WADE CUNNINGHAM of Auckland, New Zealand got the call 8pm Wednesday night in Indianapolis to replace MIKE CONWAY of England in the No.14 ABC Supply Co/AJ Foyt Racing Honda for the IZOD IndyCar season’s finale race Auto Club Speedway. Conway, Foyt’s regular driver, “asked to sit out this weekend’s event” after Wednesday’s IndyCar open testing at the Fontana two-mile oval track.
Cunningham steps up and into the race car and Conway steps down.
This will be Cunningham’s second race with Foyt, the first being this year’s Indianapolis 500. He also has three 2011 IndyCar races on his resume.
Conway said “I’ve come to realize I’m not comfortable on the ovals and no longer wish to compete with them. I want to stress that I’m not finished racing and to this end, I would love to continue with Foyt Racing, but that’s something we need to discuss in the future.”
LARRY FOYT, Team Director, put out calls to a “very short list” and Cunningham was reached just as he was going out for a night out with the boys – which unbeknownst to him was to be a (delayed) surprise birthday party. Cunningham took a 7am flight out of Indianapolis Thursday morning, got to the California track by noon, and was able to fit in twenty-minutes of a test/shakedownsession overseen by INDYCAR president of competition BEAUX BARFIELD and IZOD IndyCar Series technical director KEVIN BLANCH. Cunningham was supposed to get an hour, but there was a long line of motor homes the track needed to get inside. While the run was short, Cunningham characterized it as “a meaningful session.”
Meanwhile back at the shop, by 9pm Texas time, Cunningham’s seat from the Indianapolis 500 was overnighted to California. Cunningham said other changes were needed for pedals, belts, steering wheel and head pads. He will wear his own suit, as his Indy 500 suit had different sponsor logos.
Cunningham has raced at the Southern California superspeedway before. In 2005 he won the Firestone Indy Lights race after starting fifth. Cunningham has eight Indy Lights victories.
It’s been seven years since Cunningham raced on the track formerly known as California Speedway, and he said a lot has changed. With the weathering and settling, the asphalt has bumps and undulations. The asphalt has been polished so it has “super low grip.”
Cunningham has been racing since the2012 Indy 500 – vintage cars and New Zealand V8 Touring Cars. At the Brian Redman historic races at Road America, Cunningham ran a 1972 Titan Formula Ford owned by AL LEWIS, a supporter of his. In New Zealand, Cunningham runs the longer V8 Tourers races with JOHNNY REID of International Motorsports.
This final race weekend is just two days, Friday and Saturday with the 500-mile race running late afternoon into early evening – a first for IndyCars at this track.