoosiers, and we're proud that Indiana can do it's part to reduce our dependence on foreign oil." (I hear you're going to take a lap around the track today): "Certainly looking forward to taking a lap around the track. Many of my close friends and family members know of my need for speed, so I'm just hoping to get behind the wheel, if that would be possible. What a tradition of our Hoosier state. I'm pleased to here today and see the smiles on faces and everyone having a great time."

TOM DORR (Under Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture): "My gut impression is -- I actually got a little emotive when Mr. (Charles) Burns took me up into the Pagoda. I looked out on the (Speedway) and as I mentioned earlier, my dad was a farmer and a business guy and he loved Indianapolis Speedway. This is such a family entrepreneurial tradition, and the Indy Racing League, Mr. George and his grandfather and the family's involvement. And then I thought about ethanol. Ethanol is a family emotive tradition, started out as a bunch of farmers looking out for a better market for their corn in the original energy crisis. It all happened right here in the Midwest. There are a lot of entrepreneurs, there's lots of family business developers in the Midwest, and I think the Indy Racing League, Mr. George and his family, the people involved around ethanol, it's a great story that ultimate results in better security, better availability of energy and ultimately a better life for our kids and our grandkids to sustain and maintain what's very precious to us. I just think this exemplifies the best of what this country is all about."

*** Playa Del Racing announced a sponsorship agreement with Lena Maid Meats for the #21 Videopoker.com Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry driven by Jaques Lazier, and the #12 Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry to be driven by Roger Yasukawa for the Indianapolis 500.

Lena Maid Meats is a complete meat processing company and retail sales outlet located in Lena, Ill., hometown of Playa Del Racing co-owner Susan Schafer. Founded more than 52 years ago, it has earned a reputation for high-quality, locally raised fresh meats, maple sugar-cured hams and bacon, and a wide selection of specialty sausage products.

KEVIN KONING (General manager, Lena Maid Meats): "We decided to support the Playa Del Racing Team for a few reasons: Being race fans; and supporting Susan (Schafer), who is originally from Lena, Ill. We base our business on quality, and everything about Playa Del Racing is quality. I like their approach and the desire they have to succeed. We make a very unique beef jerky product that has won many awards at the state and national levels. The Playa Del Racing Team seems to enjoy our products, and we certainly have loved the opportunity to send it to them for their enjoyment. Having some recognition at this level doesn't happen every day in Lena, Ill. Lena Maid Meats just launched a new Web site (www.lenamaidmeats.com), and we can now ship product anywhere in the country, so the timing is right for us to expand our marketing platform. We feel this is a great opportunity for Lena Maid Meats and, of course, for us to help the teams to eat well."

SUSAN SCHAFER: (Co-owner, Playa Del Racing): "I'm pleased to work with Kevin and all of the folks at Lena Maid Meats. Having my hometown support me and the team in this endeavor has been an enriching experience. Playa Del Racing is hoping to represent Lena Maid Meats very well in this year's Indy 500. It's been special to have Lena Maid Meats be a part of our team because everyone loves them. Their product nourishes our team, and taking good care of our crew is really important to us. Kevin and the rest of the Lena Maid Meats people have stepped up to help us in that way. We are really hoping to give them something to cheer for this Sunday when our two drivers take the green flag for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500."

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Team Leader Motorsports has added a pair of sponsors for the 90th Indianapolis 500.

Di Lusso Deli Company, a division of Hormel Food Sales, will serve as an associate sponsor for the #97 Effen Vodka Team Leader Special driven by Stephan Gregoire and the #98 Curb Records Team Leader Special driven by PJ Jones.

XLR8 energy candy will be featured on Jones' No. 98 car, which will feature a paint scheme similar to the "Old Calhoun" car made famous by Jones' father, 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones. XLR8 also is a sponsor of the NASCAR entry of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

PJ JONES (No. 98 Curb Records Team Leader Special Panoz/Honda/Firestone): "We are extremely excited to add XLR8 to the growing list of sponsors on the No. 98 Curb Records Team Leader Special. The XLR8-98 (car) is solid and poised for a competitive finish."

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Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the world's largest casino entertainment company, announced it will sponsor the No. 4 Panther Racing Honda-powered Dallara in the 90th Indianapolis 500.

JOHN BARNES (About the Harrah's sponsorship for the 90th Indianapolis 500): "At 2 o'clock in the morning we signed the agreement. And they're a great company. They have been here in the IRL before, and they're a great partner in NASCAR with Robby Gordon. He's really turned his program around and a lot of that is because of the support that Harrah's gives him." (Is there a chance this will go full-season?): "They're going to be here Race Day and, like I said, it was just finished this morning at 2 o'clock and there are already on-going discussions about the future. We also have a big announcement for us on Saturday, here, about a program that we're starting, and we're very excited about." (Is Panther's financial future secured at this point?): "Last year we came to Indy, we had Pennzoil, Rockstar, (a) huge General Motors commitment, the (Jonathan) Byrd program and millions and millions of dollars, and I think we came to the Speedway 23rd or 24th in points. We're eighth this year, so we're very proud of what we've accomplished, what Vitor has accomplished, and he's a great partner and a great friend. We look forward to a long future."

***

The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series continues with the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 at 1 p.m. (EDT) on May 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ABC will broadcast the race live beginning at noon (EDT). A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. Live coverage on the IMS Radio Network begins at noon (EDT). The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Freedom 100 at 12:30 p.m. on May 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2's Carb Day coverage on May 26. Live coverage on the IMS Radio Network begins at 12:15 p.m. (EDT).

-irl-

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