IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-06-29

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- June 29, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. Wheldon hoping for second-half surge 2. One weekend, two separate races 3. Rahal not only Indy Pro Series newcomer in Liberty Challenge 4. Foyt recovering from knee ...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- June 29, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Wheldon hoping for second-half surge
2. One weekend, two separate races
3. Rahal not only Indy Pro Series newcomer in Liberty Challenge
4. Foyt recovering from knee replacement
5. Roth finds consistency in test

1. Wheldon hoping for second-half surge: Last year, "Don't count out Wheldon," echoed through the IndyCar Series paddock. Occasionally, the words were dealt by the brash Brit himself, but his actions more than backed up his words.

Wheldon set an IndyCar Series standard with six victories and went on to claim the championship despite an average starting position of 7.76 -- certainly not an advantage to rack up a half-dozen victories. His best start was second twice, with neither adding to his win column. At Indianapolis, he met the green flag 16th but was first under the checkers.

The refrain is true enough through seven races this season. Wheldon is fourth in points with one victory and has led 345 laps (second-most to Sam Hornish Jr., who piled up 212 laps led in dominating the SunTrust Indy Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio on June 24). Wheldon also lead a field-high 13 laps at Watkins Glen International before a mechanical failure prematurely ended his fun.

Therein lies the rub.

Wheldon would be in front of the field at the midseason mark again with at least three victories if not for a cut tire at Indianapolis (148 of 200 laps led) and a late pit stop miscue at Texas (171 of 200 laps led). A refueling pit stop under green with less than 10 laps remaining at Richmond International Raceway also cost him a shot at Hornish. Uncharacteristically poor finishes on the street/road courses (16th at St. Petersburg, 15th at Watkins Glen International) also have been detrimental.

"The team short-filled on what was supposed to be our last stop in the hopes of getting a yellow before the end," Wheldon said of the 250-lap race at the 0.75-mile Richmond oval. "It simply came too late for us. It was a gamble that just didn't pay off and we paid a heavy price. The team will just have to shrug it off and keep working hard at it just as they have."

Wheldon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon will turn their attention to the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval for this weekend's Kansas Lottery Indy 300. Wheldon was runner-up to then-Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan by 0.0120 of a second at the D-shaped oval last year.

"The good thing is that from here on out we're just going to go for the win every race," said Wheldon, who is 12 points behind Dixon and 35 shy of leader Helio Castroneves. "As close as it is now, it should be an even more exciting finish to the end of the season."

2. One weekend, two separate races: For the first time in Indy Racing League history, the Indy Racing League will stage events at two separate sites on the same weekend.

The IndyCar Series headlines activities at Kansas Speedway, while the Indy Pro Series will race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course during the United States Grand Prix.

Logistically, there will be little crossover between the two events with only a few league executives working both races.

Each series has its own officials and technical inspection equipment, while the league's event marketing, media relations and timing & scoring departments will split staff members between the two events. The Delphi IRL Safety Team, which rotates team members during events, will have 12 members at each site.

3. Rahal not only Indy Pro Series newcomer in Liberty Challenge: Second-generation driver Graham Rahal has received much of the attention, but three other drivers also will make their Indy Pro Series debut July 1 in the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Logan Gomez, Eric Paradis and Mike Potekhen will take their next step up the racing ladder and drive the 420-horsepower Indy Pro Series car in the 25-lap event that supports the United States Grand Prix.

Gomez and Rahal, who will become the first 17-year-olds to compete in the series, grew up with a special fondness for the Speedway. Gomez was reared in Crown Point, Ind., two hours north of the historic facility, while Rahal's father, Bobby, made 13 starts in the Indianapolis 500, winning in 1986.

"Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is like a dream come true for me," said Gomez, who will drive the No. 4 Guthrie Racing and the Indyana Kid entry. "Since I was little I have been watching the Indianapolis 500, and it has been my goal to race and win the Indianapolis 500. Being given the opportunity to race at Indy is an opportunity that few people will ever get, and I am going to make the most of it and hopefully have a great race and impress quite a few people."

Gomez will be making his sixth professional start in a race car after a karting career that saw him win two SuperKarts USA Great Lakes Region titles and a Super Nationals title.

This year, he has been competing in the Star Mazda series. Gomez recorded a career-best fourth-place finish June 25 at Montreal and is seventh in points.

"I am taking in all of the advice and all of the track experience that I can and using it in the races to come," said Gomez, who drove the Indy Pro Series car for the first time June 20 at an Open Test at Indianapolis. "Every race I have had I left having learned something new, and that is something that will continue throughout this year. Hopefully, while doing so I can rack up a few podium finishes and a couple wins."

Potekhen is a fellow competitor of Gomez's in Star Mazda. The 26-year-old Silverthorne, Colo., native is second in points after winning the oval race at The Milwaukee Mile and finishing third at Montreal.

He was ninth-quick at the Indy Pro Series Open Test in the No. 76 Part Sourcing International car.

"The car was great," Potekhen said. "Good car, good crew. Everybody worked their butts off to get this thing together. I wasn't quite sure what to expect coming out here, but the cars were awesome. We've been looking at going the Atlantic route actually. After this test, I think we're leaning more toward the Indy Pro Series just because the cars are so much nicer. They're better built, and the competition is coming up too. It's a cool deal. They're a lot of fun to drive."

Paradis, a Montreal native, has been competing in Canadian Formula Ford since 1996. For the past six years, he has also competed in alpine skiing. He will drive the No. 2 Kiwi American Racing entry.

Practice and qualifying for the Liberty Challenge are June 30. The 18-car field will take the green flag at 2:40 p.m. (ET) on July 1. The race will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. (ET) July 6.

4. Foyt recovering from knee replacement: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt underwent successful knee replacement surgery on his left knee on June 26 in Houston. He started therapy that afternoon.

"It was really painful, worse than I expected," said Foyt. "I'm not sure I would have done it if I had known it would be this bad."

Foyt's doctors said surgery was complicated because of the injuries the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner sustained in a 1990 racing accident. Foyt will not be at Kansas Speedway this weekend. He expects to be released on June 30. Team manager Craig Baranouski will direct the team. Foyt's son Larry will also be on hand to assist Baranouski.

5. Roth finds consistency in test: Marty Roth walked away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Bump Day frustrated that he wasn't able to make a qualifying attempt because of a practice crash. But he didn't walk away for good.

"We'd like to run Michigan this year," said Roth, who tested his No. 25 Roth Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone at the 2-mile oval June 28. "Depending on sponsors and how (our car) turns out, hopefully we'll be here at the end of July.

"Right now, we've been developing this car and trying to make it consistent. That's what our main objective is right now. We're not after top speeds. Michigan's a long, long race, and that's how we're treating this test. We want something that'll be there for the end."

Roth, an Indy Pro Series veteran who has competed in two Indianapolis 500-Mile Races, also is scheduled to test July 3 at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway.

"We're happy," Roth said of the test at Michigan. "The car's really consistent and good. It's not doing anything weird on me. From Indy, that's the changes that we've made. They all seem to be in the right direction. We were focusing on getting a car that was a lot more consistent and wouldn't move around as much. We were battling that all of the month of May. As of right now, we seem to have fixed it. It's feeling pretty good out there."

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at 1 p.m. (EDT) 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. (EDT) on July 6.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Marty Roth , Chip Ganassi , Logan Gomez , Mike Potekhen , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing