IRL: Chicagoland: Race report, champion crowned

WHELDON WINS PEAK ANTIFREEZE INDY 300; HORNISH CLAIMS THIRD INDYCAR SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP JOLIET, Ill., Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006 -- Sam Hornish Jr. emerged from one of the closest point battles in IndyCar Series with his third IndyCar Series title...

WHELDON WINS PEAK ANTIFREEZE INDY 300; HORNISH CLAIMS THIRD INDYCAR SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP

JOLIET, Ill., Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006 -- Sam Hornish Jr. emerged from one of the closest point battles in IndyCar Series with his third IndyCar Series title -- the first for Marlboro Team Penske in the IndyCar Series.

Dan Wheldon won the IndyCar Series season finale and picked three bonus points for leading the most laps (166), tying Hornish with 475 points. Race victories -- four to two in Hornish's favor -- were the deciding factor.

"This is about as excited as I've ever been," Hornish said. "It's been a great day for us and a great year. Winning the (Indianapolis) 500 was the highlight of my career, but this is right close to it."

Wheldon, who won the first and final events on the 14-race schedule, beat teammate Scott Dixon by 0.1897 of a second. Hornish, a two-time winner on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval, won at Indianapolis, back to back at Richmond and Kansas, and at Kentucky.

"It was a clean race, lots of good racing," said Roger Penske, who has 14 Indianapolis 500 championships. "It was a long year, great season; an Indy win for Sam and the team. We have all of these sponsors and supporters to thank. We came over to the IRL to support the Indianapolis 500, and I'm sure glad we could win this championship this year.

"It was one we didn't have and when you don't have something, you really want it."

Wheldon said the day before he wanted to lead the most laps and win the race, with the points race shaking out among the positions of the other contenders. He needed Hornish to finish one spot lower.

"All credit goes to Roger Penske's organization and to Sam Hornish," he said. We've had a somewhat difficult year. This is perhaps a bittersweet end. It was a lot of hard work for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and the boys at Honda. You could see that there was nothing but equality with the engines. This is Target's 50th win with Chip and we are happy for that. I was very determined to win."

Helio Castroneves, the points leader entering the race, finished fourth in the race and third in the standings (two points behind). Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter finished a career-high fifth, with Panther Racing's Vitor Meira sixth and Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan seventh. Rahal Letterman Racing's Jeff Simmons was eighth, Delphi Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp ninth and Vision Racing's Tomas Scheckter 10th.

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Selected quotes from the availability previewing the IndyCar Series' switch to 100 percent ethanol in 2007:

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I've said all along how honored I was to promote the ethanol industry and the cause that Paul (Dana) was so passionate about. A lot of people know there are benefits to using ethanol. Our job on Team Ethanol is to show performance aspects on 10 percent ethanol. It all points to next year when we run 100 percent ethanol. I'm honored that Indy Racing League has taken this stance. IndyCars have always been about innovation and safety and taking things that can be translated to consumers. I'm honored and proud to be an IndyCar driver because of that."

LES MACTAGGART: (Senior Technical Director, IndyCar Series): "The first stage of transition to 100 percent is to run on the dynamometer. That has occurred over past three months, there have been no issues running on 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol. We're checking cars with current fuel systems, and have no issues whatsoever. We're going to have to make a few adjustments. We will have to reduce fuel tanks because we get better economy. We haven't decided on final spec, but have a few on-track test in the next few weeks, and I'm sure we'll get this figured out."

TOM SLUNECKA (Executive Director, Ethanol Promotion and Information Council): "The Ethanol industry couldn't be more excited about the what the IndyCar Series is doing in 2007 by going to 100 percent ethanol. The statement is monumental. We can have a renewable source of fuel and that gives us the utmost performance. We believe we're close to tipping point of what ethanol can do. If it can work in these high-performance cars at 220 mph, but it also will work through school zone at 15 mph in a mini-van. We're here today to prove it's alive and can happen."

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NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher is at the track today.

TONY SCHUMACHER (Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion): "There's no form of motorsport that I don't enjoy. We have four people going for a championship today. You don't have to be a fan of the sport to appreciate what's going on here today. These guys are going to wake up this morning with no idea of the outcome. These guys are doing it right now." (Do you have a favorite?): "I don't have one now. I'm going to have a favorite after today. That's what builds a favorite. I'm going to watch four people battle for the championship. One person will make it happen and three people will choke."

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IndyCar Series and Chicagoland Speedway officials utilized nine track dryers from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway during the track drying process.

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Barabco Design/Build, a Toronto-based company that designs and builds custom homes, additions and renovations, is sponsoring the No. 25 Roth Racing entry this weekend.

"They're a very well-known company in Toronto, and they've been working on our house for the last nine months," said Margaret Roth, president of Roth Racing. "They wanted to take advantage of the TV coverage and the large number of internet hits."

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PEAK ANTIFREEZE INDY 300 POST-RACE NOTES:

* This is Dan Wheldon's second victory of the season and his second consecutive victory at Chicagoland Speedway It is is the 11th victory of Dan Wheldon's IndyCar Series career, moving him into a tie with Helio Castroneves for second place on the IndyCar Series all-time wins list.

* This is the 10th win for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the IndyCar Series and its 50th Indy-style win. The team's last victory was with Scott Dixon at Nashville Superspeedway in July.

* Ed Carpenter finished fifth, his first top- five finish in the IndyCar Series. Carpenter's previous best finish was sixth at Watkins Glen in June.

* The average speed of 194.828 mph is the third-fastest race in IndyCar Series history.

INDYCAR SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES:

* Sam Hornish Jr. claimed his third IndyCar Series title with his third-place finish in today's race. He wins the title on the first tiebreaker with Dan Wheldon (Four wins to two victories). It is the first time the tiebreaker has been used.

* Hornish is the second consecutive driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series championship in the same season.

* This is Marlboro Team Penske's first IndyCar Series championship and its 12th Indy-style championship.

PEAK ANTIFREEZE INDY 300 POST-RACE QUOTES

DAN WHELDON: (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, winner PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300, finished second in IndyCar Series point standings): "It was a good race. I wasn't going to let that one get away. At the end, I was pretty aggressive. Sometimes you got to be that way. I want to thank everybody at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda and Firestone for a good year." (About championship): "All credit goes to Roger Penske's organization and to Sam Hornish. We've had a somewhat difficult year. This is perhaps a bittersweet end. It was a lot of hard work for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and the boys at Honda. You could see that there was nothing but equality with the engines. This is Target's 50th win with Chip and we are happy for that. I was very determined to win. I have had a frustrating year and I didn't want to let it slip. So you can be aggressive but I don't think I did anything wrong."

CHIP GANASSI (Team owner, Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "It is really nice. It is our 50th IndyCar win. We've had a lot of drivers over the years we remember on a day like today. We have made a lot of friends over the years with all of theses wins we've had. We've had a great run and I'll see you in 50 more."

SCOTT DIXON: (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished second in race and fourth in points): "It's been a good year, and it's been a good comeback for us, not just for me but for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. I think we can take this momentum into next year. We seem to have the cars pretty sorted out with moving chassis to the Dallara this season. I think we'll be pretty strong next year. It's great to end on a such a high note with the team's 50th IndyCar win."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished third in race, 2006 IndyCar Series champion): "This is about as excited as I've ever been. It's been a great day for us and a great year. Winning the (Indianapolis) 500 was the highlight of my career, but this is right close to it. The first two (championships) came a little bit easier than this one seemed to, and it's been a couple of years since the last one. It made me appreciate this some more. We'll see if we can add another one next year."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished fourth in race and third in points): "I was hoping that Marlboro Team Penske would be able to finish 1-2 in the championship. I tried everything I could. What a great championship to be decided in the final laps. It was very exciting out there. Sam did a great job. He's one the best oval drivers that I know. He's proven himself on the road courses and was able to collect some points there for the championship as well. Obviously, I'd like it to be my car over there but I'm certainly proud to be part of this organization."

ROGER PENSKE (Team owner, Marlboro Team Penske): "It was a clean race, lots of good racing. It was a long year, great season. Indy (500) winner for Sam (Hornish) and the team. We have all of these sponsors and supporters to thank. We came over to the IRL to support the Indianapolis 500, and I'm sure glad we could win this championship this year. It was one we didn't have, and when you don't have something, you really want it."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished fifth): "It was fun, but it was a long day. In the middle of the race, we dropped back pretty far in the middle of the pack, but we made a lot of good changes in the first pit stop. After that, the car was really good, but we just lost touch with the leaders. We struggled a little bit with the green flag pit stops and lost track position, but when we got that last yellow, I knew we were going to have a shot at fifth. I got a really good restart and got up to fifth for the finish. Before the start of this race I said that I wouldn't have been happy unless we came out of here with at least a fifth-place finish, and we did that so this is a really good way to end the season. I just have to thank all of my guys. They put a lot of hard work into this speedway car. It was an awesome set up. Anyone watching this race could see that I could go anywhere that I wanted."(About best-ever IndyCar Series finish) "Like I said before we started racing this weekend, I expected to come out of the last race with a top-five finish. We've had cars that are capable of doing that all year, especially on the speedways. There were a couple of times where I made mistakes and that cost us, so I knew I had to come to Chicago and not make mistakes. We ended the season on a high note. The whole team should really be proud of themselves for what they accomplished this year. I'm really proud of them."

VITOR MEIRA (No 4 Lincoln Tech Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished sixth): "We definitely had a great season together here at Panther Racing. I have to thank the team owners first of all for making the decision to return to the IndyCar Series this year. It was that decision that made this great year possible for us. I'm looking forward to coming back next season and doing this again and making a run at the championship. We've got such an great team, a great family at Panther." (About the race) "It was a long day. We had to fight back from the back and that was tough. We made the most of it today, and that's what counts. We're going to be back next year and be even stronger."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished seventh): "It was a long day. I don't think we had anything for the leaders. I've never gone a lap down under normal racing circumstances, so this was disappointing. On the other hand, all the guys at Team 7-Eleven did a great job. They gave me a good car, and we did the best we could do."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Dallara/Honda/ Firestone, finished eighth): "Everybody was playing a little rough out there today. I guess some guys were racing for jobs. I couldn't believe the blocking in the packs. Early on in the race, we had some understeer and the car kept pushing. But after the first pit stop, the Team Ethanol car felt good and we were able to run with the second pack. Those Target and Marlboro cars were the class by far. But it was nice to run with the leaders and learn more about drafting up front. Helio (Castroneves) and I got together at one point, and I wanted to let him by since he was racing for the championship. But we were all in the pack, and I was racing with other guys for position. The racing at the end was pretty intense for fifth through 10th. I thought I had a shot at a top-five today, but we just missed out. Overall, it was a pretty good day for the Ethanol guys, and I look forward to getting with them in the offseason. We can start developing the program all year rather than playing catch up like this year."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 2 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished 10th): "Today was pretty good. It was a good job on the part of everyone. We finished in the top-10 in championship points and I'm happy with that. I just have to thank everybody on the crew and Ed (Carpenter) as well. We really worked well together and you can see that our cars really got better and better as the season went on. Hopefully we can keep this situation for next year and keep improving from there."

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This concludes the 2006 IndyCar Series season. The complete 2007 IndyCar Series schedule will be announced shortly.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tony Schumacher , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing