For many of the 24 IndyCar Series drivers competing in this weekend's Nikon Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise, the race presents more than one unique opportunity.

With no points at stake toward a championship, it's a chance to end 2008 on a high note by chasing victory, but, for many, it is also a chance to get some early preparation in for the beginning of the 2009 season, which will open with street course races at St Petersburg and Long Beach.

Four drivers in particular are looking at the Nikon Indy 300 as an opportunity to acclimatise themselves to new teams ahead of next season, with Dario Franchitti making his first start with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Vitor Meira debuting with AJ Foyt Racing, Dan Wheldon moving back to Panther Racing and Alex Tagliani attempting to secure a seat with Conquest Racing after driving for the team in the final two events of 2008.

"There's two things [we want to accomplish]," confirmed Wheldon, the 2005 champion who returns to Panther after winning 15 races with Andretti Green Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing over the past six seasons, "It's a good time for us to get a feel for one another under race conditions.

"When you test, that's great, but it's always a bit more laid back. I think it's good to see how people perform under pressure. We'll definitely utilise that time to get to know one another and, hopefully, for them to get a good feel for what I need on a road course and vice versa.

"And, then, you want to go for the win. You don't have anything to worry about. There's no points up for grabs, it's just kind of bragging rights and, to some degree, you might be able to put an exclamation point on the season that just finished. That's the intention.

"Australia is a race that I've heard a lot of good things about, but one I've yet to complete, so I'm very much looking forward to running here in the #4 car. We'll be at a little bit of a disadvantage in the fact that I don't have any track knowledge here, but that is something we'll be able to overcome during practice.

"We're looking for an impressive debut with the Delphi National Guard and Panther crew. We had a great test on the oval at Indy and at Sebring as well. Whenever you join a new team with new personnel it always takes time to adapt but, because of the testing, we were able to get through some of that learning process. I can tell all our guys are excited about this weekend."

Meira, who takes over the #14 AJ Foyt Racing entry from Darren Manning, will be racing for the first time with the team and at the Gold Coast circuit in his eight-year career.

"My primary goal in Australia is to get to know the team and to have them learn about me," he insisted, "I want us to figure out where we are on set-ups in relation to the other teams. We'll learn what we need to improve on and put those things on our list of winter projects, which the timing of this race allows us to do. Realistically, if we can accomplish all of that and come away with a top ten finish, I think it will be a successful trip."

For Franchitti, who didn't compete in the IndyCar Series in 2008 after winning the 2007 championship with Andretti Green, racing in Australia also offers an opportunity to get comfortable in the car again after spending much of the year wrestling a Dodge NASCAR.

"Getting time in the car is the big thing right now," said Franchitti, who won the 1999 Surfers Paradise event during his CART career, "I'm getting used to the team and the team is getting used to the way I drive the car. Every lap we're doing, I'm getting back into a rhythm."

Tagliani's eight seasons in the Champ Car World Series included two podium finishes in Australia, and the Canadian - who is married to an Australian - is hoping to get close to that sort of form after starting the final two races of 2008 for Conquest Racing.

"I've been fortunate to have had a couple of races already with the team, but the Australian race will be a good way to keep building that chemistry that is so important," he said, "We won't just be working on me getting used to the team, but this race will also allow us to work on the car for next year.

"So far, I've only done one street course race [with the team], and we didn't have much time to get ready [after taking over from the injured Enrique Bernoldi in practice]. It was pretty much get in the car and drive. Now we've had time to work on different things, and I think in Australia we will be able to see where we stand on this type of track compared to other teams. We will also continue learning how to improve this car with our sights on next season."



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