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Wheldon hopes to sustain momentum in run-up to Indianapolis

Wheldon hopes to sustain momentum in run-up to Indianapolis

With two wins and a runner-up finish in the first four races of the IndyCar Series, English driver Dan Wheldon is on a roll headed into preparations for the Indianapolis 500.
Wheldon already has won there, in 2005. But he's not content to leave it at that, or to spend much time savoring his first victory at Kansas Speedway on Sunday after two close second-place finishes.
"Like I've emphasized, now we can start thinking about Indy," said Wheldon, who led 177 of 200 laps in Sunday's Kansas Lottery 300 and has led 485 of 700 laps this season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. "I get excited about that. That's the one I'm desperate to try and win."
But is Wheldon, whose 2005 win came during his championship season, the favorite this time around?
"A lot of people have asked me that. I think it's difficult to say who is the favorite going into Indianapolis," he said. "Do I think I'm going to be a contender? Absolutely."
False modesty?
"Dan's not really known for his false modesty," Scottish driver Dario Franchitti said with a laugh.
"Indianapolis is a different type of track than these 1 1/2 miles," said Franchitti, who finished a distant second on Sunday. "The regulations, for sure, are different _ run as little downforce as we want. I'm hoping we're going to be a little stronger when it comes to that race with Andretti Green cars. I think Dan's definitely one of the favorites."
Wheldon won't be the only driver returning to the scene of a victory, though.
Sam Hornish Jr., the defending IndyCar Series champion, won at Indy last year on his way to the season title. Buddy Rice has struggled this year but has the experience of winning in 2004.
And Brazil's Helio Castroneves, who ran third at Kansas on Sunday, is the most recent two-time winner with victories in 2001 and 2002.
"I honestly think you could pick 10 to 15 people," Wheldon said. "That's the thing about Indianapolis. I mean, it wouldn't be Indianapolis if it was just one of those races where three or four people could win."
And early-season momentum doesn't always count for much heading into open-wheel racing's marquee event on May 27, as the defending Indy champion knows all too well.
"In 2002, I won two of the first three races and finished third in the other one," Hornish said in a telephone interview on Monday. "I've been in the same position as Dan."
Hornish finished 25th in that race, though.
"A month is just such a long time," he said. "You basically have the first week to be excited, if you come in as the points leader or winning a lot of races. But after qualifying, then it's the guy on the pole who has the momentum.
"Obviously, if it's the same guy, then it gives you a lot of momentum."
But with a month to prepare, a lot can go wrong _ with a driver's head as well as his or her car.
"It's so long that if one little thing happens to you _ even if you're the points leader, even if you qualify on the pole _ it can get in your mind," he said.
Wheldon also acknowledged the emotional strain of having so long to prepare for the race that matters most to so many racers.
"The biggest thing with Indianapolis, you know, it's very high pressure," he said. "You have to control yourself emotionally to be able to not let things fluster you. It can be a detriment to your month."
And while a previous win at Indy provides its own sort of confidence, it's no guarantee of future success.
"You have to continue to work hard, because the league's too competitive just to sit and rest on your laurels," Wheldon said. "You'll be swallowed up pretty fast."


Updated : 2021-09-21 15:43 GMT+08:00