IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-05-23

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- May 23, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. Marco Andretti honored as fastest rookie 2. Cunningham getting back up to speed 3. Playa Del Racing adds marketing partner 4. CheapCarribean.com, Blue Star Jets to back...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- May 23, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Marco Andretti honored as fastest rookie
2. Cunningham getting back up to speed
3. Playa Del Racing adds marketing partner
4. CheapCarribean.com, Blue Star Jets to back Luyendyk Jr.:

1. Marco Andretti honored as fastest rookie: Marco Andretti followed his grandfather and father as competitors in the Indianapolis 500, and he's followed them as the fastest rookie.

Andretti was the recipient of the 32nd American Dairy Association of Indiana Fastest Rookie of the Year Award. Joining Townsend Bell, Thiago Medeiors, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and P.J. Chesson as rookies in the May 28 race, Andretti will begin his attack from the outside of Row 3.

Mario Andretti was the fastest rookie in 1965, and Michael followed in 1984.

"This means a lot to me because every family member of mine that has competed has won this award," Andretti said. "I want to set my goals even bigger and bring home Rookie of the Year this year at Indy."

But the 19-year-old IndyCar Series driver is aiming higher.

"Obviously, I want to win this race," he said. "If we can roll back onto the track on race day with what we just had, the NYSE car has a very good shot of being successful. If we set our goals high, then hopefully good things will follow. We need to be consistent, but find ways to get to the front."

Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford congratulated Andretti and his peers. He said the apple doesn't fall far from the Andretti family tree.

"He's another Andretti," Rutherford said. "They've all got talent and are great race drivers. Marco is still out to make his mark, but he's certainly showing well thus far."

Rutherford added that this year's rookie crop has shown great success and knows that they can be successful on race day.

"They've all done well and made the race," Rutherford said. "They've joined the ranks as Indy 500 racers, and that's quite an honor for them. Now it's time to show what they can do in the race itself."

Andretti took home numerous awards, including a $5,000 check from the American Dairy Farmer's Association of Indiana.

***

2. Cunningham getting back up to speed: From the beginning, Wade Cunningham's goal for 2006 was to win races and not necessarily a second consecutive Indy Pro Series championship. Now that he's missed two races because of an emergency appendectomy, his focus is clearer than ever.

Cunningham earned the Firestone Firehawk Cup in 2005 with consistency. The 21-year-old Auckland, New Zealand, native won only one race -- the season finale at California Speedway -- but earned the championship with 13 top-five finishes in 14 races, including seven seconds.

"It was a different situation last year," said Cunningham, who proudly claimed the No. 1 for his Brian Stewart Racing car in 2006. "The future wasn't certain, crash damage was a big issue, all those things combine and they definitely influence the way you drive on the track. Now I don't have to worry about those things, so I can do what I want."

That was evident in this season's first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Starting fourth, Cunningham got a good run on two rookies on the front row as the field came down the front straightaway to take the green flag. Unfortunately, he passed them before the start/finish line and was issued a drive-through penalty.

"First corner at Homestead, we went for it," Cunningham said. "We got penalized for the jump start, but that's the way we're going to be racing this year. I can take the 50/50s, put everything on the line, because it doesn't really matter at the moment. I'm just going to prove that I'm fast."

The champion's season suffered another setback after the race at Homestead. After enduring pain for several days, Cunningham checked himself into a hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., two days before the first of two races on the temporary street circuit where he had led 18 laps and finished second a year ago. The removal of his appendix cost him dozens of points in the championship -- he ranks 17th heading to Indianapolis -- but strengthened his resolve to come back and win as often as he can in the season's nine remaining races.

"The championship is very far away," said Cunningham, who is 102 points out of first. "It's not unachievable, but now it takes the pressure off the big picture, and I can just go out there and race race by race, just like Jeff (Simmons) did last year. That's what we're looking forward too, winning races and just going fast."

The first step for Cunningham was getting back into shape. The diminutive driver -- 5-6, 135 pounds -- missed more than two weeks of training while he recovered from surgery.

"It was about 15 or 16 days, and then I could only do light stuff," Cunningham said. "Nothing that involved the core, no stabilization exercises. I had to isolate muscle groups if I wanted to train. I used a lot of machines. I got back on the Theraband workouts, the body blades, a lot of body weight stuff. It was another 10 days after that that I started doing core work again -- swimming and cycling and that sort of thing."

Fortunately for Cunningham, the May 26 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is eight weeks after the surgery, allowing him to ease back into his training routine under the guidance of Jim Leo at Pit Fit.

Cunningham seemed to be on the top of his game when the Indy Pro Series tested at Indianapolis on April 27. He topped the speed chart in his No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing entry at 188.575 mph. He followed that up several days later with a successful private test at Nashville Superspeedway.

"I definitely noticed my cardio fitness has gone down," Cunningham said. "But, I'm happy with where I'm at, and I'll be back in top form for the race. I'll be ready to go."

***

3. Playa Del Racing adds marketing partner: Gary Sallee, president of Playa Del Racing, announced a marketing partnership with Venture Logistics for the No. 21 Videopoker.com Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry driven by Jaques Lazier and the No. 12 Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry to be driven by Roger Yasukawa for the Indianapolis 500.

"As a race team, we need to get our personnel and equipment to the track safely and on time," Sallee said. "When we analyzed all of our options, we chose Venture Logistics because of the professionalism they bring to the transportation industry. The quality of their drivers and equipment is unmatched. We are proud to have them as our sponsor in the Indy Pro Series and our two IndyCar entries in this year's Indy 500."

Venture Logistics also will support the effort of Playa Del Racing co-owner Jon Herb on his No. 6 Aercon Dallara/Firestone entry in the Indy Pro Series for the rest of the season.

Venture Logistics, located in Indianapolis, is an ISO Certified Total Transportation Company which as been in operation since 1992. Venture Logistics has assembled a team of highly qualified personnel with years of industry expertise and operational experience. Its primary goal is to provide the customer with their freight picked up on time, delivered on time and in excellent condition, adding ongoing value to their investment.

***

4. CheapCarribean.com, Blue Star Jets to back Luyendyk Jr.: CheapCaribbean.com and Blue Star Jets will back Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s No. 61 Luyendyk Racing effort in the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500.

"We are thrilled to have CheapCaribbean.com and Blue Star Jets on board," said two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk Sr., who put the team together earlier this year. "We're a brand new team. Both Blue Star Jets and CheapCaribbean.com have grown from start-up operations to multi-million dollar companies over the past couple of years. We hope their growth will now allow us to show similar growth as a race team over the next several months and into 2007.

"It's hard to find sponsors who are serious about staying with a team," added Luyendyk Sr. "With CheapCaribbean.com and Blue Star Jets, I feel our future is secure as both are as serious about racing as we are. And the best part is all of us are already having so much fun in the process."

CheapCaribbean.com founder Jim Hobbs, an Indianapolis native, is also excited about the possibilities both now and in the future.

"The Indianapolis 500 is full of comebacks this year," Hobbs said. "For us, it's a new beginning. Being a rookie lead sponsor with a rookie driver on a rookie team is not only an incredible learning experience, but in my opinion it's a perfect start to a future full of potential."

***

The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series continues with the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 at 1 p.m. (EDT) on May 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ABC will broadcast the race live beginning at noon (EDT). A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. Live coverage on the IMS Radio Network begins at noon (EDT). 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 continues with the Freedom 100 at 12:30 p.m. on May 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2's Carb Day coverage on May 26. Live coverage on the IMS Radio Network begins at 12:15 p.m. (EDT).

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Jon Herb , Arie Luyendyk , Jaques Lazier  , Townsend Bell , Mario Andretti , Roger Yasukawa , Marco Andretti , P.J. Chesson , Johnny Rutherford , Arie Luyendyk Jr.