INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- June 27, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Sharp, Hornish ready for IROC road race
2. Wheldon lands new sponsor
3. Patrick among Spin's "25 Hottest Stars Under 25"
4. Liberty Challenge offers grand stage for young English stars
5. Of note

1. Sharp, Hornish ready for IROC road race: Earlier this year, IndyCar Series drivers Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon claimed a victory on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in the Rolex 24.

On June 29, Scott Sharp and Sam Hornish Jr., will try to extend the streak.

The IndyCar Series drivers return to Daytona International Speedway this week for the third race of the Crown Royal International Race of Champions, but the race may be on turf that Scott Sharp is a little more familiar with, the 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion believes the race won't be a road-racer runaway.

"One of the IROC guys made the comment to me while we were testing there last week that one of the things that's changed in the 14 years since they've run on road courses is that the NASCAR guys have gotten so much better on the road courses," Sharp said. "I think with their familiarity of their cars, it's still an advantage for them, especially since they got to shake some rust off by racing at Infineon over the weekend."

The 20-lap, 71.2-mile contest will be the first road-course event in 14 years for the series that matches a dozen diverse champions in equally prepared cars. Sharp and Hornish spent time testing at Daytona prior to the June 24 IndyCar Series event at Richmond International Raceway to familiarize themselves with the cars and the track.

"I can tell you the IROC cars are really much better than I ever expected on the road course here," Sharp said. "The cars are very drivable, and you can really run a variety of lines and try different styles, so you don't have to drive them only one way to do well.

"I think there may be more of a chance for a non-NASCAR driver, Me, (Max) Angelelli and (Max) Papis were all running good times during the test and going to be able to be more comfortable in the car, compared to how we are on ovals."

Hornish, who won the Indianapolis 500 in May, experienced a stock car on a road course for the first time during the test. It left him confident he can race up front.

"I've never driven in this style of car on a road course, and I can tell you, the guys that are going to do well are the guys that keep the car on the racetrack," he said. "The cars are a lot of fun to drive, it's just going to be a matter of getting a little better with each lap. I want to go to victory lane in an IROC car, and I can't think of a better place to do it than right here at Daytona."

2. Wheldon lands new sponsor: Reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon has reached a sponsorship agreement with Mitchell Rubber Products, Inc., a company specializing in rubber compound mixing and molded rubber products for the automotive, construction and agricultural industries.

Wheldon and Mitchell Rubber Products will work together over the course of the season on marketing initiatives and promotional campaigns surrounding Wheldon's racing in the IndyCar Series.

"I'm excited to announce this sponsor relationship with Mitchell Rubber and I'm proud to know that they're behind me this season," said Wheldon. "Mitchell Rubber supports racing and those that make racing possible. I want to be associated with those who understand motorsports and those who are passionate about excelling and winning. That's what you get with Mitchell Rubber. And that's who I want in my corner."

"Racing is in our blood," said Brent Brush, Sales Manager of Mitchell Rubber Products and its affiliated company, Mitchell Global, LLC. "We were looking for a way to grow our business and mix it in with our racing passion. Many of us at Mitchell Rubber Products race at some level. and we wanted to show our support and commitment to the automotive manufacturers involved within the sport. By personally sponsoring IRL champion Dan Wheldon, we felt that it is a great way for us to show our support."

3. Patrick among Spin's 25 Hottest Stars Under 25: IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick is ranked among Spin Magazine's "25 Hottest Stars Under 25."

Patrick is ranked 15th on the list, which is headed by entertainer Beyonce Knowles and NBA star Lebron James.

Others on the list include tennis star Rafael Nadal, entertainers Kelly Clarkson, Lindsay Lohan, Brendon Urie of the band Panic! At the Disco and Alex Turner of British band Arctic Monkeys.

The complete list is available in the July issue of Spin, which is on newsstands now.

4. Liberty Challenge offers grand stage for young English stars: As youngsters growing up in England, Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd and Scott Mansell developed a passion for auto racing by watching Formula One.

All three drivers enjoyed success in their homeland as they established their racing careers and aspired to drive in the prestigious Formula One circuit. All three, however, have seen their career paths take them to America where on July 1 they'll compete in the Indy Pro Series^Ù Liberty Challenge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- one of the support events for Formula One's United States Grand Prix.

"Coming from Europe, that's what we see. We get doused in Formula One," said Mansell, a 20-year-old Birmingham native who will drive the No. 9 Michael Crawford Motorsports entry. "We don't really see any IndyCar, so that's people's ambition in Europe is to get to Formula One."

All three started out in go-karts. Mansell won a club championship at age 10. Lloyd, a Manchester native, won the British Open championship at age 14. Howard, from Basildon, won 21 consecutive races in junior karting before capturing three British Open titles.

They then advanced into "formula" cars in continued pursuit of the dream.

Howard, the Indy Pro Series point leader after five of 12 rounds, won the United Kingdom Formula Ford Zetec championship and the UK Renault 2000 Winter Series championship in 2003, earning Rising Star honors from the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC).

Lloyd finished second in Formula Renault in 2003 and earned McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year honors -- an award previously won by F1 driver Jenson Button and IndyCar Series driver Dario Franchitti among others.

Mansell competed in EuroBOSS events, becoming the youngest driver (17) to race an F1 car.

Despite their credentials, all three soured on the pursuit of a Formula One ride as the end-all goal.

"At one point that was my goal, but now I'm being more realistic," Mansell said. "Formula One is very political, and to get to the stage where you can get chosen for Formula One, a season of GP2 or the like, is just stupidly expensive. So someone in my position, we can't afford to put ourselves in that kind of range to even be considered for Formula One."

Howard, 25, was the first of the three to venture across the Atlantic and compete in the U.S. He won his debut race in a Formula Ford Zetec at Infineon Raceway in 2004 and came back to win the series championship in 2005, breaking IndyCar Series standout Dan Wheldon's record with nine wins.

"I've always wanted to come here, and basically everyone in England, it was just, money, money, money, money," Howard said. 'How much money have you got?' And that's it. They weren't interested in anything else. For someone like myself, if you don't come from a wealthy background, you've got no hope of moving up.

"I want to win the Indy 500 and win the (IndyCar Series) championship and be more successful than my fellow, rival countryman Dan Wheldon."

Lloyd is in his first season in the U.S. after competing in a handful on Italian F3 events in 2005.

"I think the atmosphere in America racing is far superior to the European atmosphere," said Lloyd, who drives the No. 26 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. car. "It's equally professional, but also people have fun with it which tends to be missed in Europe. IndyCars are great. It was always something I used to look at - Formula One as an aim, but now having traveled around a bit and having experienced a few more of the other top championships, I'm changing toward IndyCar."

Despite a shift in career goals, all three are looking forward to being part of the F1 event.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to be here in front of the F1 guys. The two races at Indianapolis are fantastic," said Howard, who finished second in the Freedom 100 on the oval at Indianapolis prior to the Indianapolis 500. "Running with the Indy 500 and with F1, can't ask for much better."

Said Lloyd: "I raced Monaco in the Renault World Series in the beginning of last year supporting F1. That was great. That was a great experience. To be honest, supporting the 500 definitely equaled that, if not better. Monaco is great, but when you see the crowd and stuff for the 500, there's nothing really around to match that.

"It will be good to race with Formula One here. Having raced with the IndyCar Series for the year, to race with Formula One as well is a really good thing for the Indy Pro Series."

Practice and qualifying for the Liberty Challenge are June 30.

5. Of note: Marty Roth, who plans on competing in select IndyCar Series events later this year, will test June 28 at Michigan International Speedway and July 3 at Kansas Speedway.

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at 1 p.m. on July 2 at Kansas Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. 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 Liberty Challenge on July 1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The race will be telecast by ESPN2 at 2 p.m. on July 6.

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