IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2007-12-20

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. Chesson, Munter test with Panther Racing 2. Castroneves graces cover of ESPN the Magazine 3. Cunningham tests IndyCar Series car 4. Stewart honored 1. Chesson, Munter test with Panther ...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Chesson, Munter test with Panther Racing
2. Castroneves graces cover of ESPN the Magazine
3. Cunningham tests IndyCar Series car 4. Stewart honored

1. Chesson, Munter test with Panther Racing: Panther Racing wrapped up its last order of 2007 business Dec. 18 at Sebring International Raceway, where the team completed an Indy Pro Series test with prospective drivers P.J. Chesson and Leilani Munter.

While both drivers have displayed considerable talent on oval tracks, neither has extensive road course racing experience.

"It was positive for us to get both P.J. and Leilani on the track," Panther co-owner John Barnes said. "And, for us, it's good to get our Indy Pro Series team some time to work before the end of the year and run around a little bit. I really wanted to get our new Technical Director, Henri Durand, a chance to work with the IPS guys and the car to have some data to work with before we start running in 2008."

Chesson ran for the better part of a day-and-a-half, and despite having just two road course starts in his career, the New Jersey native was able to adapt well to the new discipline. Consider that, last season, road-course ace Hideki Mutoh also tested at Sebring with Panther, and his best time was only three-tenths quicker than Chesson's top time from this week.

It was an impressive time, but Chesson is the first to admit that consistency is a bigger concern than overall speed.

"I achieved more in the first test than I thought I would," Chesson admitted. "Consistency is going to be the toughest thing for me. The challenge isn't just to put in a respectable lap, it's to put in a good lap and then do it 20 more times. But I feel like given the opportunity we're going to get there."

Munter was also happy with her results, while admitting she has work to do to perfect her road course technique. Having spent significantly more time in a stock car than open-wheel, re-programming her footwork and perfecting the art of shifting on a non-oval track was a key first step.

"It's cool to learn something new like road course racing because I've been going in circles for so long," Munter said. "The biggest step for me is going to be my footwork, because when the footwork is messy, it hurts the rest of your racing. I need to get into a go-kart and practice my shifting so I can get used to it -- it's a lot different from what I'm familiar with in a stock car. It continued to get better and better after I was able to practice for awhile. I'm excited about this challenge."

Munter now knows what she has to work on in the Indy Pro Series car, as the Minnesota-born driver is a front-runner for the Panther ride. Chesson has an even taller task. He's in line for Panther's second IndyCar Series seat alongside veteran Vitor Meira, and that means there is still another major step up to the bigger, and more powerful, IndyCar Series cars.

"I know there is still a lot of learning to do," Chesson said. "But when you've got a good bunch of guys and a good car, like they do at Panther, anything is possible."

Barnes agreed.

"The test was a good evaluation of both drivers to see where they are as far as their road course racing ability," Barnes said. "They've both got work to do, but at the same time, we came away happy with what we were able to accomplish this week. It gives us something to think about over the holiday break, and we'll get more serious about making decisions after the first of the year."

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2. Castroneves graces cover of ESPN the Magazine: Helio Castroneves, dressed in a yellow suit and hat that he performed in on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, shares the cover of ESPN the Magazine's 100 Biggest Sports Stories of the Year issue with Barry Bonds. The magazine is being mailed to 1.8 million subscribers.

In The Magazine's annual look at the greatest sports stories of the year, the editors, producers, writers and on-air talent at ESPN chose the Barry Bonds saga as the No. 1 entry. There were still plenty of feel good stories in 2007: Tom Brady's Patriots, Boise State's trick plays, Lorena Ochoa's eight titles -- and who knew Helio Castroneves could cut such a mean rug?

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3. Cunningham tests IndyCar Series car: Wade Cunningham is the latest Indy Pro Series driver to get an opportunity to test an IndyCar Series car. The 2005 Indy Pro Series champion joined Andretti Green Racing drivers Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh at Sebring International Raceway Dec. 17.

The test was the fifth bonus test day earned by AGR in 2007 for their partnership with AFS Racing in fielding a team in the Indy Pro Series.

"It was cool to drive an IndyCar Series car for the first time," Cunningham said. "It's something that I've looked forward to since I came over here in 2005. I'm very grateful to (AFS Racing owner) Gary (Peterson) and Andretti Green Racing for the opportunity. It was a bit difficult in the morning with the track still at 50 degrees. After 20 laps or so, it felt reasonably comfortable."

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4. Stewart honored: Indy Pro Series team owner Brian Stewart was honored recently with the Michael S. Lowe Award by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa. The award is given annually to recognize significant contributions to motorsport.

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the SpeedJam Indy 300 on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on 11 ovals, three permanent road courses and two temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ABC Sports/ ESPN. The 2008 Indy Pro Series season also begins on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2.

-credit: irl

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