INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- Aug. 30, 2006

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Road to Chicagoland -- Dan Wheldon
2. Road to Chicagoland -- Wade Cunningham
3. A1GP test draws IndyCar Series, Indy Pro Series drivers:

1. Road to Chicagoland -- Dan Wheldon: (Note: This week, we'll examine the season of each of the contenders for the IndyCar Series championship and how they became a title contender. Today, third-place driver Dan Wheldon.)

Dan Wheldon's defense of his 2005 IndyCar Series title hasn't gone the way he planned, but he still finds himself with a shot at remaining the champion.

Following his record-breaking championship season, Wheldon, in search of a new challenge, made an off-season switch from Andretti Green Racing to Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Expectations were high as the team changed to the Honda-powered Dallara for the oval races and the team quickly gelled in preseason testing.

"You can utilize my experience and that of Andy Brown, my engineer, but at the end of the day, you have remember you're up against those guys who've raced a number of years with that package," Wheldon said of the lofty goals.

Wheldon won his debut with the team at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the rest of the year has been filled with disappointment. A punctured tire at Indianapolis, botched pit stops at Texas and Kentucky have robbed Wheldon of potential wins.

"Anytime you can win your first race with a new team in such a competitive championship is a great achievement," Wheldon said. "I would have to say that is my highlight. Ultimately, would I want that to be my highlight of the season? Not really. It's just a race win.

"For me, personally, I was desperate to win the Indy 500 again. I was quietly confident that we were capable of doing that. I think everyone should be commended for the performance we had there. Everybody was talking about (Sam) Hornish (Jr.), and I respect Roger Penske and Sam immensely. They were very quick the whole month. For us, we were very quick, but it was one of those situations that cost us that victory."

Still, Wheldon looks back at a season, with eight top-five finishes and 11 top-10's and realizes that it's just the start of what could be a great partnership with Target Chip Ganassi Racing

"It's always very hard when you have a very successful season to go into the following year and expect to do the same when you're up against very stiff competition," Wheldon said. "At the same time, when you consider how fast our race cars have been, do I think I could have won six races? If things had panned out different. Perhaps. Obviously, Chip brought me into the team to win. I've only won one race. I hope to deliver more than that.

"I definitely believe somebody upstairs is giving me a shot at the championship. When you consider what's happened to me and you consider the points between the teams we're racing and the points we've thrown away. We're still very close. If it's meant to be. It's meant to be."

2. Road to Chicagoland -- Wade Cunningham: (Note: We'll examine the season of each of the contenders for the Indy Pro Series championship and how they became a title contender. Today, fourth-place driver Wade Cunningham.)

Three races into the 2006 season, Wade Cunningham's defense of his Indy Pro Series championship appeared over before it had a chance to begin.

An early-race penalty in the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and an emergency appendectomy the following weekend at St. Petersburg, left the defending series champion more than 100 points behind.

From there, the 21-year-old New Zealander decided to focus on race wins, and it paid off when he outdueled Jay Howard to win the Freedom 100 on the famed oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.

Cunningham then finished second to Bobby Wilson in the rain at Watkins Glen, and following a DNF on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, clawed his way back into contention with five-straight top-five finishes, including his second win of the season in the Carneros 100 at Infineon Raceway.

Cunningham also made the most of bonus points, winning a season-high four pole awards and claiming the lap leader bonus five times. He sits fourth in points heading into the season-finale, the Chicagoland 100 on Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway.

"I'm not really going to Chicago to win the championship," Cunningham said. "It's pretty unrealistic. To make up 30 points would take winning the race, getting the pole, and Jay would have to finish nearly last.

"We're going to go there and try for the pole like we did at Nashville, Milwaukee and Infineon, race hard, finish up front and have a good race. That's all we've been going for since St. Pete, and it's been working. If we can do that, then I won't be overly disappointed about not repeating as champion."

3. A1GP test draws IndyCar Series, Indy Pro Series drivers: Several IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series veterans are participating in A1GP's two-day test at Silverstone in England. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. and Indy Pro Series race winner Phil Giebler are testing for Team USA, while Vision Racing IndyCar Series driver Tomas Scheckter (South Africa), reigning Indy Pro Series Champion Wade Cunningham (New Zealand) and Indy Pro Series race winner Raphael Matos (Brazil) are testing with their respective countries' teams.

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The final IndyCar Series event of the 2006 season is the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 at Chicagoland 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. ESPN2's coverage of the Carneros 100 and Valley of the Moon 100 will be broadcast at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31.The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition concludes with the Chicagoland 100 on Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway.

-credit: irl