INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Oct. 25, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Wheldon, Dismore team to win karting event 2. Patrick, Luyendyk honored by DownForce 3. Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship special to Stewart 4. Enge shows well in...
INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Oct. 25, 2005
Today's IRL headlines
1. Wheldon, Dismore team to win karting event
2. Patrick, Luyendyk honored by DownForce
3. Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship special to Stewart
4. Enge shows well in A1GP event
1. Wheldon, Dismore team to win karting event: Dan Wheldon figured he'd hook up with old friend Mark Dismore Jr., have some fun driving a TaG USA kart on a one-mile serpentine track and exchange karting stories after the Oct. 22 event. That was before the IndyCar Series champion's competitive juices began flowing on a chilly fall day.
Sure he had fun returning to his racing roots -- especially when he teamed up with Dismore to set the pace early and win the second annual 200-mile endurance race at New Castle (Ind.) Motorsports Park. The 3-hour, 51-minute race also featured 2003 IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon and Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Arie Luyendyk Jr.
"Those guys are karters, so they're kind of going back to their beginnings," said former IndyCar Series driver Mark Dismore, who owns the facility 40 miles east of Indianapolis. "It's really nice of Scott, Dan and Arie Luyendyk Jr. to come out here and participate. We had 14 more entries this year than last, and we're looking forward to building up this event."
Wheldon, who set the fast lap of the race at 1 minute, 6.29 seconds, smiled broadly as he shared the podium with his teammate. Sure, the crowd and payout weren't nearly as large as for his Indianapolis 500 victory in May, but the champagne was just as refreshing after a long day on the track.
"In my opinion, karting is the purest form of motorsport," said Wheldon, who competed in karting in the United Kingdom before moving to the British Formula Vauxhall series in 1996. "You come here to have fun and it gets very competitive. This is a really good circuit. I was surprised at the length of the track. It's over a minute long; there was no karting tracks in England when I was around that were a minute long."
Wheldon, who locked up the IndyCar Series championship with a record six victories, also was Dismore's teammate during the 1999 U.S. F2000 season -- in which he won the championship on the strength of six victories and five other top-five finishes. The champion's appetite for competition will be satisfied in the off-season with karting events in Cartagena, Colombia (Juan Pablo Montoya's Formula Smiles event) and Sao Paulo, Brazil (the Granja Viana 500).
"It's seems like my off-season with go-karting will be as busy as my season," he laughed. "Today was good. It's a nice facility. The more IndyCar Series drivers we can get to do it the better."
Dixon will second that motion. He and teammate Adam Rovazzini, who teamed with Mark Dismore Jr. to win the inaugural event, were running second before a mechanical issue in the final 10 laps dropped them to fourth in the final order.
"It's always fun to come go-karting," the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver said. "I try to do some during the season but do a lot more in the off-season. An event like this is a lot more fun because you have a teammate. It's just a good time."
2. Patrick, Luyendyk honored by DownForce: Danica Patrick and Arie Luyendyk Jr. were honored as the Most Popular Driver in the IRL IndyCar® Series and Menards Infiniti Pro Series, respectively, at the DownForce Banquet Oct. 22 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The awards were determined by the vote of the fans at all Indy Racing League events throughout the season. DownForce, the IRL's official fan club, facilitates the balloting.
It was the first Most Popular Driver Award for Patrick, who also captured the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award in the IndyCar Series. Previous winners for the IndyCar Series include Sam Hornish Jr. (2004), Sarah Fisher (2001-2003), Al Unser Jr. (2000), Scott Goodyear (1999) and Arie Luyendyk (1997-1998).
"It has been quite a year," said Patrick, who was unable to attend the ceremony due to her upcoming wedding to Paul Hospenthal. "It means so much that (the fans) support me. I've been so blessed and I'm so grateful to have such great fans. It means a lot."
Luyendyk Jr. has won the award for the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in each of the three years it has been given. He told the crowd gathered that he was honored and surprised he won the award for a third time.
3. Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship special to Stewart: "This one is special," Brian Stewart says over and over. The well-known and well-liked team owner, who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in January, won his first Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship Oct. 16 when driver Wade Cunningham also gave Stewart's team its first race victory in the series.
Stewart, a former champion driver, previously made his mark as an owner in the Indy Lights Series, winning two championships and 31 races in 14 seasons of competition. He developed stand-out drivers such as Paul Tracy, Cristiano da Matta, Bryan Herta and Jaques Lazier.
"This one here is more special because I had a championship with Paul Tracy, but he'd already been in the Indy Lights Series for two years," Stewart said. "I had him in the third year. He was an experienced driver. The next year I won with Eric Bachelart. He had done the series the year before. Over the years we had Cristiano da Matta. We brought him from Brazil as a rookie. We won three races. We fought for the championship all year long, but ended up finishing third.
"This one is special because Wade came here as a raw rookie. He hadn't raced on ovals before."
Cunningham, a 21-year-old New Zealander with a world championship in karting under his belt, showed tremendous progress and consistency throughout the championship campaign. After being one of the slowest drivers in a pre-season test on the 1-mile oval at Phoenix, Cunningham rolled off 13 top-five finishes in 14 starts. The results came on a variety of tracks, which included 10 ovals, three road courses and one street circuit.
He put the No. 33 Brian Stewart Racing entry atop the point standings for good after the sixth race of the season. Cunningham captured his and the team's first pole position at Watkins Glen in September, but was winless heading into the season finale on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval at California Speedway.
Cunningham moved up from his fifth-place starting position into the lead for the first time on Lap 6. He and third-place finisher Travis Gregg traded the lead 15 times before Cunningham made his final pass on Lap 43 of the 50-lap sprint.
For the first time in 77 starts in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, Stewart was on his way to Victory Circle to congratulate his driver.
"I'm just really happy for Wade," Stewart said. "For me, this is my 40th year racing cars. We did it in Indy Lights before we came over here for 14 years, won the championship over there. Came over here four years ago, won the championship here. I'm going to be back next year defending the championship. I'm happy for Wade."
4. Enge shows well in A1GP event: Panther Racing teammates Tomas Enge and Tomas Scheckter had different fortunes at the A1GP event at Estoril, Portugal.
Enge brought home two points finishes (ninth in the feature and fifth on the sprint) for the Czech Republic entry, while Scheckter retired from the feature event with a suspension failure after finishing 10th in the sprint race in the South African entry.
The IRL IndyCar Series opens the 2006 season with the Toyota Indy 300 on March 26, 2006 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The fifth season of Menards Infiniti Pro Series competition also opens on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.