Former Indy Lights champion Wade Cunningham has announced he will run a part-Wade Cunninghamseason in this year’s IndyCar Series championship with Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

The New Zealander will contest the double-header Texas event, as well as the rounds at Kentucky and Las Vegas, making him the fourth Antipodean driver in this year’s series, alongside his compatriot Scott Dixon, and the Australians Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.

The announcement also means that Sam Schmidt Motorsports will contest an IndyCar Series race other than the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in ten years, but Cunningham’s decision to skip the iconic race – which he has won three times in Lights – has not come without some heartbreak for the Kiwi.

“It was Sam who suggested that rather than focusing on the Indianapolis 500, like a lot of drivers trying to ‘break into’ the IZOD IndyCar Series, I should look, perhaps, at spreading my budget over three or four races to give me a better chance to show what I can do in one of these cars,” explained Cunningham.

“It was a painful decision to not pursue the 500, especially with the team that I have had so much success there with. But I felt that it wasn’t going to give us the best opportunity to showcase our collective talents.

“With the new car and engine package debuting next season, there is a real opportunity to become involved with the new manufacturers and build a full season programme for 2012.”

Cunningham was the Indy Lights champion in 2005, and the Auckland-born driver has had a single taste of IndyCar driving when given the opportunity to test with the Andretti Green outfit in 2007.

“Wade is a fighter and deserves a shot in the IZOD IndyCar Series," said Schmidt. "He is dedicated to racing in the IndyCar Series. You usually don’t see a driver race in the Lights cars for six years, but he has never given up his dream. I am glad to be the one who finally puts him in an IndyCar.”

Schmidt also confirmed that he intended to run Townsend Bell and Jay Howard at the Indianapolis 500, while adding that he was hoping to expand Bell’s participation to other events this season.

[Original image via Flickr]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.