IRL: Wheldon, Castroneves, Rice on Indy 500 next year

WHELDON, CASTRONEVES, RICE ALREADY THINKING MAY AT INDY TEST INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005 -- The calendar may have read Oct. 6, but Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves and Buddy Rice already were thinking about the month of May 2006 during a...

WHELDON, CASTRONEVES, RICE ALREADY THINKING MAY AT INDY TEST

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005 -- The calendar may have read Oct. 6, but Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves and Buddy Rice already were thinking about the month of May 2006 during a Firestone tire test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Wheldon, Rice and Castroneves, winners of four of the last five Indianapolis 500s, gained additional information in the test leading into the 90th Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 28, 2006.

Wheldon paid tribute to the tradition and history of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" almost from the moment he climbed from his No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone in Victory Lane last May. That feeling hasn't subsided much, and 2005 IRL IndyCar® Series champion Wheldon already appreciates the magnitude of the 90th Indianapolis 500 even though the event is more than seven months away.

"There's no doubt in my mind that I absolutely want to win again," Wheldon said. "It would be good to win again, especially on a year like that (90th anniversary).

"Winning the '500,' as long as you win it, it doesn't matter. It's that big of a deal. Everybody that's won the '500' has been hugely talented, and for me, the race means so much. I would just love to win it again."

While Wheldon earned his first Indianapolis 500 victory last May, the test let 2001-02 winner Castroneves resolve a few difficulties he experienced in the race. Castroneves finished ninth in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone in May.

"I'm already thinking about next year and this place, and what we can do to improve the car," Castroneves said. "Unfortunately this past May we had trouble, so we're trying to answer some questions that are very important, and hopefully next year we come back with a much stronger setup, and we can prove that we can win again."

A victory next May would be Castroneves' third at Indy, putting him in elite company. Only eight drivers have won the race three or more times in its long history.

Winning next May also would deliver a 14th Indy 500 victory to team owner Roger Penske, extending his event record. That number means the most to Castroneves.

"Every time I was thinking about the numbers, nothing happened," Castroneves said about his quest for a third Indy victory in 2003, 2004 and 2005. "2003 was special, turning 30 this year, it was the number three. Three, three, three, and nothing happened. As long as you do a good job like my team does, hopefully we can get the 14th that Roger is always wishing for."

Rice's Indy 500 ended before the race started last May. He suffered a back injury in an accident during practice and was not cleared to race. He was happy to return to speed at the historic 2.5-mile oval for the first time since the accident.

"It's good," 2004 Indy winner Rice said. "There's always stuff to be learned."

Firestone testing will continue Oct. 7 at the Speedway.

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FIRESTONE TIRE TEST QUOTES:

DAN WHELDON: (How is everything right now?): "It's good, good right now. I won the "500" and the championship, I'm back at my favorite track. I had to beg a couple boys in the team to allow me to do this test, because they know I'm always keen to run Indianapolis, but obviously there's three other guys on the team. I managed to do some wheeling and dealing that I've learned from guys on the team and managed to get here for two days." (What is it like to stand with two trophies?): "The '500' still means the most, there's no doubt. I don't think the championship's set in yet. I know from a team standpoint the Indianapolis 500 really satisfied me personally, like I think it did Michael (Andretti), too." (What can you learn testing like this?): "Obviously we're doing a tire test, but anytime you're driving an Indy car over 220 mph -- particularly here, Indianapolis is the hardest oval we go to -- is you get a lot of laps and the more experience you get in an Indy car, the better. I'm still somewhat behind some of the guys that are more experienced. Look at Dario (Franchitti), he has been driving in America at the top level six or seven years and gives you an opportunity to catch up." (Do you, Buddy and Helio all communicate to one another?): "No, you communicate to a specific Firestone engineer and your own personal engineer, then at the end of the day Firestone gets together, and hopefully Buddy, I and Helio picked the same tires. That's what they hope. You've got a Brazilian, Englishman and American. That's a dangerous combination, and as crazy as the Brazilian is over there, you never know what you're going to have." (And you've got a lot of Indy 500 champions here): "Exactly. That's the beauty about the IndyCar Series right now; there's a lot of Indy 500 champions and champions in general. It's a difficult series right now to win in." (What can you take away from this test, with the "500" still seven months away?): "Obviously, any time you come to this track there are things you can try. We're here primarily for a tire test, and that's what you have to do. It costs Firestone a lot of money to rent the track for two days, and you have to respect that fact. But there's stuff you can learn from a setup standpoint as long as you're not changing the car too much, you can come with something perhaps slightly different. We have a lot of data from the four cars on what happened during the month of May. Like I say, the series is that competitive that you have to keep learning, and you have to keep improving, and there's stuff we found in the last four races that may help us when we come back here next year." (With next year's Indy 500 being the 90th running -- a benchmark year -- would it add to the prestige of winning for the second time?): "If you're saying 'Do I want to win again,' absolutely! There's no doubt in my mind. Helio, I think he did three years where he won two and then he finished second. I mean, that's an unbelievable achievement, just to win it once I found difficult enough. It would be good, yeah, especially on a year like that (90th anniversary), but to be honest, winning the '500' -- as long as you win it, it doesn't matter. It's that big (of) a deal. Everybody that's won the '500' has been hugely talented, and for me, the race means that much. It wouldn't matter what year. I would just love to win it, again." (Talking about four-time winner Rick Mears): "Last May I was here doing an appearance, and someone was talking about Rick Mears and how he won it four times. I thought, 'Man, I haven't won it yet once.' I dread to think about how hard it was to win it four times, so to win it again would be very special."

HELIO CASTRONEVES: (After such a challenging season, has it been nice to come back and test at a track where you have done so well?): "I was running out there, and first off, the weather is very nice. So I said, 'OK, let me meditate here and relax.' I know how it feels. It's a great place, no doubt about (it)." (Even though a lot of things will happen between now and May 2006, what can you learn from this test?): "Oh, man, a lot. I'm already thinking about next year and this place and what we can do to improve the car. Unfortunately this past May we had trouble, so we're trying to answer some questions that are pretty important, and hopefully next year we come back with a much stronger setup and we can prove that we can win again." (Happy with the test?): "Oh yeah, absolutely. The weather is awesome. You couldn't ask for better weather in October. I always come here with a jacket on and (it's) snowy, but it's pretty good right now."

BUDDY RICE: (How does it feel to be driving at Indy for the first time since your accident in May?): "It's good. It's always exciting when you're flying into Indy and you land in the direction where you're flying past the Speedway. It's not a big deal to come back -- yeah, the accident was bad, but I was racing in the following (IRL IndyCar Series) round so it's no big deal. It's just great to be back at Indy and running again." (How's the test going?): "Test is going good. Just getting everything situated with Firestone right now, and they're trying a bunch of different combinations and seeing what they need to do to make the car and tire as durable, or compatible, to everything we're going to be doing next season." (The 90th Indy 500 is more than seven months away, so what does a test like this do for you?): "I've tested here a couple times since 2003, and I've never seen it this nice. Tomorrow may not be this good. We'll get a super-late start and be done early because of how cold it's going to be. But it's always good if you can get a test in here, even though you run all month long. There's always stuff to be learned."

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2006 Indy 500 tickets: Fans are encouraged to submit their ticket orders for the 90th Indianapolis 500 on May 28, 2006 to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as soon as possible. The most convenient, fastest method is online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com. Fans also can purchase tickets, camping or parking for the 90th Indianapolis 500 through the IMS ticket office at (800) 822-INDY.

-ims-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Dan Wheldon , Rick Mears , Buddy Rice , Roger Penske , Jim Beam
Teams Team Penske