IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-09-21

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. 2007 season to conclude at Chicagoland 2. Record-setting season for Indy Pro Series 3. Castroneves stays in fast lane: 1. 2007 season to conclude at Chicagoland: The IndyCar® Series ...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. 2007 season to conclude at Chicagoland
2. Record-setting season for Indy Pro Series
3. Castroneves stays in fast lane:

1. 2007 season to conclude at Chicagoland: The IndyCar® Series will again crown its champion at Chicagoland Speedway when it returns to the 1.5-mile oval in 2007.

The IndyCar Series' 300-mile season-finale will be held Sept. 9, while the 100-mile Indy Pro Series season-finale will be held on Sept. 8.

"We are coming off one of the best racing seasons in our six-year history, and we're already looking forward to topping it in 2007," said Matthew Alexander, vice president and general manager of Chicagoland Speedway. "Each year, we try to improve our state-of-the-art facility so that we can continue to exceed our fans' expectations, offering them the opportunity to have one of the most enjoyable weekend experiences in all of motorsports. Our 2007 schedule will once again provide fans the opportunity to witness the IndyCar Series crown its champion at our track."

Chicagoland Speedway, located in Joliet, Ill., has hosted the IndyCar Series since 2001 and is the site of three of the 10 closest finishes in IndyCar Series history. It will host the IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series' season-finales for the second consecutive year. This year, Chicagoland Speedway saw four IndyCar Series drivers and four Indy Pro Series drivers enter the final race with a chance to win the championship.

"We look forward to Chicagoland Speedway closing out the IndyCar Series schedule once again in 2007," said Brian Barnhart, president and COO of the Indy Racing League. "You couldn't ask for anything more than the race we had earlier this month at Chicagoland with the high-speed and close racing culminating in a championship points battle tie, two points separating first from third place and one of the fastest races in IndyCar Series history."

Chicagoland Speedway is the 11th confirmed date for the 2007 IndyCar Series schedule.

2. Record-setting season for Indy Pro Series: The closest point race in series history, a record number of race winners and a record amount of prize money culminated in making 2006 one of the best seasons ever in the Indy Pro Series.

Prior to the season, series officials introduced several measures designed to strengthen the five-year-old, step-ladder series. Among the measures were a 12-race schedule featuring a 50/50 blend of oval and road-course races, a dual-shock system designed to better replicate an IndyCar Series car and a testing program designed to reward Indy Pro Series drivers with an opportunity to test in the IndyCar Series. Perhaps the biggest enhancement, though, was the tripling of prize money to $3 million.

When added together, the changes led to an average of three more cars per race and a host of young, talented drivers.

Wade Cunningham, the 2005 Indy Pro Series champion, became the first series champion to return for a second season. He was joined by the past two Formula Ford Zetec champions, Jay Howard (2005) and Bobby Wilson (2004), and the 2003 British Racing Drivers' Club Young Driver of the Year award winner, Alex Lloyd.

Within a span of three races, the Indy Pro Series had three drivers become the youngest ever to start a race in the series. Sean Guthrie took the honor from Marco Andretti at the Freedom 100 on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. In June, CR Crews became the youngest starter at Watkins Glen. In July, the series had its first two 17-year-old competitors in Graham Rahal and Logan Gomez at the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The season started in breathtaking fashion when Jeff Simmons beat Nick Bussell to the checkered flag by 0.0199 of a second at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was the second-closest finish in Indy Pro Series history and marked Simmons' fifth win in the last eight races. Two races later, Simmons jumped up to the IndyCar Series, finishing the season with Rahal Letterman Racing.

From Homestead, the Indy Pro Series traveled to St. Petersburg for the first doubleheader weekend in series history. Guthrie Racing, competing in its second event, won the pole for the first race with driver Raphael Matos. The 2005 Star Mazda champion led 35 of 40 laps to win the first race, and then came back the next day to win the second race from the sixth starting position.

Cunningham brought dream into reality for himself and heralded team owner Brian Stewart with a win on the historic oval at Indianapolis in May. Cunningham, who missed the two races at St. Petersburg due to appendicitis, also won at Infineon and Chicago and finished third in the championship.

The next four races featured four different winners as the Indy Pro Series established a record with seven race winners during the season.

Wilson took the checkered flag at Watkins Glen, Lloyd won on the road course at Indianapolis with a late-race pass of Rahal, Howard won at Nashville, and Jaime Camara won at Milwaukee.

Howard, Cunningham and Lloyd repeated as winners in the next three races, setting up a four-man shootout for the championship at Chicagoland.

A pack of six cars battled for the lead throughout the 100-mile sprint with the lead changing hands 10 times. Cunningham ended up in the front when it mattered most with 19-year-old Jonathan Klein second and Howard third.

Howard secured the Firestone Firehawk Cup by a mere four points over Klein and 11 points over Cunningham.

The top nine drivers earned more than $100,000 with Howard leading the way with $236,976 in prize money.

"I have to give credit to the Indy Racing League because it is for sure the most attractive feeder series in the world," Howard said. "I think that's been noticed especially this year. The competition was for sure the most difficult this year in the history of the Indy Pro Series. It's great for me to win that, take that away with me.

"The prize money has been a big bonus to anyone who has been running in the championship. It just makes it that little bit easier, especially for guys that can't really find the budget to go racing, it just helps knowing that even if you finish dead last, you're still going to come away with some prize money, some sort of reward for being there."

2006 Indy Pro Series season by the numbers:

4 -- Points separating Jay Howard and Jonathan Klein, the closest final margin in Indy Pro Series history.

7 -- Record number of race winners during the 12-race season $3 million. -- Record amount of prize money paid out to competitors in 2006, tripling the amount paid in previous seasons.

9 -- Number of drivers who earned more than $100,000 in prize money. Jay Howard topped the list at $236,976 17 years, 178 days -- Age of Graham Rahal when he started the Liberty Challenge on the road course at Indianapolis in July, becoming the youngest starter in series history.

3 -- Increase in the number of cars per race from 2005 to 2006.

3. Castroneves stays in fast lane: Helio Castroneves, a four-time race winner who finished third in the IndyCar Series championship, hasn't slowed much since completing the season in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

After helping kick off the Miami FC United Soccer League playoff game against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Miami on Sept. 17 (he received a personalized No. 3 Miami FC jersey), Castroneves will be a guest analyst on the O Globo TV broadcast of the Brazilian Stock Car V8 Championship race this weekend in Brasilia, Brazil.

Castroneves is co-owner of the NasrCastroneves Racing team competing at Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet with drivers Hoover Orsi and David Muffato. They are second and 14th, respectively, in the standings of the series that feature modified Chevrolet Astras.

"I'm definitely looking forward to trying my hand at broadcasting in Brazil," said Castroneves. "Hopefully, I'll be able to do a good job, but at least I'll be able to speak my first language. It's going to be a lot of fun to broadcast a race where my team is competing, but I'll have to try hard to keep my comments balanced and get to know some of the other drivers a little better. This is a really big race for our team since it will decide which drivers are eligible for the championship. Also, our team shop is located inside the circuit, so it will be exciting for our guys to race at their home track."

In 2003 and 2004, Castroneves provided commentary on the ESPN2 broadcast of the Indy Pro Series' Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 champion also is featured in the September issue of Ocean Drive Magazine. The Coral Gables, Fla., discusses his 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo as well as some of the cars and stories that stand out throughout his life.

***

The IndyCar® Series will conduct a two-day compatibility test at Daytona International Speedway on Sept. 26 and 27 that will feature five drivers from four teams. The last four IndyCar Series champions, Sam Hornish Jr. of Marlboro Team Penske, Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing will join Panther Racing's Vitor Meira at the test on the 10-turn, 2.73-mile circuit.

-credit: irl

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