INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- July 31, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. After 400 grueling miles, new points leader gives fans a second show 2. Drivers reap post-race rewards 3. Who's the next Indy Pro Series winner? 1. After 400 grueling...
INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- July 31, 2006
Today's IRL headlines
1. After 400 grueling miles, new points leader gives fans a second show
2. Drivers reap post-race rewards
3. Who's the next Indy Pro Series winner?
1. After 400 grueling miles, new points leader gives fans a second show: It's been a mentally challenging climb back to the top of the IndyCar Series standings for Helio Castroneves. Physically difficult, too, the Marlboro Team Penske driver attests.
After Castroneves' No. 3 Honda-powered Dallara screamed across the finish line 1.6229 seconds ahead of Revive Panther Racing's Vitor Meira in the Firestone Indy 400, the buoyant Brazilian climbed the fence at Michigan International Speedway for the first time in his career.
The trademark victory celebration was a bit more demanding than he expected.
"After 400 miles, it was a little hard," Castroneves confessed as daylight receded in the Irish Hills. "The funny thing is that it was the banking. That was the first time I went to the Michigan straightaway. The banking, it's kind of high. I'm like, 'C'mon, legs, go.' The legs weren't responding, especially the right one.
"I was full throttle half of the race. When I grabbed the fence, I'm like, 'Whoa, my arms are tired here. What's going on?' Finally I was able to find some cables there. I thought, 'Let's stay here, finish the celebration.'
"Those are the days I think, 'What the heck (was) I thinking when I did that?'''
Castroneves' first victory at MIS -- and the first for Penske Racing since 1991 (Rick Mears) -- allowed him to grab the top spot in the championship race with three events remaining. Castroneves has 376 points -- eight more than teammate Sam Hornish Jr., and 17 more than reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon. Scott Dixon is fourth (345) and Meira fifth (320).
Kentucky Speedway (Aug. 13) and Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 10) -- both 1.5-mile ovals -- provide the bookends for the second road-course race at Infineon Raceway in California (Aug. 27).
Castroneves' ascent to first from 30 points behind Hornish after finishing 14th in the ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt 225 at The Milwaukee Mile a week earlier was an example of the unpredictable nature of racing.
"It's been like the weather," he said. "Sun, then like rain -- it's exactly like that. Thank God we end up with the sun. I'm extremely happy. It was hard on everybody, not only myself but the entire team. Well, that's just to prove that you can't give up. You have to believe. The entire team believed it."
2. Drivers reap post-race rewards: Helio Castroneves again reaped the benefits from winning an IndyCar Series event.
As the Firestone Indy 400 race winner, Castroneves was presented with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT Camera and an engraved Aquaracer Automatic timepiece from TAG Heuer, the official timekeeper and watch of the Indy Racing League. TAG Heuer presents an engraved Aquaracer Automatic timepiece to the winner of each IndyCar Series event.
The Aquaracer concept is founded on providing the accuracy that all water sports demand. Based on the design and features of the timeless 2000 series, launched in 1982, TAG Heuer's watchmakers and designers have created an original, prestigious sports watch that is water-resistant to 300 meters.
Dan Wheldon collected the Firestone Performance Award and its $10,000 prize for leading Lap 131 of the race, while Kosuke Matsuura claimed the Lincoln Electric Hard Charger Award and its $2,000 prize for being the race leader who started furthest back. Tomas Scheckter won the K&N Award and its $2,000 prize for being the highest-placed eligible finisher. Castroneves claimed the Marlboro Pole Award and its $10,000 prize.
3. Who's the next Indy Pro Series winner?: In the fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition, a record seven drivers have found their way to Victory Lane in eight races. With four races remaining, can Jonathan Klein, Nick Bussell or someone else become the eighth driver to beat their rivals to the checkered flag?
"In the first three seasons, A.J. Foyt IV, Mark Taylor and Thiago Medeiros dominated the competition," said Roger Bailey, executive director of the Indy Pro Series. "Last year, Wade (Cunningham) was always in the top five but only had one win. This year, it's anybody's guess as to who is going to win on any given weekend. The parity is evident not just in the drivers but also in the teams."
Jeff Simmons and Kenn Hardley Racing were the first to Victory Lane in 2006, winning the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Simmons passed Bussell with two laps to go.
Raphael Matos and Guthrie Racing swept the doubleheader on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Cunningham and Brian Stewart Racing won the Freedom 100 on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
In June, Bobby Wilson took the Kenn Hardley machine to Victory Lane, leading the final nine laps.
Alex Lloyd gave AFS Racing its first series victory in July when Lloyd passed Graham Rahal with two laps to go in the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jay Howard, the series points leader since the Freedom 100, claimed his first victory for Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Nashville.
Winner number seven was Jaime Camara, a two-time winner in 2005, who gave Andretti Green Racing its first Indy Pro Series victory with a pass of Cunningham with two laps to go at Milwaukee.
Through it all, Klein and Bussell have been right in the thick of the battle -- although left on the outside looking in at the end of the race.
"My whole program is based on consistency," said Klein, a 19-year-old rookie driving for Andretti Green. "That's just going to be what we keep doing, just being consistent, making sure we finish every race, learn as much as I can, spend as much time on the track as possible to gain experience, just more seat time. Seat time is the most important thing in racing as far as experience, so that's what we're going to keep doing."
Klein leads all Indy Pro Series drivers with six top-five finishes in eight starts. He's finished third in each of the last three races.
Bussell, too, is a model of consistency. In his second season, he set a series record by running at the finish in 18 consecutive events (17 of those in the top 10) before a mechanical failure at Watkins Glen forced him out early. He has four top-five finishes this season.
The four remaining races in 2006 include two 1.5-mile ovals (Kentucky and Chicagoland) and two races on the road course at Infineon. Both types of tracks could provide Klein or Bussell the opportunity to get into Victory Lane.
Klein qualified second on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami. He led five laps and was running in the lead pack for 53 of 67 laps before making contact with the third-place car. Bussell charged from eighth to second at Homestead, leading five laps. He also has the benefit of running four 1.5-mile ovals last year, including Chicago where he led 20 laps and finished third.
On the road courses, Bussell and Klein have combined for five top-five finishes this year.
The next IndyCar Series event is the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 13 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC Sports 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 Kentucky 100 on August 13 at Kentucky Speedway.