Schatz with Tony Stewart in 2009. Photo: Getty Images

INDYCAR sponsors 10 drivers in Chili Bowl, including Donny Schatz

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Sure, NASCAR is well-represented at this week’s 31st Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and two-time defending Chili Bowl champ Rico Abreu.

But the IndyCar world is also a major part of the Chili Bowl contingent, sponsoring 10 drivers with roots of some type in the open-wheel racing league.

The Chili Bowl opened Tuesday and continues through Saturday night’s A Main championship event.

“Our heritage closely connects INDYCAR with iconic events like the Chili Bowl Nationals and the list of greats who have competed in short-track open-wheel cars for decades,” said C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We’re proud to announce the Team INDYCAR contingency award program and our list of entrants competing in Tulsa this week.

“This effort recognizes some greats of the sport along with some promising young talent that we hope to someday see in an Indy car. We join midget racing followers across the country in following their progress at the Chili Bowl.”

According to an IndyCar media release, “The Team INDYCAR program includes sponsorship for each car plus contingency prizes that include a $5,000 bonus should a Team INDYCAR driver win Saturday’s championship feature race. Other bonuses include $1,000 to any team driver who finishes second or third in the championship feature, $500 to any team driver qualifying for the championship feature and an additional $500 for the best finisher among Team INDYCAR.”

Here’s the Team INDYCAR lineup:

Chad Boat: Son of 1998 Indy 500 pole sitter and winner of IndyCar race at Texas, Billy Boat, who also won 1997 IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway and 1997 Chili Bowl winner. Chad has qualified for the Chili Bowl four times.

Jerry Coons Jr.: One of five drivers to win a USAC championship in midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crowns (the others are Tony Stewart, Pancho Carter, J.J. Yeley and Darland). Also finished fourth in the 2016 Chili Bowl and holds the record for most consecutive championship feature appearances at 13 and counting.

Tyler Courtney: Drives #Driven2SaveLives car for Clauson-Marshall Racing in honor of the late Bryan Clauson. Courtney won Tuesday’s first preliminary A feature race, earning a spot in Saturday’s A Main championship feature. Driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing, which is co-owned by Tim Clauson, Bryan’s father.

Dave Darland: legendary short-track racer, has won more than 100 USAC events; named Tuesday as inductee to National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. This year is Darland’s 20th Chili Bowl; best finish of second.

“It’s great to be part of this program and great that INDYCAR and the sprint car/midget connection is still there,” Darland said in a media release. “The Indianapolis 500 is what almost all of us grew up dreaming about. The Chili Bowl is our Indianapolis 500 and Mardi Gras put together. It would be a lot of fun to win it with all the great drivers here, certainly would be meaningful.”

David Gravel: Driving Tony Elliott Foundation entry; competing in third Chili Bowl.

Davey Hamilton Jr.: Son of longtime INDYCAR driver and current INDYCAR Radio Network analyst Davey Hamilton.

Kyle O’Gara: Indy Lights and USAC midget competitor. Won USAC National Pavement Midget championship and STARS national midget owner’s championship in 2014. Is brother-in-law of longtime INDYCAR driver/team owner Sarah Fisher and drives for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Davey Ray: 2002 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Race. Third-generation racer helped celebrate Tony Stewart’s last Brickyard 400 on the temporary dirt track built inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway last summer.

Donny Schatz (pictured above): Won 2016 Craftsman World of Outlaws championship for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, with 25 feature wins last year, his eighth championship overall and third straight winged sprint car series title. Has more than 200 career victories, including nine of the last 11 Knoxville Nationals, but is making his Chili Bowl debut with Clauson-Marshall Racing.

Tyler Seavey: Racing for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing as a teammate to O’Gara; second trip to Chili Bowl.

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Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”