INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 26, 2011) – In an all-out attempt to win the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge, team owner Sam Schmidt, driver Alex Tagliani and sponsor Bowers & Wilkins have agreed to put two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon behind the wheel of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia Dallara/Honda/Firestone car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) in the Oct. 2 Kentucky Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Schmidt announced today.
Wheldon will step into the car that Alex Tagliani has driven in 15 IZOD IndyCar Series events in 2011. It was announced on Sept. 13 that Wheldon would also drive in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships on Oct. 16 in Las Vegas in a car jointly entered by SSM and Bryan Herta Autosport (BHA). Wheldon will now drive the No. 77 car for SSM at Kentucky in preparation for his attempt to win the $5 million Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge.
“I can’t thank Alex enough for letting me drive his car in Kentucky and to work with the team in preparation for Las Vegas,” Wheldon said. “I know when I step into the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia Honda, I’ll be stepping into a fast racecar that’s capable of winning. As a driver, that’s all you can ask for. I’m really excited about this opportunity and look forward to working with everyone at Sam’s team. They were a large part of our winning effort in May, and I’ll do my best to get back to victory lane.”
In May, the Emberton, England native, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., won his second Indianapolis 500 in a car entered by BHA but owned by Schmidt. The car was prepped by SSM before the month of May, and the SSM and BHA engineering staffs worked together as one team throughout the month with the teams’ two garages situated side-by-side in Gasoline Alley.
“I am incredibly excited to have Dan Wheldon driving the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia car at Kentucky,” Schmidt said. “Clearly, this is an amazing opportunity for our team and sponsors. We are putting as much energy and resources into winning the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge as we did for the Indy 500 with the intent of making one lucky fan an instant millionaire and capping off a great rookie season for SSM. I also appreciate Tag’s support of this program. Being a racecar driver myself, it would be extremely difficult to step out of a car I helped develop, but Alex is a true professional and team player in our pursuit to win this prize.”
Tagliani has three top-five and six top-10 finishes this season to go along with two Peak Performance Pole Awards he’s won, including the prestigious Indianapolis 500 pole.
“I’m obviously not happy about sitting out Kentucky, but this is a very exciting opportunity,” Tagliani said. “Dan and I are good friends, and I’m very jealous that he gets to run for the $5 million. But, I fully support what INDYCAR has done to generate fan interest and will do everything I can to help the SSM team run Dan in Kentucky and prepare for the Go Daddy Challenge. I’m out to win the Vegas race, as well, and won’t back off one bit, so Dan will be on his own when the green flag drops.”
As the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, Wheldon is the only driver eligible to compete for the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge. If he wins the Las Vegas race after starting at the back of the field, he will win $2.5 million for himself and $2.5 million for a lucky fan.
Wheldon has 16 IZOD IndyCar Series wins, including his two Indy 500 victories. His first “500” win came in 2005, which was also the same year he won the IndyCar championship. At Kentucky, Wheldon has five top-five finishes in seven starts, including three third-place results. He also started on the front row at Kentucky in 2005.
“We are very excited to support Sam and Bryan Herta as well as INDYCAR in making the season-ending race memorable for the fans and all the sponsors,” said Bowers & Wilkins Chairman Joe Atkins. “I am hopeful that the good chemistry between Alex and Dan and the respective crews, which delivered the Indy 500 pole and the Indy 500 win, will come through again.”
The Kentucky Indy 300 begins at 3 p.m. EDT on Oct. 2 with live coverage provided by Versus beginning with a pre-race show at 2 p.m.
About Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) was established in 2001 and is owned by former driver Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed (quad) in 2000 after an accident during testing at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. As a car owner, Schmidt fields entries in the Firestone Indy Lights and the IZOD IndyCar Series. SSM is the most successful team in Firestone Indy Lights with more than 46 race wins and four championships. In addition, SSM has qualified 12 cars in the Indianapolis 500 since 2001 and won the prestigious Indianapolis 500 Pole in 2011.
The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation (SSPF) was started in 2000. SSPF is leading the charge to cure paralysis by funding scientific research, medical treatment, rehabilitation and technological advances, benefiting stroke victims and people diagnosed with ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. For more information, visit www.samschmidt.org.