Former champion Wade Cunningham's love affair with the IndyCar feeder series will continue into 2009 with the news that he will pilot a fourth car out of the successful Sam Schmidt Motorsports stable.

The Kiwi, who won the Indy Pro Series title as far back as 2005, will fill a Lucas Oil-backed #11 entry as team-mate to the already-confirmed Ana Beatriz, James Hinchcliffe and Gustavo Yacaman, as he makes one more attempt to break into the top flight of US open-wheel competition.

"I'm honoured to be a part of the team," Cunningham admitted, "There are big expectations placed onto the driver when they step into this seat because of the success that the Lucas Oil car has had, but I know that I'm more than capable of handling the expectations from the team - and myself - and delivering the results that are needed."

Cunningham has five victories, seven poles and 32 top five finishes in his Pro Series/Indy Lights career, but never received the break his success deserved when it came to graduating to the IndyCar Series - a fate that, to some extent, has also befallen the likes of Alex Lloyd and Jay Howard, who both ran with Schmidt in their title-winning seasons.

"To finally get this chance [to drive for Sam Schmidt] is exciting for myself because I've spent the last few years chasing them on the track," Cunningham said, "When I arrived into the series in 2005, those guys were the team to beat. To be in their car is exciting because I feel like I've got an opportunity to do things that their drivers have done in the past."

Cunningham's arrival marks the first time that Schmidt has field four full-time cars in the series, but the three-time champion believes it will cope.

"We've got our hands full for this season but, being a Vegas resident, I'm an odds-man, and the more cars we have running at the front, the better our chances of winning the Firestone Firehawk Cup," team owner Schmidt reasoned.

"For the past few years, Wade has consistently been one of our toughest competitors, and I'm pleased he'll be in the familiar Lucas Oil entry. Chris Griffis and Tim Neff have done an excellent job bringing in team members to support a fourth full-time entry, and I'm quite sure Wade's experience will pay dividends for the other three drivers."

Schmidt, meanwhile, will begin his season back in competition - with a difference.

Despite being paralysed from the chest down, the former IndyCar runner will leave St Petersburg Yacht Club aboard a SKUD-18 sailboat on Thursday [2 April] to race against fellow team owner Jim Guthrie of Guthrie Meyer Racing.

"I am really excited to race against Jim once again," said Schmidt, who competed against Guthrie in the IndyCar Series in the late 1990s, "Jim and I both drove for Blueprint Racing in 1997 - and he earned the Rookie of the Year title."

Schmidt will be joined on his boat by two able-bodied sailors who will be trimming the sails, including 2000 Olympic gold medallist Magnus Liljedahl and four-time International Masters champion Phil Smithies, who coached the bronze-medal winning SKUD-18 team in the 2008 Paralympic Games. Schmidt will steer the boat, one of three used by the US Disabled Sailing team supplied by Team Paradise, using steering adaptations that are sensitive to his movements.

While Schmidt is looking forward to the occasion, however, Guthrie wonders if the fight will be entirely fair....

"When Sam called me and asked if I wanted to race him in a sailboat, I said 'sure'," he joked, "But then I thought 'wait, he chose me because I'm from the desert and don't know anything about boats or water'.

"I'm going to have to Google how to drive/sail a boat - just so I know which end of the boat is the front."

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