Wade Cunningham, from Auckland, New Zealand, led the two-car Sam Schmidt Motorsports team in time trials today for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series Las Vegas Indy 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 17 Air Ride Pallet/AFS/SSM Dallara/Honda/Firestone car co-owned by Gary Peterson and AFS Racing, Cunningham qualified 12th by turning a lap of 50.3501 seconds at 220.790 mph on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas tri-oval. This is just Cunningham’s third IZOD IndyCar Series event of his career.

“We thought it was a solid run and from where we were in practice to the changes we made to how the car performed, we made the right steps and maximized our package,” said Cunningham. “That’s the quickest we’ve run in qualifying set-up simulations. From that standpoint, I think we can be pleased.

“We out-qualified three Ganassi cars and two Penske cars, and we’re still 12th on the grid. It really just shows how competitive it is. If you just look at the lap times compared to the miles-per-hour, every hundredth of a second would have moved us up a position,” added Cunningham. “We were right there. We were battling for the top-10 in qualifying, but we just didn’t have quite enough. We’re pretty confident. If we can have a race like Kentucky, we’ll come away from here pretty happy.”

Dan Wheldon, driving SSM’s No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins/William Rast Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, will start 34th in the 34-car field Sunday despite qualifying with the 28th fastest time of 50.8987 seconds at 218.410 mph. Wheldon will start last as part of the agreement for him to participate in the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge.

If he can win from the last starting spot in the 34-car field, Wheldon will win $5 million to be split with a fan who entered the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge. Admittedly, Wheldon knows he has a big mountain to climb to claim the Go Daddy prize.

“We don’t understand why we’re so far off the pace,” said Wheldon. “Quite frankly, with the pace were at, we can’t stay up in the draft. There’s something we’re missing. The team is working hard, but unfortunately the Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia/ William Rast and Curb-Big Machine Records car is not very quick right now.”

Tony Kanaan captured his first PEAK Performance Pole Award of 2011 and the 15th of his Indy car career by turning a lap of 50.0582 seconds at 222.078 mph. Newman-Haas driver Oriol Servia will start on the outside of the front row with his 50.0619 at 222.061 mph. It is the third time in 2011 that Servia will start on the front row.

The winner of the last IZOD Indy Car Series race, Ed Carpenter, backed up his winning run at Kentucky by qualifying third with a lap of 50.1867 seconds at 221.509 mph. Brian Herta Autosport’s Alex Tagliani and Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top-five.

IZOD Indy Car Series championship leader Dario Franchitti, from Ganassi Racing, and his chief challenger, Team Penske’s Will Power, will start side-by-side in the ninth row. Franchitti qualified 17th while Power will line up 18th. Franchitti leads power by just 18 points.

The Las Vegas Indy 300 gets underway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 16, with live coverage on ABC beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

Date:               Oct. 14, 2011

Event:             Las Vegas Indy 300 (Round 17 of 17)

Series:                         IZOD IndyCar Series

Location:                    Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile, oval)

Pole Winner:   Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology (50.0582 seconds at 222.078 mph)         

SSM Lineup:   Wade Cunningham (12th, 50.3501 seconds at 220.790 mph) 

Dan Wheldon (34th, 50.8987 seconds at 218.410)