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Indianapolis 500 Preview: Wade Cunningham

Photo credit: IndyCar Media

#41 ECat/ABC Supply Co. Dallara-Honda, A.J. Foyt Enterprises

Born: August 19, 1984

Home: Auckland, New Zealand

2011 RESULTS: Cunningham did not run in last year’s Indianapolis 500, having only secured sponsorship for the Texas doubleheader, Kentucky, and Las Vegas with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and AFS Racing. Bruno Junqueira qualified Foyt’s second car last year, but a last-minute deal with Andretti Autosport landed the DNQ’d Ryan Hunter-Reay in the car for the race, where he finished a disappointing 23rd.

CAREER BEST: In six Indy Lights races at the speedway, Cunningham has scored three victories and two other runner-up finishes.

OUTLOOK: Series experts have recognized Cunningham for years as a driver talented enough to run a full IndyCar schedule, but a lack of sponsorship frequently left the New Zealander feeling like a self-described “rockstar without the music.” After a handful of decent runs last season, however, he may have landed his most competitive ride yet: the second seat at A.J. Foyt Enterprises, driving alongside Mike Conway, who failed to qualify for the race last year.

Foyt took Cunningham’s Indianapolis history into account, but has said that he was more impressed with the young driver’s performance at Kentucky last season when offering him the ride in his second car. There, Cunningham finished a strong seventh place in an AFS Racing car, but if not for getting caught out of the racing groove while trying to pass Scott Dixon with a few laps to go, he had an honest shot at a podium finish. Cunningham has the one thing that can’t be taught – raw speed – on the ovals, and perhaps with the advice of a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, he can score the kind of finish that finally helps him break into the series full-time.

– Chris Leone

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