Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Now teammates, Castroneves and Hornish want series championship
2. Hardley still chasing Indy Pro Series entrant title
3. Luyendyk returns at Chicagoland
4. Okamoto to make Indy Pro Series debut
5. Fill up, Feel Good in Chicagoland
6. PitStopShop.com back Fisher at Chicagoland
1. Now teammates, Castroneves and Hornish want series championship: Everything is on the line for the four title contenders in the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean on Sept. 10 at Chicagoland Speedway.
The season finale on the 1.5-mile tri-oval is reminiscent of the 2002 championship chase, when Sam Hornish Jr. entered the Sept. 15 race at Texas Motor Speedway with a 12-point lead over Helio Castroneves. Hornish, seeking his second consecutive series title with Panther Racing, denied Castroneves of his first by beating the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion by 0.0096 of a second in the third-closest finish in series history.
Castroneves hasn't forgotten, and wants to be the one to hand the IRL Cup to Roger Penske for the first time. Castroneves leads his Marlboro Team Penske teammate by a solitary point entering the 200-lap race on a track where Hornish has won twice. Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dan Wheldon (19 points behind) and Scott Dixon (21 points) also are in the title mix. It will be the third time in the past five years that the championship is decided in the final race.
"In 2002, I had to win the race, and Sam had to finish third for me to clinch the championship," said Castroneves, who continues to drive the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske car. "Since I've been in this circumstance before, I know what to do. I know what doesn't work, so I just won't do that again. It's different this time. It's going to be a race you can't predict. You just have to run strong so you can achieve the goals. Hopefully, we'll have a great ending."
Both Castroneves and Hornish have four victories, a runner-up finish and a third-place finish this year, so the fourth tiebreaker would be needed if they are deadlocked in points. Castroneves doesn't plan to follow Hornish's No. 6 Honda-powered Dallara across the finish line.
"It's every man for himself," Castroneves said. "The odds probably help Sam because he's more familiar with the ovals. We are going to try everything we can to finish and clinch this championship."
Hornish and Wheldon have not finished lower than fourth on 1.5-mile ovals this season. A poker player, Hornish is all in to win.
"It's unbelievable how close this championship race has been, and it's probably been the toughest," said Hornish, who has 18 victories and led 61 races in 98 career starts. "I know I have to finish ahead of Helio at Chicago, and I hope we both make the finish and it comes down to the two of us on the last corner of the last lap."
If that happens, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric hopes the drivers apply Rule 1 in the teammate handbook: Don't take each other out.
"The best we can do is just try and give the drivers a reminder of the big picture as they get the red mist in front of them, decide on Lap 20 they think it's Lap 200," said Cindric, who calls the race for Castroneves. "But that's really the best thing that we can do is just try and coach them to the end."
2. Hardley still chasing Indy Pro Series entrant title: Two championship trophies will be awarded at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 9 -- one to the Indy Pro Series' top driver and one to the top team. More often than not, the championship team and driver are one and the same.
This season may be different. Although Jay Howard (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) leads the driver point standings by eight with one race to go -- the closest margin in series history -- Kenn Hardley Racing sits atop the entrant points. The team leads Sam Schmidt Motorsports by six.
Driver Bobby Wilson, who is third in driver points, put the team back into first with fifth- and second-place finishes at Infineon Raceway on Aug. 26 and 27.
"We're excited about that opportunity," team owner Kenn Hardley said. "We're a one-car team this weekend and no more than a two-car team. We don't have a lot of resources behind us that some of the teams have, so the opportunity that affords us to even have the possibility of winning the championship is a tremendous credit to the team as a whole.
"We had a good start with Jeff Simmons starting the year with a win at Homestead and then a second and fourth at St. Pete. Bobby Wilson has come along and maintained some of that momentum. He had a bad finish F1 weekend, not all his fault. He got punted several times. Other than that, he's had a solid season for us."
More than likely, the battle will go down to the finish line. Last year's race on the 1.5-mile oval at Chicagoland featured a pack of six cars that finished within 0.5727 seconds of one another.
3. Luyendyk returns at Chicagoland: Arie Luyendyk Jr. will return to the Indy Pro Series for the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 9. Luyendyk will drive the No. 25 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. car for AFS Racing.
Luyendyk has a history of strong finishes at the 1.5-mile oval, recording a second-place finish at the facility in 2002 and fourth-place finishes in 2003 and 2004.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity to come back and drive for AFS Racing," said Luyendyk, who has made three starts in the Indy Pro Series this season, including a season-best fourth-place finish on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season opener. "I'm looking forward to getting back into the car and driving at one of the most exciting races of the year. Chicagoland is a great event and I am very confident in AFS Racing and their ability to put a winning car on the track."
4. Okamoto to make Indy Pro Series debut: When Akihira Okamoto tested an Indy Pro Series car at Chicagoland Speedway earlier this summer, he was quicker than some more established series drivers at the track that day. On Sept. 9, he'll get the opportunity to test his mettle in race conditions in the Chicagoland 100 at Chicagoland Speedway. Okamoto will drive the No. 77 OAM/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry in the season finale.
Okamoto, who began competing in formula cars in Japan in 1998 before coming to the United States in 2000, won't be completely on his own in his debut. He has found a friend and a mentor in IndyCar Series veteran Roger Yasukawa.
"I have been friends with Roger since I first came to the U.S. in 2000," Okamoto said. "We raced together in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 2001. We are now under the same management, Speed of Japan, so I have always seen his races in the IndyCar Series.
"Roger's abilities to speak both fluent English and Japanese is certainly a big help for me, and his advice from a driver's point of view will be very valuable to me. There are things that only drivers can tell, and his advice will play a big role in my confidence during the race. I plan to mix the advice I get from him and the team during race week."
Yasukawa, who has made 36 IndyCar Series starts in his career, sees a lot of potential in Okamota.
"I have known Aki since Barber Dodge Pro Series, and I know he is a capable driver to be running up front in Indy Pro Series," Yasukawa said. "His rookie test went really well and I am looking forward to helping him establish a good result at Chicago. It will be his first high-speed, banked oval race, and he certainly will have to learn how to race in the draft with a pack of cars, but I'm sure he will get a grip of it right away."
Practice and qualifying for the 100-mile sprint on the 1.5-mile oval are Sept. 8.
5. Fill up, Feel Good in Chicagoland: With unleaded gasoline going for $3.31 a gallon in Chicago, it's worth a drive to the 7-Eleven fuel station at 679 N. Weber Road in Romeoville, Ill., on Sept. 8, where IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan, Jeff Simmons and Jeff Bucknum will be pumping ethanol-blended E10 gasoline for $2.20 a gallon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The public is encouraged to bring their vehicles to the Ethanol Pump Tour at the 7-Eleven station to fill up on E10 unleaded fuel. Vehicles built since 1980 can run on E10. The event is to promote ethanol use in passenger cars and trucks and the IndyCar Series' switch to 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol for the 2007 season.
All three IndyCar Series drivers will be available for autographs and photographs with customers. The station can be reached by taking Exit 263 off I-55.
6. PitStopShop.com back Fisher at Chicagoland: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing announced today a partnership with PitStopShop.com, a Sarasota, Fla.-based women's race apparel company. The brand's logo will appear on the No. 5 Honda-powered Dallara driven by Sarah Fisher in the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in on Sept. 10.
"We are very excited to have Pit Stop Shop join our team for the Chicago race, said team co-owner Dennis Reinbold. "They provide high-quality, fun clothing for race fans. We look forward to helping introduce them to the world."
PitStopShop.com is the new e-commerce website that is spicing up female race fans' wardrobes on and off the track. The company provides a non-traditional line of race-themed apparel to consumers nationwide via the website, which launched last month. The vibrant and easy-to-navigate website offers edgy, trendy fashion that is tied in with fun and fresh trademarked race sayings found on the brand's clothing line.
"Commitment Line Apparel, Inc. is thrilled to be on board with Sarah Fisher for the Chicagoland race," said Deeia Topp, president and CEO of PitStopShop.com. "She embodies what PitStopShop.com is about; speed and femininity. Look for a unique design for Sarah in next season's Pit Stop Shop line."
The final IndyCar Series event of the 2006 season is the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean at 1:30 (ET) 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. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition concludes with the Chicagoland 100 on Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway. ESPN2's coverage of the Chicagoland 100 will be televised at 2 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 14. Live streaming video coverage of the weekend's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series practice and qualifying sessions and the Chicagoland 100 will be available at www.indycar.com.