INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Aug. 18, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Pantano to drive road courses for Target Chip Ganassi Racing 2. Meira named Special Olympics Ambassador 3. Simmons eyes third pole, first win at Pikes Peak 4. Menards ...
INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Aug. 18, 2005
Today's IRL headlines
1. Pantano to drive road courses for Target Chip Ganassi Racing
2. Meira named Special Olympics Ambassador
3. Simmons eyes third pole, first win at Pikes Peak
4. Menards offers "Ultimate" sweepstakes
1. Pantano to drive road courses for Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Target Chip Ganassi Racing has recruited Giorgio Pantano, who in 2004 competed in 14 Formula 1 races with the Jordan team, to drive the No. 10 Toyota-powered Panoz in the road-course events at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.
"We're really excited to have such an experienced and talented road course racer added to our team for the Sonoma and Watkins Glen races," team owner Chip Ganassi said of the 26-year-old from Padua, Italy. "He was the best driver available to us and we couldn't be happier that his schedule allowed him to be able to participate in both races. Along with Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe, we expect the Target team to be the team to beat out there for these two road course races."
Pantano began his racing career at the age of 9 and collected two Junior World championship wins (1993, '94), three European Championships (1993, '95, '96) and three Italian national titles (1993, '94, '96). He won the German F3 2000 championship in his first year with Swiss KMS.
He was runner-up in his debut season in FIA F3000 in 2001 with the Coloni team, earning three victories. Pantano began testing with McLaren and then joined Williams in 2001 as its test driver. He finished third in FIA F3000 in 2003, and currently competes in the GP2 series with the Super Nova team out of England.
"Giorgio Pantano represents enthusiasm, excitement and a passion for motorsports and that is what this team is all about so this is a great fit for us," team managing director Mike Hull said. "While he is new to (the) IndyCar (Series), Pantano has the talent, background and experience to be successful right away. As this is an IndyCar Series road course rather than an oval, the transition will be much easier as well."
Pantano, who has competed against IndyCar Series drivers Dan Wheldon and Kosuke Matsuura in karting, will get his first look at the 2.26-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway course on Aug. 26 in practice for the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix.
"This is a very good opportunity and a good challenge that Chip Ganassi and the Target team have offered me and I am looking forward to living up to expectations," he said.
2. Meira named Special Olympics Ambassador: Vitor Meira has long admired the thousands of Special Olympics athletes around the world for their enthusiasm and determination. Now the IndyCar Series driver, who has a passion for fitness and sports, will be an advocate for the athletes and organization.
During a fun-filled day Aug. 18 with Denver-area Special Olympians, the Rahal Letterman Racing competitor was named Special Olympics Ambassador. He will help further the message of the movement and aid in the enhancement of the level of inclusion in society of those with intellectual disabilities.
Meira will serve as a spokesperson for the Special Olympics USA National Games, which will be held in Ames, Iowa, in July 2006, and he said advocacy work will help open doors in his native Brazil. He joins fellow supporters such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Houston Rockets star Yao Ming, Olympians Bart Conner, Nadia Comaneci and Scott Hamilton, and musical performers Bono, Jo Dee Messina and Jon Bon Jovi.
"It is a great honor to be an ambassador for the Special Olympics," Meira said. "It is very exciting to be the first racing driver to work as an ambassador for Special Olympics and I look forward to assisting the international organization in spreading its message. Helping people in Special Olympics is something I always wanted to do and this new role gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction."
Special Olympics is an international organization that promotes understanding, acceptance and inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Year-round sports training and athletic competition and other related programming is provided for more than 1.7 million children and adults in more than 150 countries. The organization was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Visit Special Olympics online at www.specialolympics.org.
3. Simmons eyes third pole, first win at Pikes Peak: Jeff Simmons has won two pole positions in his Menards Infiniti Pro Series career. Both have come at Pikes Peak International Raceway where the series returns Aug. 21 for the Pikes Peak 100.
Simmons, 29, was a rookie in 2003 when the series made its first stop at the 1-mile oval in Fountain, Colo. In his fourth career race, Simmons won the pole with a speed of 154.220 mph competing for Keith Duesenberg Racing. He led the first three laps before being passed by Cory Witherill and settled for second after a long duel with Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Last year, Simmons returned to Pikes Peak for his second race of the season. It was his debut in the No. 24 Team ISI car fielded by Kenn Hardley Racing. Despite a lack of time to get to know the team, Simmons established the track record with a qualifying speed of 154.574 mph. He led the first 16 laps before spinning at the exit of Turn 4. He was able to continue running but lost a lap and finished ninth.
This year, Simmons returns to Pikes Peak with his eyes more on the checkered flag than a third consecutive pole.
"Last year, Pikes Peak was my first race with Kenn Hardley Racing, so winning the pole was a big boost to everyone, but we didn't have enough time to work on the car," said Simmons, who remains with the team in 2005. "It wasn't good for the long run. This year, we want to make it better for the race.
"Pikes Peak is one of the more challenging tracks we go to. That's partially the track. The banking seems to change throughout the corner, it's not consistent. And there's also pretty sizeable bumps in Turns 1 and 2. It also seems to be somewhat windy, especially in the afternoons, which with the higher altitude gives us less downforce. We seem to do well on the tracks that are tougher to drive."
After a string of bad luck had Simmons in 12th place in the point standings after the first three races this season, he has improved to eighth with three consecutive top-five finishes, including a victory July 24 at Milwaukee, which also is a 1-mile track.
Another driver looking for his first victory is Wade Cunningham, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on Aug. 19. Cunningham leads the points by 27 on the strength of top-five finishes in all nine races. He has finished second five times, including Milwaukee where he led 54 of 100 laps.
"I expect the people who were quick at Milwaukee to be quick at Pikes Peak," Cunningham said. "I'll be looking to solidify our position in the championship. It's race to race. There wasn't much good coming into the race in Kentucky, and we did better than the best we thought we could do with what we had. It's like a victory for me and the team, so everyone's confidence is way up, because when we get it right, we should be well on it."
Qualifying for the Pikes Peak 100 is Aug. 20 at 5 p.m. ET. The 100-mile race is Aug. 21 at 1:45 p.m. ET.
4. Menards offers "Ultimate" sweepstakes: Menards will award two lucky fans with a trip to Chicago in September for the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Chicagoland 100. Anyone over the age of 21 can register for the "Ultimate Race Fan Experience" by visiting a kiosk at any of 185 Menards store locations. Menards has placed posters in all stores and included inserts in Sunday newspapers promoting the sweepstakes which ends on Aug. 20.
The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues Aug. 21 with the Honda Indy 225 at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The race will be broadcast by ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The race broadcast also will be carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 152 (XM Extreme). The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Pikes Peak 100 on Aug. 21 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. It will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 25.