IndyCar champion to be crowned this weekend

The race for the 2008 IndyCar Series championship will come down to two of the league's top heavyweights at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend: Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves.

After 16 races and 2,660 laps of intense competition, the 2003 IndyCar Series Champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Dixon leads two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves by 30 points (606 to 576) entering the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 – the final points-paying race of the season.

Neither have won at the 1.5-mile oval before.

From five Chicago starts Dixon has finished second three times, including last year when he ran out of fuel on the final turn. His average finish in five starts is 6.4.

While he has not won in Chicago, three of the Brisbane-born Kiwi's record-tying six victories this season have come from the pole at 1.5-mile ovals (Homestead-Miami, Texas and Kentucky). He also finished third on the 1.5-mile ovals at Motegi and Kansas.

While Dixon has had the outright results with six wins and a dominance of laps led (867), Castroneves has dogged him all season and cut 48 points from his deficit in the past two races alone.

The Brazilian has three consecutive top-four finishes at Chicagoland, including a second in 2005. His average finish in six starts is 7.3, and he has a record eight runner-up finishes and one victory this season.

The Team Penske driver is also the only driver with 14 top-five finishes in the season’s first 16 races, and he took a win at Infineon. Of his eight second places, three of them along with two fourths come from 1.5-mile ovals this season and he has led laps in each race (189).

While the championship battle rages for outright victory, the race for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors will be alive and well this weekend, with Hideki Mutoh currently leading last weekend’s winner Justin Wilson by 12 points, with Queensland’s Will Power and his Aussie Vineyards – Team Australia entry 33 points behind.

While Power’s hunt for the Rookie prize will be worth watching, his fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe will also be one for fans to keep an eye on this weekend – as he makes his first appearance at the Chicago track since his now-famous crash there in 2005.

While Briscoe was uninjured, it was his final race for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and he went on to make four starts in 2006 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and one start in 2007 with Luczo Dragon Racing before landing his ride with Team Penske in 2008 – a season which has seen him lock up fifth place in the standings already on the strength of two victories and 10 top-10 finishes.

Following the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, the IndyCar Series will head ‘down under’ for the 2008 Nikon Indy 300 on October 23-26.

The 2008 schedule has taken the teams and drivers to short ovals, superspeedways, and road and street courses on its way to the Nikon Indy 300 which is regarded as a ‘crown jewel’ in international motorsport.

Scott Dixon – #9 Target Chip Ganassi Honda/Dallara/Firestone:
“I think Chicago's going to be very tough. It's a tough circuit. It's one of those ones that provides great racing and definitely nailbiting for a championship race, which is exactly what the fans want and everybody that's watching. I guess they'll definitely get that," said Dixon.

“I think for me it's been a mixed bag in the way of how we've done there and things like that. To never have won there is definitely frustrating. We're hoping that we can definitely turn that around this weekend. But there's a lot of other people that are going to be trying to do the same thing.

“The mile-and-a-half ovals I think throughout this year have been very tough. Almost 10 more cars on the track than we had last year. If you make any little mistake, it makes it that much worse. We still definitely have to finish extremely well. But I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to get there."

Helio Castroneves – #3 Team Penske Racing Honda/Dallara/Firestone:
"We’ve had rather mixed results on the 1.5-mile ovals over the past several seasons, so we’re going to make sure we stay focused and work hard to be competitive this weekend," said Castroneves.

“Despite these struggles, we’ve done fairly well at Chicagoland Speedway, as I’ve earned four top-four results since 2002, so hopefully this will be my year to climb the fence in Illinois.

“I’m definitely pumped for this weekend. We’ve had a very consistent, successful season and I think we’re in a great position to win the championship. All year I’ve been saying that consistency is the way to a title, and with eight second-place finishes we’re still in the hunt going into the final race.

"Team Penske has performed solidly all year, and I know that my guys will do everything in their power to make sure we come away with the 2008 IndyCar Series championship."

Ryan Briscoe – #6 Team Penske Racing Honda/Dallara/Firestone:
“This will be my first trip back to Chicagoland Speedway since the accident in 2005," said Briscoe.

"Despite this, I plan on treating it no differently than any other race. The Team was quick at this track last year, so hopefully with the experience I’ve gained on ovals this year, we’ll be able to put together a good run to finish the season on a high note."

Will Power – #8 Aussie Vineyards – Team Australia Honda/Dallara/Firestone:
“This will be my last points paying race this year for KVRT Aussie Vineyards – Team Australia, so hopefully we can have a reasonable finish.," said Power.

“I am looking forward to getting back on an oval. The team has improved throughout the year on the ovals and a top-10 result for us would be great."

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