Dixon, Castroneves eye first win at Chicagoland Battles rage deep into field Matos, Antinucci set for Chicagoland finale Tagliani to return with Conquest Racing
1. Dixon, Castroneves eye first win at Chicagoland: Scott Dixon or Helio Castroneves will emerge from the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 as the IndyCar Series champion. To do so, they’ll have to outperform the other on a track where neither has won.
Dixon, the points leader heading into the season finale, has made five starts on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. He’s finished second three times, including last year when he saw the championship slip away on the final turn of the final lap when his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine ran out of ethanol.
“It's a tough circuit,” Dixon said. “It's one of those that provides great racing and definitely nailbiting for a championship race, which is exactly what the fans want and everybody that's watching. I guess they'll definitely get that.
“I think for me it's been a mixed bag in the way of how we've done there. To never have won there is definitely frustrating. We're hoping that we can definitely turn that around this weekend. But there's a lot of other people that are going to be trying to do the same thing.”
While Dixon is winless at Chicagoland, he has been the strongest performer on 1.5-mile ovals this season. In five races, Dixon has won three times (Homestead-Miami, Texas and Kentucky) and finished third in the other two races (Motegi and Kansas). That bodes well for a man who can clinch his second career championship with a finish of eighth or better.
“I think we've got to just keep doing what we've been doing all season, and that's trying to go out and win races,” said Dixon, who has a record-tying six victories overall. “I want to go out there, I want to try to qualify on pole, and I want to try to win the race. If you do that, you're definitely going to win the championship. So obviously we want to beat one person, that's Helio. We want to do it in style. If we're able to go for a record seven victories in a single season, that's definitely what we're going to try to do. It won't be anything conservative from us.”
Castroneves needs a victory or a second-place finish at Chicagoland to have a chance at his first series title. In six starts at the track, the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske machine has a second and three fourths, including each of the last two seasons. On the 1.5-mile ovals this season, Castroneves finished second at Motegi, Texas and Kentucky and fourth at Homestead-Miami and Kansas.
“We’ve had rather mixed results on the 1.5-mile ovals over the past several seasons, so we’re going to make sure we stay focused and work hard to be competitive this weekend,” Castroneves said. “Despite these struggles, we’ve done fairly well at Chicagoland Speedway, as I’ve earned four top-four results since 2002, so hopefully this will be my year to climb the fence in Illinois.
“I’m definitely pumped for this weekend. We’ve had a very consistent, successful season and I think we’re in a great position to win the championship. All year I’ve been saying that consistency is the way to a title, and with eight second-place finishes we’re still in the hunt going into the final race. Team Penske has performed solidly all year, and I know that my guys will do everything in their power to make sure we come away with the 2008 IndyCar Series championship.”
2. Battles rage deep into field (a high-res pdf graphic is attached and is posted at www.indycar.com/media): While Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves are battling for the IndyCar Series championship Sept. 7 at Chicagoland Speedway, don’t expect other drivers to pull over and let them by. A lot remains at stake for most of the drivers entered in the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300.
Only 17 points separate Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon for third and fourth in the standings. The higher finisher will earn an extra $50,000 in TEAM (Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix) bonus money.
Deeper in the field, eight drivers have a chance at finishing sixth in the championship. Danica Patrick, Oriol Servia, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Hideki Mutoh, Justin Wilson, Vitor Meira and Ed Carpenter are sixth through 13th, respectively. The group is separated by only 49 points. In addition, Will Power, Darren Manning and Buddy Rice, 14th-16th respectively, are within 38 points of the top 10.
Finally, the competition for the $50,000 Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year award has tightened to a three-man race. Hideki Mutoh, 10th overall, leads Justin Wilson by 13 points and Will Power by 33 points.
3. Matos, Antinucci set for Chicagoland finale: Raphael Matos and Richard Antinucci are engaged in the closest points battle in Firestone Indy Lights history. While the three-point margin presents a multitude of possibilities for either of the drivers to claim the Firestone Firehawk Cup, the easiest solution would be for one of them to win their first race on an oval.
Matos and Antinucci are both accomplished road racers who are competing on ovals for the first time in their careers.
Matos’ career is studded with championships – Champ Car Atlantic in 2007, Star Mazda in 2005 and Formula Dodge in 2003. He’s built a three-point lead over Antinucci with three victories and seven top-five finishes. His wins came on the streets of St. Petersburg and the road courses at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. His best finish on an oval is third at Milwaukee, although he won the pole at Homestead-Miami and Kentucky.
“I think the approach will be pretty much the same as everywhere we've been,” Matos said. “We show great speed pretty much everywhere we've been. Obviously we won three races on a road course, but we had two pole positions at the mile-and-a-half oval courses. We tested last week at Chicago, and we showed great speed. We definitely have a great car for that track.”
Antinucci, the nephew of Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever, cut his teeth in the competitive European ranks, winning races in Formula 3 EuroSeries, Formula 3 World Cup, British Formula Renault and Italian Formula Ford. He has wins this season at St. Petersburg and Watkins Glen, with a best finish on an oval of second at Homestead-Miami and Indianapolis.
“I'm really looking forward to this last race because we've brought ourselves to this point and we have a chance,” Antinucci said. “We're almost going in even, as if the championship race started this race. It's almost a fair crack at it.
“We've done pretty well on our last superspeedway, which is also very important. We're coming in there with momentum. We know we're very good at least in the race. I think we can pull out a good result this weekend, hopefully good enough to put two cars between us and our main contender Matos.”
Whoever emerges in front in the race and in the championship will have to do so the 1.5-mile oval at Chicagoland, where last year’s race was decided by .0005 of a second and all six Firestone Indy Lights races have been decided by less than seven-tenths of a second.
“It's tough,” Matos said. “Everybody's flat out all the time. You obviously have to trust the driver that you're running side by side with. More than likely, you have someone in front of you and someone right behind you. Hopefully I will be up front so I won't have that problem.”
4. Tagliani to return with Conquest Racing: Conquest Racing announced that Alex Tagliani will return to the cockpit of the No. 36 entry as a replacement for the injured Enrique Bernoldi for the Sept. 7 race at Chicagoland Speedway. In addition, Conquest has signed Tagliani for the final event of the season at Surfers Paradise due to his vast experience at the Gold Coast street circuit.
While Bernoldi was hoping to be back behind the wheel of the Conquest car for this weekend’s PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300, the ligaments in his left hand, injured Aug. 23 at Infineon Raceway, are not healing properly and rest seems to be the best medication.
“Unfortunately Enrique’s injury is not healing as fast as we thought and would’ve liked, and with Alex doing such a great job last weekend (at Belle Isle) it was an easy decision to keep him in the car for Joliet,” team owner Eric Bachelart said.
“I’m honored that Conquest has called on me again this weekend to drive for them,” Tagliani said. “It was such a satisfying feeling to be working with such a professional group of guys last weekend. We came in at the last minute and made so much progress in so little time. We had a top-five car on race day, and that is proof just how good these guys are. As for this weekend, it’s been a while since I have done ovals but I’m not worried about getting back into it. Once again I want to help the team as much as possible. I can’t wait.”
The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 Sept. 7 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season concludes Sept. 7 with the SunRichGourmet.com 100 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will air live at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 7 on ESPN2.