IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-02-10

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 10, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. Meira signs with Panther Racing 2. Wheldon visits fans at Chicago Auto Show 1. Meira signs with Panther Racing: Panther Racing announced it has signed Vitor Meira as...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 10, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Meira signs with Panther Racing
2. Wheldon visits fans at Chicago Auto Show

1. Meira signs with Panther Racing: Panther Racing announced it has signed Vitor Meira as the driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Honda-powered Dallara for the 2006 IndyCar Series season.

Meira, a 28-year-old Brazilian, finished seventh in the IndyCar Series standings last season while driving for Rahal Letterman Racing. Most notable among his efforts was a second-place finish behind Dan Wheldon in the Indianapolis 500 and another runner-up finish at Kentucky Speedway. Meira also finished third twice -- at Kansas and California. He finished eighth in final 2004 IRL standings in the No. 17 car despite competing in just 14 of 16 races.

"This is a fresh start for me and for Panther Racing," Meira said. "And now we are going to make it a quick start. Everything comes full circle; the Panther No. 4 is the first Indy-car I ever drove. They gave me my rookie test in Texas in 2001 and now we're going racing together. It's been a long offseason and I'm happy that everything has come together the way it did because I'm excited to be with the team and all the potential that we have."

Panther also announced that Pennzoil Lubricants will continue its nine-year relationship with the team. Additional sponsors for the 2006 IndyCar Series season will be released as soon as details are finalized.

"I think it's amazing that we can put a deal together this late and still have an opportunity to sign an A-list driver like Vitor Meira," Panther co-owner John Barnes said. "Any team would be lucky to have him, and we're excited to be moving forward on the 2006 season. Our goal here has always been to win races, and I believe with Pennzoil, Vitor and Honda power, we can do just that."

Panther has accumulated 15 race victories in its eight seasons in the Indy Racing League, which is second most in league history. The team won back-to-back IndyCar Series Championships in 2001 and 2002 with Sam Hornish Jr., and is the only team to win two league titles with the same driver. Meira is set to become the 12th driver to start in the IndyCar Series for Panther. He will be the fourth driver to pilot the team's No. 4 entry.

2. Wheldon visits fans at Chicago Auto Show: The line of people wound around the Bridgestone Americas display to secure an autograph and possibly a photograph with reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon during the First Look for Charity event Feb. 9.

First Look for Charity -- a black-tie gathering the night before the Chicago Auto Show opens to the public -- raised more than $1.2 million for 19 Chicago-area charities in 2005. The 98th edition of the Chicago Auto Show, featuring the 1911 Marmon Wasp that Ray Harroun drove to victory in the inaugural Indianapolis 500, Wheldon's Indianapolis 500-winning car and his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, runs through Feb. 19 at McCormick Place.

The cars are part of the Bridgestone Americas display, which also features interactive tire displays.

Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner, also announced the Safety Scholars Program -- a new component to Firestone's comprehensive safety project. Beginning in April, students across the country can log on to www.safetyscholars.com to download safety information and submit ideas about ways to educate young drivers about tire and driving safety. Students submitting the best ideas will win $2,500 college scholarships and laptop computers.

"We can think of no better person than Mario Andretti to spread the message of tire and driver safety," said John Gamauf, president of consumer tire replacement sales, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire. "We are proud that he is joining us in our effort to tap into the ideas and experiences of new drivers to help spread our safety message."

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The IRL IndyCar Series opens the 2006 season with the Toyota Indy 300 on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The IMS Radio Network broadcast is also carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 152, "XM Extreme" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition also opens on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dan Wheldon , Mario Andretti , Chip Ganassi , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing