Test Could Play Part In Determining Champion

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 23 2011

Scott Dixon leads Will Power during the recent IZOD IndyCar race at Motegi. Both drivers will be on the track in Kentucky today for an important test session. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Championship contenders Will Power, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon are scheduled to punch the clock for a full, eight-hour day of IZOD IndyCar Series testing today at Kentucky Speedway.

The 1.5-mile oval in Sparta, Ken., will play host to the series’ penultimate race – the Kentucky Indy 300 – on Oct. 2, with the season-ending IZOD INDYCAR World Championships presented by Honda booked for Oct. 16 at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Power, of Team Penske, leads three-time/reigning series champion Franchitti by 11 points (542-531) after pole-sitter Dixon’s dominating victory in the Indy Japan: The Final last Sunday. A two-time series champion and Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Dixon sits third in the standings, 59 points off the lead, after pacing all but one of 63 laps around Twin Ring Motegi’s 2.983-mile, 14-turn road-course.

Back in the Commonwealth, the driver who has won the race at Kentucky Speedway has gone on to secure the IndyCar Series championship three times – Buddy Lazier (2000); Sam Hornish Jr. (2006) and Dixon (2008). Neither Power nor Franchitti has a win at Kentucky Speedway, which will play host to its 12th INDYCAR-sanctioned race next month.

There have been nine different winners in the 11 IndyCar Series races contested at Kentucky Speedway to-date, with Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe winning

The IZOD IndyCar Series is back at Kentucky Speedway Friday – for a key test.

the past two years. Last year’s race featured 11 lead changes among seven drivers. Briscoe is among the 13 drivers listed to participate in Friday’s note-gathering session.

“Ovals, that’s what I enjoy the most racing, mile-and-a-half racing,” Power said after finishing second to Dixon and claiming his second consecutive Mario Andretti Road Trophy at Motegi. “Chicagoland last year, Texas this year, even Kentucky last year we were really strong, we just didn’t end up with the result. I’m pretty focused on that this year.”

Power earned his first oval victory on the 1.5-mile, high-banked Texas Motor Speedway quadoval during the second half of the Firestone Twin 275s in June. Last September at Kentucky Speedway, Power started from the front row in the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda and finished eighth. Franchitti advanced six positions relative to his starting spot in the No. 10 Dixie entry and secured fifth place to slice Power’s championship advantage from 23 to 17 points with two oval races remaining.

Fast forward to this test – the order is the same but the gap is only 11 points. “It was a good day for us points-wise in the championship but I’m really not worried about points right now,” Power said at Motegi. “I just need to keep finishing in front of the No. 10 car the rest of the way and we’ll be fine. We’ll keep chipping away like we have been.”

Following the road-course event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course six weeks ago, Power trailed the Scotsman by 62 points.

Power is poised to make his fourth IndyCar Series start at Kentucky Speedway. He earned his series track-best eighth-place finish in 2010 and captured his only other top-10 result at the track with a ninth-place effort in 2009. His average Kentucky Speedway finish is 14.

Franchitti is preparing for his seventh career Kentucky Speedway start. He earned his series track-best fifth-place finish in 2010 and has logged five top-10 Kentucky results. His average Kentucky Speedway finish is ninth.

Dixon is preparing for his ninth career Kentucky Speedway start. He rolled to a victory in

Dario Franchitti will have to come from behind to repeat as champion this year.

2008 from the pole position and also started the 2009 race from pole. Dixon placed seventh for the second straight event at the track last season. Dixon has earned four top-five and six top-10 Kentucky Speedway finishes, including second-place results in 2007, 2006 and 2003. His average Kentucky Speedway finish is seventh.

Other series regulars scheduled to test are third-place Motegi finisher Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport, Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, Ana Beatriz of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Pippa Mann of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 2010 Kentucky pole-sitter and race runnerup Ed Carpenter of Sarah Fisher Racing and Wade Cunningham of Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Additionally, Dillon Battistini, who has logged four Firestone Indy Lights victories in 19 starts over three seasons, will take his IndyCar Series oval rookie test in the No. 34 Conquest Racing car.

Mann, who has been medically cleared to drive following a crash during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in August, will attempt to make her second series start. Cunningham, the 2005 Firestone Indy Lights champion, last competed in the Firestone Twin 275s at TMS in Fort Worth in June.

Fans are invited to view the session free from a designated area outside Turn 3 near the speedway corporate office building located off Interstate Highway 71, Exit 57 and State Highway 35 North.

The Kentucky Indy 300 will conclude a tripleheader weekend which opens Oct. 1 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kentucky 225. In addition, the Firestone Indy Lights Series will compete in a 100-miler on Oct. 2. Tickets, campsites and infield Fan Zone passes can be reserved by logging onto http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com, by calling 888-652-7223 (RACE) or visiting the Kentucky Speedway corporate offices at 1 Speedway Drive.

Last Sunday was Respect for the Aged Day – a national holiday in Japan – and Will Power did his part in terms of honoring open-wheel icon Mario Andretti.

Will Power is king of the curves.

Power locked-up his second consecutive Mario Andretti Road Trophy with a second-place finish to Scott Dixon in the Indy Japan: The Final on the Twin Ring Motegi road-course. “Mario is the ultimate driver to me,” Power said of Andretti, who is 41 years his senior. “Even now that he’s older, he still gets in a race car and wrings its neck. He just amazes me.”

Andretti, in fact, relishes his role as driver of the “Fastest Seat in Sports” two-seater at select IndyCar Series races. Andretti compiled 52 open-wheel victories under USAC (33) and CART (19) sanction, including the 1969 Indianapolis 500. Among his statistical accolades is a streak of 16 seasons with at least one victory.

The Mario Andretti Road Trophy is awarded to the driver whose point-production is highest on the 10 road/street courses during the INDYCAR-sanctioned season. “To win an award with his name on it is a real honor,” Power said. “I think in order to win the championship you almost have to win it.”

Of Power’s six victories this season, five have been on streets/road circuits, including back-to-back wins at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and the Streets of Baltimore to pump up his overall point total. Additionally, 19 of Power’s road/street course points have come courtesy of bonuses for seven pole starts (worth seven points) and leading the most laps in six of the 10 (12 points) races.

“It’s great to win it two years in a row,” Power said. “It was a good weekend all around to wrap that up and also gain the points lead.”

The A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy will be awarded to that championship point-leader following the Kentucky Indy 300. Scott Dixon holds a 17-point lead over TCGR teammate Dario Franchitti in that chase.

Justin Wilson is on the fast track to recovery, six weeks after sustaining a back injury in a crash during practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

Wilson, driver of the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara/Honda, was involved in a single-car incident while preparing for the Honda Indy 200 in July. Wilson ran off on the exit of Turn 1 during the Saturday morning, July 6, session. He dropped two wheels off the asphalt and the car went hopping through the grass before going airborne. Wilson sustained an anterior compression fracture of the fifth vertebra, which will keep him out of competition for the remainder of the season.

Wilson, who overcame the challenges of dyslexia as a child, recently resumed a training regimen.

“If I think back to how I felt immediately afterwards, and compare that with what I can do now, it’s been great progress,” said Wilson, a 33-year-old native of Sheffield, England. “It started to get less painful after the first two weeks and a couple of weeks ago I was able to raise my arms above my head for the first time. Now I’m in the swimming pool every day and doing some upper body exercises, so things are starting to feel normal again.”

Wilson’s 12-week recovery process has included extensive back brace treatment presided over by Dr. Terry Trammell at OrthoIndy.

“Now I know what a turtle feels like,” Wilson joked. “But it’s been worth the discomfort knowing that I’m going about the recovery the right way. It’s obviously been frustrating not being able to drive the No. 22 car. I felt we’d turned the corner on a disappointing start to the season and had genuine hopes of being up near the front in the second half of the year. But it won’t be long now until preseason testing starts and I can focus on 2012.”

While Wilson might be fit enough to return to the cockpit for the final race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16th, he won’t take any chances. “I might be fit enough to drive at Vegas, but for the sake of one race, when I’m not in contention for anything in the championship, it just doesn’t make sense,” Wilson said. “Jumping in the car after 11-and-a bit-weeks isn’t the right way to see if my back is 100 percent healed or not.”

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing management plans to announce Wilson’s replacement for the final two races of the 2011 season shortly.

Some numbers to note from Indy Japan: The Final at Twin Ring Motegi, 15th event of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season:

2 _ Wins for Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing at Twin Ring Motegi after his win from the pole. Dixon also won on the oval in 2009 from the pole.

3 _ Drivers eligible for the IndyCar Series championship after Oriol Servia of Newman/Haas Racing was mathematically eliminated; Wins for Target Chip Ganassi Racing at TRM.

4 _Finishing position for Alex Tagliani of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, matching his season-best result from the first Firestone Twin 275 at Texas Motor Speedway in June; Top-five finishes in 2011 for third-place Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport.

6 _Finishing position for Sebastien Bourdais, who placed sixth for the fourth time in the last six races for Dale Coyne Racing.

7 _Consecutive races led by Team Penske’s Will Power, who led the only lap not paced by Scott Dixon at Motegi.

12 _ Positions gained by JR Hildebrand of National Guard Panther Racing, Danica Patrick of Andretti Autosport and Simona De Silvestro of HVM Racing while finishing seventh, 11th and 14, respectively _ most of any drivers in the field.

14 _ Points separating Sunoco Rookie of the Year point-leader JR Hildebrand (284) and James Hinchcliffe (270) of Newman/Haas Racing with two races remaining.

27 _ Career Indy car wins for Scott Dixon, who has tied Johnny Rutherford for 11th on the all-time win list.

49 _Consecutive races running at the finish for Danica Patrick, extending her series record.

86 _ Indy car wins for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

147 _ Consecutive starts for Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology-Lotus.

1,903 _ Laps completed (of 1,911) by fifth-place finisher Oriol Servia, most of any driver this season.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 23 2011
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