The 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon has announced that he has signed up to race in the Armor All Gold Coast 600 V8 Supercar race at Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Australia in October, where he will find a number of familiar faces from the IndyCar paddock. [See video
"A few of my friends raced V8 Supercars in last year's Gold Coast event and all have great memories," said Wheldon. "It seemed that with some of the names included in this year's race that it was going to be even bigger and better and I just had to be part of it."
Other IndyCar drivers already confirmed for the event include all three Team Penske drivers Will Power, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, together with Ganassi's Scott Dixon, Dale Coyne Racing's Sebastien Bourdais and Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Alex Tagliani, making it something of an end-of-term affair for IndyCar which will wrap its season the previous weekend at Las Vegas.
Surfers Paradise was a popular regular venue in Champ Cars for 18 years until 2007, when the series unified with Indy Racing League to form the current IndyCar competition. The beach-side venue was dropped by the unified series after one year and is still much missed by those drivers who had the chance to race on the Gold Coast, and especially by the Australian drivers.
"I won a few poles in the Indy cars on the streets of Surfers Paradise, but could not get a race win so I certainly have some unfinished business," said Power, who was born and raised in the town of Toowoomba just two and a half hours to the west, and whose series début was at the 2005 Champ Cars Surfers race. "The Gold Coast is always a fantastic event. I love to come home to Queensland."
Fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe, who comes from Sydney, won the sole post-unification IndyCar event run here in 2008 and said that he had "fond memories" of the victory. "The Gold Coast really is one of the best places to race," he said. "The people, the beach, the sun and a great street track make for a great event with an amazing atmosphere - not to mention the Sunday night party!"
"I have been to the Gold Coast before in an IndyCar and the atmosphere and crowd that surround the entire event is phenomenal," agreed British-born Wheldon. "The Gold Coast is a magnificent place and it is topped off every year with this fantastic event which really is one of the best in world motorsports."
Wheldon will be partnering his friend James Courtney in the #1 Toll Holden Racing Team car, while Briscoe will be racing in the other Toll HRT entry partnered by former V8 Supercars champion Garth Tander. Power will team up with Mark Winterbottom in the #5 Orrcon Steel FPR Falcon, and Penske's other driver Helio Castroneves will also be joining the party, reuniting again with Tim Slade in the Lucky Seven Falcon.
"I was delighted when I was asked to come back by team owner James Rosenberg and cannot wait to get back down there," said Castroneves. "You never have to ask me twice about racing on the Gold Coast," he said, adding: "We loved the place in open wheel cars."
Ganassi driver Scott Dixon will join his fellow multiple Indy 500 champions Wheldon and Castroneves at Surfers, partnering young Kiwi rising star Shane Van Gisbergen in the SP Tools Falcon in what Dixon was quick to dub a "Kiwi Super team," adding that he had "enjoyed my first outing in a V8 Supercar with the Kelly boys last year and being part of an all-Kiwi assault will add a bit more spice.
"Surfers Paradise has always been a special place for me and anyone else that has raced there," Dixon continued. "It is almost like a home race for me having been born in Brisbane and raised in New Zealand."
However, Dixon will need a Plan B in place just in case: his wife Emma is due to give birth to their second child that week. "It took a while for me to make up my mind to come, but she was insistent that I come back and race," he said. "We have a back up plan and another driver on stand-by if we have any issues and [team owners] Ross and Jimmy [Stone] are prepared if we have any drama."
Dixon's team mate at Ganassi, IndyCar championship leader Dario Franchitti, competed in the event in 2010 but is not currently confirmed to appear in this year's competition. However, his brother Marino has signed up to make his début on the Gold Coast and will drive for Gulf Western Oils team alongside seasoned veteran Warren Luff.
"I really wanted to drive with Warren Luff as we've known each other for a few years now," said Marino, who won last year's American Le Mans Series for Highcroft Racing alongside Simon Pagenaud and David Brabham. "I came down to the event last year with Dario. From the moment I got there it was obvious that I had to be involved."
One of the most successful drivers of the Champ Cars era, former F1 and current Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais, is also looking forward to returning to the Gold Coast where he won two races in 2005 and 2007. He would dearly love to claim the hat-trick and is off to a good start by partnering with V8 Supercars championship leaders Team Vodafone.
"It obviously is a privilege to drive for the best team in V8 Supercars, and I am very honoured they picked me amongst all the great drivers who will enter this year's Gold Coast 600," he said. "Being with such a successful team means that you have to live up to their expectations, and I am sure they just want to be at the top. So, I will do my very best to deliver what they expect from me ... Last year I had a good experience, I liked the car, and it's always a great event to be racing in."
Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Alex Tagliani was one of the first star names to sign up for the October race, announcing his participation all the way back in May on the eve of starting the Indianapolis 500 from pole position.
"It's fantastic to be returning to the Gold Coast event for the 11th time this October," said Tagliani at the time. "It's a very special event to me for so many reasons. It's the home race for my wife, Bronte [whom I met here], and I've been to Australia so often now that I like to think of myself as an honorary Aussie.
"The Gold Coast track is one of the most beautiful circuits in the world, running right next to the beach and between the high rise buildings," he continued. "Last year's event was so special. All the IndyCar guys love that event and to get the chance to be a V8 Supercar driver for the week once our season is over is really cool."
Sportscar star Simon Pagenaud is also confirmed for the Gold Coast race with the Garry Rogers Holden squad. Although not part of the current IndyCar regular line-up, Pagenaud - who ran a full season in the last year of Champ Cars alongside Will Power at Team Australia - sat in for an injured Ana Beatriz at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this year and took part in series testing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last week as he aims for a full-time IndyCar drive in 2012.
Other confirmed competitors include F1's Tonio Liuzzi and former F1 stars Mika Salo, Jan Magnussen, Christian Klien, Gianni Morbidelli and Stephane Sarrazin, as well as three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaux who was the most successful of the "guest star" entries in 2010 with second place in race 1.
Although NASCAR Sprint Cup will still be deep in its post-season title shootout, there is still representation from US stock cars in the form of popular road specialist Boris Said who will race with Paul Morris Motorsport.
"This will be my first trip to the Surfers Paradise Street circuit, but I'm looking forward to racing against some of the best drivers in the world," enthused Said, winner of the 2005 Nurburgring 24-hour and 1998 Sebring 12-hour races. "I don't want to go out there and wreck their car but I'm going to give it a good run."
Just because the Armor All Gold Coast 600 V8 is ideally placed to allow racing stars to decompress and enjoy themselves after long campaigns in their respective series, it doesn't mean that the competition will be any less serious or intense.
"Will, Alex and I have been competing against each other all year so I there's a bit more on the line for us - bragging rights," said Briscoe. "The international field is shaping up to be really competitive, and with an international driver in each car the field will become even tighter."