Dan Wheldon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: Anne Proffit
Dan Wheldon is doing all the right preparatory work as he tries to win the $5 million Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16th. His team co-owner for the challenge, Sam Schmidt, helped with that preparation by assigning Wheldon to drive the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car at this Sunday's Kentucky Indy 300 on the similar 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway oval.
The No. 77 has been wheeled in every race thus far in the calendar by Canadian Alex Tagliani, but since Tag isn't in the run for the championship, the door is open for this year's Indy 500 winner to step in and work on his race readiness for the finale. "I can't thank Alex enough for letting me drive his car in Kentucky and to work with the team in preparation for Las Vegas," Wheldon said. "I know when I step into the this car, I'll be stepping into a fast racecar that's capable of winning."
Tagliani's car won the Peak pole position for Indianapolis; his technical partner Wheldon won the race, giving Sam Schmidt Motorsports a sweep of the biggest race of the year. While Wheldon's race-winning Indy car was entered by Bryan Herta Autosport, it's owned by Schmidt's team. The car was prepped by Schmidt's team prior to the month of May and the two teams' engineering staffs worked side by side during that contest.
"I am incredibly excited to have Dan Wheldon driving the No. 77 at Kentucky," Schmidt remarked. "Clearly this is an amazing opportunity for our team and sponsors and we are putting as much energy and resources into winning the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge as we did for the Indy 500, with the intent of making one lucky fan an instant millionaire and capping off a great rookie season for Sam Schmidt Motorsports" in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Sam Schmidt Motorsports has been the overwhelming leader in the Firestone Indy Lights Championship since its inception but did not, until this year, race in the IndyCar Series as a full-time entry.
"I'm obviously not happy about sitting out Kentucky," Tagliani said, "but this is a very exciting opportunity. Dan and I are good friends and I'm very jealous that he gets to run for the $5 million. But I fully support what INDYCAR has done to generate fan interest and will do everything I can to help the team run Dan in Kentucky and prepare for the Go Daddy Challenge. I'm out to win the Las Vegas race (Tagliani lives in the area) and won't back off one bit, so Dan will be on his own when the green flag drops."
Wheldon has 16 IZOD IndyCar Series victories, including his two Indy 500 wins; he was the 2005 Indy 500 and series champion. At Kentucky, the Briton has five top-five results in seven starts, including three third-place finishes. Tagliani has three top-five and six top-10 finishes for the season, and has earned two Peak pole awards.
© 2011 Anne Proffit