IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-01-23

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Jan. 23, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. Dana joins Rahal Letterman Racing 2. Matsuura confirms return to Super Aguri Fernandez Racing 3. Thieves steal IndyCar Series show car 4. Stewart fields cars for ...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Jan. 23, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Dana joins Rahal Letterman Racing
2. Matsuura confirms return to Super Aguri Fernandez Racing
3. Thieves steal IndyCar Series show car
4. Stewart fields cars for Cunningham, rookies Van Blankers, Dodge
5. Cunningham wins karting event

1. Dana joins Rahal Letterman Racing: Rahal Letterman Racing will attempt to keep the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award in house in 2006

The team, co-owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and television personality David Letterman, announced Jan. 23 that it has signed a multi-year deal with Team Ethanol to sponsor a third RLR entry in the IRL IndyCar® Series.

Bombardier Rookie of the Year candidate Paul Dana will pilot the #17 Honda-powered Panoz as a teammate to 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice and 2005 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

"Rahal Letterman Racing's performance history speaks for itself," said Dana, who made three starts for Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing in 2005 before suffering a season-ending injury during practice for the Indianapolis 500. "The opportunity to work in a multi-car team where I can learn from experienced teammates and compare their data is an amazing opportunity. This is a dream come true, and I intend to work as hard as possible to make the most of it. I'd like to thank everyone who has been involved in bringing the Team Ethanol program to where it is today for the work they did over the last three years."

Ethanol is a high-octane, high-performance fuel that is clean burning, renewable and made in America. As a growing component of the United States gasoline supply, it delivers improved vehicle performance for all passenger cars and trucks while reducing emissions and improving air quality.

Dana's Team Ethanol effort is funded by the major ethanol design-build firms Fagen Inc., ICM Inc. and Broin Companies, who are the industry leaders in the 4 billion gallon ethanol market. Promotion of the sponsorship and cooperative efforts between Team Ethanol, the IndyCar Series, and RLR will be led by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC).

EPIC is an alliance of ethanol producers and industry leaders who have come together to spread the positive attributes about ethanol. Currently enjoying record growth, the ethanol industry will continue to play a larger role in meeting our nation's energy needs.

"Team Ethanol and its key sponsors have made a significant impact on the IRL IndyCar Series in the last few years," Rahal said. "The leaders of Broin, Fagen and ICM have a vision on how they can positively affect the availability of fuel with ethanol that is a renewable resource. Their involvement and the historic partnership they forged with the IRL to become the fuel of the IndyCar Series, is bringing them one step closer to bringing that vision to all Americans. Along the way, they are fundamentally changing not only the future of open-wheel racing, but also the way Americans' drive. This demonstrates to me that this is a group of companies that wants to have an impact on and off the track."

The on-track presence will be especially fitting in 2006 as the IRL IndyCar Series will become the first racing organization to run a mixture of ethanol and methanol as a spec racing fuel. The fuel mixture in 2006 will be a 10 percent ethanol 90 percent methanol blend. Next season the IRL IndyCar Series will run a 100 percent fuel grade ethanol. Consumers can purchase ethanol-enriched fuels at their local gas stations that are approved by all major auto manufacturers.

"The fact that the IndyCar Series, with its history of automotive innovation, sees the performance benefits of ethanol should encourage all mechanics and car enthusiasts to feel confident in using ethanol-enriched fuels in their cars," Tom Slunecka, executive director of EPIC, said.

2. Matsuura confirms return to Super Aguri Fernandez Racing: Team owners Aguri Suzuki and Adrian Fernandez announced Jan. 23 Kosuke Matsuura will return to Super Aguri Fernandez Racing to contest the 2006 IndyCar Series season. Matsuura will pilot the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry in his third season of IndyCar Series competition.

"I am pleased to announce our continued participation in the IRL with Kosuke Matsuura as our driver," said Suzuki. "Kosuke has gained a lot of experience these past two seasons in his first years of oval track racing, and I believe that he will show us great performances in 2006. With the continued support of Panasonic and Autobacs, I look forward to an exciting season."

Matsuura, 26, of Aichi, Japan, joined Super Aguri Fernandez Racing in 2004 after three successful years of European competition that saw Matsuura place second and third in the German Formula 3 and Formula Renault V6 Eurocup Championships respectively.

"I am excited to be a part of Super Aguri Fernandez Racing again this year," said Matsuura. "I have learned a lot these past two years, even through the bad luck we had last season, and feel that we will be very strong in 2006. I want to thank Aguri and Adrian for their support and for giving me this opportunity. I am ready to challenge for not only race wins, but the championship as well."

3. Thieves steal IndyCar Series show car: A trailer containing an IndyCar Series showcar was stolen from Sinden Racing Services' Indianapolis-based headquarters on Jan. 22.

"It was taken from here at the shop over the weekend," said Scott Jasek, co-owner of Sinden Racing Services. "It's one of our newest trailers with the Racing for Kids showcar inside."

The white trailer was purchased about six months ago and is unmarked, but Jasek is hopeful the car can be recovered soon. The car is used by the Racing for Kids charity during hospital visits in each Indy Racing League market.

Anyone with information about the location of the car or trailer should call the Marion County (Ind.) Sheriff's Department at (317) 231-8200.

4. Stewart fields cars for Cunningham, rookies Van Blankers, Dodge: For the first time in the five-year history of the IRL Indy Pro Series^Ù, the reigning champion will be back to defend his title.

Brian Stewart Racing announced its driver lineup Jan. 23 for the 2006 season. Reigning champion Wade Cunningham will drive the No. 1 car, rookie Brett Van Blankers will drive the No. 3 entry and Knoxville Nationals Fast Track to Indy Rookie of the Year Geoff Dodge will drive the No. 33 car.

"I'm absolutely delighted Wade is coming back," said Brian Stewart, whose team claimed its first series title in 2005. "It's the first time the series has had a reigning champ back. We'll do the same good job for him, and now that he's got more experience, I expect him to win some more races."

Cunningham, the CIK-FIA World Karting champion in 2003, was new to oval racing in 2005 when the Indy Pro Series schedule featured 10 races on ovals and four races on road courses. The 21-year-old New Zealander quickly showed his driving prowess, recording 13 top-five finishes en route to winning the closest points battle in series history.

"I am very happy to be returning to my team," said Cunningham, who won the 2005 season finale at California Speedway. "We all performed well together, and I think we will work even better in 2006.

"For sure the goal now is to progress into the IndyCar Series championship for 2007, and so being in the Indy Pro Series for this year still seems to me to be the best way to get there. It will be even more competitive this year, and so defending the No. 1 plate will be difficult."

Joining Cunningham on the team are Van Blankers and Dodge. Pending additional sponsorship, Dodge's deal is only for the six oval races in 2006.

"Brett and Geoff come into this season as true rookies," Stewart said. "Brett has very little experience racing cars, so we'll look to develop him slowly and for him to learn as the year goes on. Having the champion as a teammate should be beneficial to him.

"This type of racing is also new to Geoff, but we tested him at Chicago last September, and we've gotten to know him a bit better over the last couple of weeks. We're looking forward to getting him going in the Indy Pro Series."

Van Blankers, an 18-year-old from New Westminster, British Columbia, competed in Formula Renault 1600 the past two seasons along with a handful of Formula Renault 2000 races.

"I'm excited about racing in the Indy Pro Series," Van Blankers said. "Brian Stewart is very well known, especially in Canada. He knows what he's talking about, knows what he's doing, and he has very qualified people working for him.

"I'm hoping to do well and get up there. I want to take a gradual approach and work my way up. Some top-five finishes would be nice. Working with Wade is going to be a big help."

Dodge, 22, competed in the American Sprint Car Series the past three seasons. At the prestigious Knoxville Nationals in August, Dodge was the highest-finishing rookie 18 years of age or older, earning him the opportunity to compete in the Indy Pro Series and pursue a lifelong dream of competing in the Indianapolis 500. He completed his Indy Pro Series rookie test with Brian Stewart Racing Sept. 12 at Chicagoland Speedway under the eyes of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears.

"Brian Stewart Racing is a first class operation," Dodge said. "Wade's championship last year speaks volumes for the team. Getting involved with that type of people, gives a guy like me a lot of confidence that we can be successful. Being associated with a team and a driver like Wade, who's been there, done that, can be nothing but advantageous."

5. Cunningham wins karting event: Reigning Indy Pro Series^Ù champion Wade Cunningham claimed an unprecedented third CIK Trophy of New Zealand championship in competition Jan. 21-22 in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Cunningham, 20, who won the World Karting Championship title in Italy in 2003, set the fourth fastest time in qualifying and won two of the three heats, the Pre-Final (the race that determines grid positions for the Final) and the Final.

In doing so, the Auckland, New Zealand native beat the cream of New Zealand's Formula 100 class as well as fellow kart-turned-car racing rising star Chris Vander Drift and highly rated Australian karter Jason Burns.

Cunningham won his first CIK Trophy of New Zealand in 2001 and his second in 2003, but he will not have much time to savor the pleasure of his latest win - on Jan. 24 he heads back to the United States to prepare to defend his 2005 Indy Pro Series title.

Incredibly, Cunningham has had little time behind the wheel of a kart since he moved to the United States to race cars, only doing one major meeting -- the Granja Viana 500 in Sao Paulo, Brazil in November - before kitting up for the CIK Trophy of NZ presented by Karcher.

Despite that he was immediately competitive.

"I thought I qualified well, though the other guys (Vander Drift, Cameron and Simon Evans) went a little bit faster, but the difference I think was that I was able to hold that pace all day, even towards the end of the Final when the tires were well past their best," Cunningham said.

***

The IRL IndyCar Series opens the 2006 season with the Toyota Indy 300 on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The IMS Radio Network broadcast is also carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 152, "XM Extreme" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition also opens on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Rick Mears , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Paul Dana , Aguri Suzuki , Wade Cunningham , Geoff Dodge , Simon Evans , Danica Patrick