IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2007-07-23

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines: 1. Dixon tightens points race with record-tying win 2. First-time winner Antinucci eyes IndyCar Series 3. Drivers reap post-race rewards 1. Dixon tightens points race with record-tying win:...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines:
1. Dixon tightens points race with record-tying win
2. First-time winner Antinucci eyes IndyCar Series
3. Drivers reap post-race rewards

1. Dixon tightens points race with record-tying win: When the IndyCar Series reached its midpoint at the beginning of July, Dario Franchitti tried to avoid every question about the IndyCar Series being locked up. He had a simple reply: "It's too early." Three weeks and three Scott Dixon wins later, the Indianapolis 500 winner has proven prophetic.

Franchitti still maintains the lead in the standings, but his "insurmountable" advantage of three weeks ago has been sliced from 65 to 24 points with Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dixon's three consecutive victories, including the July 22 Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance.

In fact, only Franchitti's consistency over that stretch -- runner-up at Nashville Superspeedway and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and third at Watkins Glen International on July 8 -- has kept him in front.

"The problem we've got right now is we're looking for perfection," said Franchitti, who finished in the top five in 11 races in a row. "The guys in the 9 car, with Dixon's car, Scott himself, are doing a hell of a job. We need perfection. I'm being critical of myself and my guys, but we need that perfection in order to win the championship.

"I think at this point, when you look at the guys fighting it out up front week in, week out, there's no weak spots for anybody. We've just got to get on with it and do the job."

Dixon, who turned 27 on race day, wasn't as confident pre-race as he was a week earlier at Nashville.

"I was thinking this might be the end of our streak," he said. "I know we sort of had a bit of luck on our side. Everybody is full of confidence. Things just seem to click a little easier. Your decisions come a bit quicker. I think that's definitely the key behind it.

"I'd be a lot more comfortable if we were racing maybe my teammate (Dan Wheldon) or Sam (Hornish Jr.) for the championship with the (two) road courses left. Unfortunately, Dario is very fast on all of them. As you can see, he's been consistently on the podium when we've won. It's been very tough to try and close that gap."

Helio Castroneves, who started from the pole and finished third at Mid-Ohio, offered another assessment of the points battle.

"Both seem to have very good momentum," the Team Penske driver said. "I have to say right now, because of three straight wins for Scott, definitely he's probably going to feel a little bit more comfortable (heading to Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 5).

"But Andretti Green also has three other cars, which when you think about the championship you want to do everything you can to secure that. You have more chances -- guys like Tony (Kanaan), Dario, Marco (Andretti), even Danica (Patrick) -- to be stealing points from Scott.

"That's why it's going to be an exciting championship, no question about it, as always in the IndyCar Series. We just want to make sure we win the next race and collect more points."

Going for four

Scott Dixon tied an IndyCar Series record by winning his third consecutive race on July 22. Here's a look at how record-holders Kenny Brack and Dan Wheldon fared in their quest for a fourth consecutive IndyCar Series victory:

* In 1998, Brack started 10th and finished fifth at Texas 2 without leading a lap.

* In 2005, Wheldon started eighth and finished sixth at Texas2, leading two laps.

2. First-time winner Antinucci eyes IndyCar Series: Indy Pro Series road course races are seasoning for first-year driver Richard Antinucci. Ovals might be added to the mix soon, with the goal of competing full time in the IndyCar Series.

Antinucci, who started fourth in the inaugural Mid-Ohio 100 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, accepted the winner's trophy for the first time in his brief Indy Pro Series career. The 26-year-old nephew of 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr. led 2005 series champion Wade Cunningham across the finish line by 0.9588 of a second.

The native of Rome did not have experience on the American circuits, but he's well-acquainted with stiff competition on European courses.

"With our limited resources, we decided to maximize what we knew and try to make an impact as quickly as possible," he said. "Coming from a European background on road courses, we thought that we could have a better impact sooner with the road course races.

"But we need to get on ovals because our goal is (the IndyCar Series). It's what I want to do. I feel more comfortable living back in the States, too. I'm working with my uncle. I want to be an (IndyCar Series) driver who can fight for wins, not just fill in the numbers."

After competing on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.), where he finished 19th and 15th in the No. 51 Cheever Racing car, Antinucci has recorded five consecutive top-10 finishes. Fifth in the second race at Watkins Glen International earlier this month, where he advanced three positions, had been the high-water mark.

Now, with more seat time and a growing confidence, he's looking forward to competing at Infineon Raceway in August -- and beyond.

"We've really learned a lot coming into our fourth weekend," said Antinucci, who last year competed in the Formula 3 Euroseries. "This is the only track we've tested at before we've raced. That underlines the potential. Because when you don't know a track, it's kind of hard to learn the ropes and get up to pace with limited testing.

"Watkins Glen is a very particular track that has unorthodox characteristics. On one side you have to be geared in a certain way, and on the other side in another, and setup as well in terms of chassis. We were seven seconds off as soon as we got to Watkins Glen. In the next half an hour we were four seconds off, then two, and then we were basically the pace. You can do all of those leaps in one test day.

"We came here, rolled out of the pits, maybe were a little bit off, made a couple tweaks, but we were there. So that's how important it is."

3. Drivers reap post-race rewards: For the third week in a row, Scott Dixon reaped the benefits from winning an IndyCar Series event.

As the Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio race winner, Dixon was presented an Automatic Gran Data timepiece from Ritmo Mundo, the official timepiece of the IndyCar Series. Ritmo Mundo presents a timepiece to the winner of each IndyCar Series event in 2007 and will present a $100,000 timepiece to the IndyCar Series champion.

Helio Castroneves collected his sixth AAMCO Transmissions Pole Award and its $10,000 prize, and the Firestone Performance Award and its $10,000 prize for leading Lap 65 (Mile 146) of the race. Dixon claimed the Lincoln Electric Hard Charger Award and its $2,000 prize for being the race leader who started furthest back.

As part of his victory in the Mid-Ohio 100, Richard Antinucci was presented with a Forum timepiece from Ritmo Mundo, the official timepiece of the Indy Pro Series. Ritmo Mundo presents a timepiece to the winner of each Indy Pro Series event in 2007 and a $25,000 timepiece to the Indy Pro Series champion.

Alex Lloyd collected the SWE Pole Award and its $1,000 prize.

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the Firestone Indy 400 at Noon on Aug. 5 at Michigan International Speedway. The race will be televised live by ESPN2 and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Indy Pro Series event is the Kentucky 100 on Aug.11 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 16. ESPN2's coverage of the Mid-Ohio 100 will be televised by ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. on July 26.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Kenny Brack , Dan Wheldon , Richard Antinucci , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , Wade Cunningham
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing