The IZOD IndyCar Series today confirmed the long-assumed news that Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the venue for the final race of the 2011 calendar on October 16: but in doing so they added a headline-grabbing twist in the process.

"We showcase our drivers as being the very best, fastest and most versatile in the world," said series CEO Randy Bernard, "and we are putting our money where our mouth is. If any race car driver in the world outside of the IZOD IndyCar Series can win the Vegas race, we will give you $5 million."

In offering the prize, the series organisers are seeking to demonstrate why they believe that IndyCar's equal mix of oval and street car events produces the "most demanding championship in motorsports" and consequently the best drivers in the world - or in America, at least - and certainly a match for those stock car drivers over in NASCAR.

"There are a lot of drivers that talk about wanting to race in IndyCar. We believe that the skill set it takes and just the toughness and willpower to get behind the wheel of these cars is pretty amazing," Bernard continued. "Those top drivers are going to expect to have a great team, so they are going to have to talk to the Roger Penskes and the Chip Ganassis and the Michael Andrettis and on down and make sure that they feel that they have a shot of winning this race."

The challenge is particularly aimed at the NASCAR superstars, who will be competing in the Sprint Cup the evening before at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leaving them plenty of time to head on over to the Vegas oval track for Sunday. It may also be enough to lure some familiar names out of retirement, such as Al Unser Jr. and KV Racing Technology-Lotus co-owner Jimmy Vasser, who would be eligible as they are not current IndyCar drivers; but current active F1 drivers will be ruled out as the date clashes with the Korean Grand Prix weekend.

Barnard explained that they would accept up to five outside entries, to be determined by a selection committee mid-summer, and that the Vegas event would be henceforth be promoted as the IZOD IndyCar World Championships. The race will be IndyCar's first return to Vegas since 2000 although Champ Car made use of the speedway in 2004 and 2005.

In a further promotional innovation, IndyCar also announced that any fan who buys a ticket for the other 16 races of the season will be eligible to receive a free ticket to the Vegas race.

"I said at the IndyCar State of the Sport in mid-January that we must give our fans a great experience with three primary elements - great entertainment, competition and value," said Bernard said. "Las Vegas Motor Speedway will provide some of the fastest and most exciting racing fans will see anywhere, and the ticket promotion is true value. This is a time when IndyCar can tell our fans that we thank them for their support."

In the US, the ABC television network confirmed that Vegas will be one of the events they show, along with the season opener from St Petersburg, the Indianapolis 500, the Milwaukee Mile and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway; cable channel VERSUS will air the rest. In the UK, Sky Sports has already signed an exclusive deal to carry all the IndyCar races in high definition, although the announcement stopped short of promising that all races would be aired live.

In other pre-season news from IndyCar:

DHL delivers for Hunter-Reay

International logistics giant DHL announced Tuesday that it had signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Andretti Autosport and will serve as the co-primary sponsor of Ryan Hunter-Reay's car.

"It's outstanding news for the team and me. I'm just proud to run the DHL colors and represent them his year," said Hunter-Reay, who will have new bright yellow, red and white livery on his car for the season-opening race at St Petersburg, Florida on March 27. "I've never really had a continuity program like that before to where I could come back and work with all the same people and continue from where I left off the year before. That's what I'm really looking forward to.

"I look forward to working with Mike (Conway), Marco (Andretti) and Danica (Patrick) and everyone on the team."

DHL have also signed up as an associate sponsor for Mike Conway's car. Wolfgang Giehl, senior vice president for Corporate Brand Marketing for DHL, said that the company and Andretti Autosports shared common attributes of "speed, reliability, and a 'team' spirit focused on putting our customers at the center of everything we do."

Sam Schmidt Motorsports signs Cunningham to three-race deal

Former Indy Lights champion Wade Cunningham has signed to appear in three events on the IndyCar calendar in 2011 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

The 26-year-old New Zealander will compete at Texas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

However, Cunningham has opted not to compete at the Indianapolis 500, preferring a three three-race deal to a single race at the Indy 500, where the team will field Townsend Bell. It will be the first time since 2002 that Sam Schmidt Motorsports have entered an IndyCar event outside the 500.

Cunningham explained: "It was Sam [Schmidt] who suggested that rather than focusing on the Indianapolis 500, like a lot of drivers trying to 'break into' the IZOD IndyCar Series, I should look, perhaps, at spreading my budget over three or four races to give me a better chance to show what I can do in one of these cars."

"Wade is a fighter and deserves a shot in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He is dedicated to racing in the IndyCar Series," said Sam Schmidt paying tribute to Cunningham's tenacity and proven race and championship-winning credentials. "You usually don't see a driver race in the Lights cars for six years, but he has never given up his dream. I am glad to be the one who finally puts him in an Indy car."

Sam Schmidt Motorsports also announced that Conor Daly - 19-year-old son of former F1 and CART driver Derek Daly - will run in five Indy Lights races for them, thanks to financial assistance from IndyCar based on winning the Star Mazda Championship last year. Daly will take part in the first three Lights races of the season (St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park and Long Beach) before driving in the eight-race GP3 Series, returning to Lights for races in Quebec in August and Baltimore at the start of September.

Allison Transmission to sponsor Ed Carpenter for Indy 500

Sarah Fisher Racing has announced that Indiana-based Allison Transmission has signed up to be an associate sponsor on the yellow and black No. 67 driven by Ed Carpenter.

Lou Gilbert, Allison Transmission's Director of North American Marketing, said that the deal "makes good sense for Allison Transmission," adding: "Allison Transmission and SFR are neighbors in Speedway, Ind., and Carpenter is a well-known Hoosier open-wheel driver.

"We have all worked together in various community and customer related activities and we are especially happy to be a part of this historic 100th anniversary Indianapolis Motor Speedway race."

"My enthusiasm for Allison's commitment to the team is off the charts," commented Ed Carpenter, who debuts for Sarah Fisher Racing at St. Petersburg next month. "We're ready to go racing."

Start time pulled forward for Indy 500

The 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 will see the drivers cross the starting line at high noon Eastern Time on May 29 after organisers confirmed the start was being pulled forward by an hour.

"Starting the race at noon gives us an additional hour of daylight to ensure we can complete all 500 miles of the race in case we were to encounter any kind of inclement weather," said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and CEO. "Our fans also have told us they like an earlier starting time, and it's very important for us to stay responsive to their vital feedback."

The race originally started at 10am for the first race in 1911, moved to 11am after World War 2 and has been 1pm since 2006. Only once before in its history - in 2005 - has the Indy 500 start time been scheduled for noon.



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