Road Atlanta: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING SET FOR INITIAL RUN AT PETIT LE MANS One of the most valuable things that a race team can gain in its first year in a new series is experience. Entering its first year of American Le Mans Series competition in 2007, the...

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING SET FOR INITIAL RUN AT PETIT LE MANS

One of the most valuable things that a race team can gain in its first year in a new series is experience.

Entering its first year of American Le Mans Series competition in 2007, the Rahal Letterman Racing squad has dealt with a new car, raced on new tracks with fresh rivals, and competed in formats that were slightly foreign to a team with an open-wheel pedigree like RLR. But the team has gained experience through each stop on the '07 calendar, and has used the lessons learned to build a fledgling team into a contender for GT2 class victories.

This weekend's Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta will have a different feel for the RLR squad however, as the driver trio of Ralf Kelleners, Tom Milner and Graham Rahal will actually have a deep well of experience to draw on as it readies for its first appearance in the event that covers 10 hours or 1,000 miles - whichever comes first.

Kelleners has competed in seven of the nine previous Petit Le Mans events and has been one of the more successful drivers in the GT class over that period. The German's success will match with Tom Milner, who finished fourth in class in his first PLM a year ago, and Rahal's previous efforts at the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit, to give the team renewed optimism as it takes up the chase for its first ALMS victory.

"We tested well at Road Atlanta earlier in the year and we seem to have a strong car on these kinds of tracks so I'm optimistic about Petit," Milner said. "We've really improved the car since that test and as always the whole shop at RLR is working hard to make it even faster. I think we'll be in good shape early on so hopefully we can focus on the little things to make the car comfortable to drive for the whole race."

Kelleners sat on the GT2 class pole a year ago in the Risi Ferrari, running the fastest qualifying lap as well as the fastest race lap, but a Lap 61 spin and resulting contact ended his run. He was third in GT1 with Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem in 2005 and was third in GT results in both 2002 and 2003 partnering with local ace Anthony Lazzaro. He competed in his first Petit Le Mans back in 1999, finishing seventh while joining forces with road-racing legends Bob Wollek and Allan McNish.

"I have always really enjoyed this race and this track and I look forward to a strong race in the Porsche," Kelleners reported. "They have repaved the track and it looks to have made a big improvement on the time charts. There are four GT2 cars already that have turned times faster than my pole time last year! I think with Tom and Graham, and a team that is ready to win, we have a great chance to come out of this with a great result."

Teams will have a good deal of track time to get used to the revamped race surface with testing starting on Wednesday afternoon. Teams will see 90 minutes of track time on Wednesday, followed by four hours of practice time available on Thursday - including a two-hour night session that gets underway at 7 p.m. The field is set during Friday's qualifying, with the race slated to start at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday morning. The race will run 10 hours or over 1,000 miles (394 laps), whichever comes first. The 1,000-mile limit has been reached in each of the nine runnings of the event. The majority of the race can be seen live on SPEED, with coverage running from 11:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then picking back up from 6:30 through the end of the race.

Young Rahal Joins Father's Team For Endurance Classic

Taking advantage of a six-week late-season break in his Champ Car schedule, Graham Rahal will look to further his racing education by joining RLR for this weekend's Petit Le Mans, marking the first time that the 18-year-old has competed in the Road Atlanta endurance classic.

He partnered with Milner and Kelleners at the Mobil 12 Hours of Sebring this season and was competitive with the road-racing veterans right away, although a first-lap incident kept the team out of contention for the win. This time around however, Rahal will add to the experience level of the driver lineup as he, unlike most open-wheel drivers in the United States, has a handful of Road Atlanta races under his belt dating back to his time in Star Mazda and SCCA competition.

"I have raced there four or five times before and I think the track provides a strong challenge for these cars," told Graham. "It's a pretty quick track. I've never driven anything like the GT car on it but I am really looking forward to it."

It will also mark the second pairing between the younger Rahal and his father, three-time IndyCar/Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal. This is the first season that Rahal Letterman Racing has competed in the ALMS and at the Petit Le Mans, but the team and its fabled co-owner are looking forward to challenging for its first series victory.

"I am very pleased that Graham is able to join us for Petit Le Mans," Bobby said. "I thought he did an excellent job for us at Sebring and I think he adds to the talent level of the organization. I'm excited for him, because I think he really enjoys sportscar racing and we are looking forward to having him run with us."

Rahal Letterman Racing Notes:

The trio of Milner, Rahal and Kelleners will make its second appearance together this season. This will be the first Petit Le Mans for Rahal Letterman Racing as well as the first for Graham Rahal. Milner has one start to his credit while Kelleners has competed in all but one of the nine previous Road Atlanta endures. Kelleners has three class podium finishes to his credit at the PLM and he sat on pole last season in the Risi Ferrari. The Milner/Kelleners pairing is currently fourth in GT2 class points this year. Rahal is fifth in the Champ Car World Series standings with two races still on the calendar. He is second in the series' Rookie-of-the-Year chase.

-credit: rahal.com

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Series ALMS
Drivers Allan McNish , Ralf Kelleners , Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Terry Borcheller , Johnny Mowlem , Bob Wollek