Team Rahal Atlantic Track Talk Patrick ready for her Atlantic debut. HILLIARD, OH . . . All the months of planning and anticipation are over. This Friday morning Danica Patrick will take to the track in the ...
Team Rahal Atlantic Track Talk
Patrick ready for her Atlantic debut.
HILLIARD, OH . . . All the months of planning and anticipation are over. This Friday morning Danica Patrick will take to the track in the #24 Argent Mortgage Toyota/Swift at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico and the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantics Championship season will be underway. Patrick, the 20-year-old protégé of three-time CART champion Bobby Rahal, will become the first female to race a full schedule in the thirty year history of the Atlantic Championship.
"I have been preparing for this day since I was ten and I first climbed into a go-kart" said Patrick. "I am sure I might have a few butterflies when I climb into the car on Friday, but it is a racecar and I have been driving competitively for half of my life. Once I get on track it will be me against the other drivers and their cars."
Rahal looks at his young charge and realizes that there will be a lot of attention focused on her in 2003. "I have told Danica on a number of occasions that she will be in the spotlight all year and that people will be following her every move. That can be a blessing and a curse to a young driver. The blessing is when you succeed, your success will draw a lot of attention and it will open doors and create opportunities both on and off the track. The downside is of course we are talking about a 20-year-old driver, who like every young driver, is going to endure some growing pains. When the spotlight is on you those can make for some long days. That said, I think the future is very bright for Danica. I think she has everything it will take to be successful and to graduate to the next level."
At first glance Patrick would appear to be a college student or an aspiring model, but the look is deceiving. Behind that smile is a fierce competitor who is striving to become the best driver that she can be.
"People ask me if I want to be the next Lyn Saint James or so and so, and I always tell them I want to be the first Danica Patrick. I know I have a wonderful opportunity with Team Rahal. Bobby has assembled a veteran team that will help me with the learning curve of the series. Walt Preston, my engineer, is one of the best in the business and he has really helped me understand the car a lot quicker than I thought I would."
Patrick signed a multi-year driving contract with Team Rahal in June of 2002 to be the pilot of the team's entry in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. She ran five races in the Barber Dodge Pro Series last year in preparation for the 2003 campaign.
The full-season single car entry is sponsored by Argent Mortgage Company and Norwalk Furniture Company. The entry in the CART Ladder System is Team Rahal's first support program since the team ran a full-season effort in Indy Lights in 1998.
A BUSY WEEKEND FOR TEAM RAHAL
For the first time in Team Rahal's twelve year history, the team will compete in three separate open wheel series on the same weekend. In addition to Patrick's debut in the Atlantic Championship, the team will compete in the Champ Car World Series event with Michel Jourdain Jr. in the Gigante car. The third Team Rahal program in action this weekend will be Kenny Brack's Pioneer/Miller Lite entry in the IRL's IndyCar Series race at Phoenix.
"It certainly is a test of our people and resources," said Scott Roembke, Team Rahal's Chief Operating Officer. "When we saw how this season was going to unfold with three cars in three series we knew it would present some unique logistical problems. Fortunately we have a great group of individuals who have addressed the issues that come with the multiple programs and multiple venues as just another challenge to be overcome.
RAHAL KEEPS HELPING THE NEXT GENERATION
Over the last decade Bobby Rahal has done his part to help the next generation of drivers reach their goals in the highest levels of racing. Just as Jim Trueman once helped a young Rahal in his career, Rahal has turned his attention in recent years to helping young drivers.
"I am not always in a position to help a driver with a test or a ride, but I try to at least take some time to talk to them and to give them some advice," said the three-time CART champion. "I have always felt it was a way for me to give back to the sport that has been so good to my family. It is also a way for me to honor Jim and keep his memory alive. Hopefully someday one or two of these kids will help the next generation out. That kind of support, the so called passing of the torch, is what makes this sport so great."
Danica Patrick, Rahal's Toyota Atlantic Championship driver, is just the latest in a series of young stars who have benefited from their association with Team Rahal. Current Winston Cup driver Casey Mears made his Champ Car debut with Team Rahal in 2000, when he ran a one-off event at Fontana. Former Atlantic champion and current IndyCar driver Buddy Rice spent the 2001 season in a driver development program with Team Rahal as the team searched for sponsorship. Factor in the opportunities Rahal gave to Max Papis and Michel Jourdian Jr., young drivers in Champ Car to whom he gave high profile rides, and the ripple effect of Rahal's attention to helping the next generation is evident.
Rahal is a passionate believer in the CART Ladder System. In conjunction with one of his former drivers Bryan Herta, Rahal has taken ownership of the CART Stars of Tomorrow program. Team Rahal has been involved with the Stars of Tomorrow program since its inception in 2000. The first two seasons the winners of the Stars of Tomorrow received a test in a Champ Car and it was Team Rahal who supplied the test for the winners. One of those winners, A.J. Allmendinger, is the current Barber Dodge Pro Series Champion, and will run in the Toyota Atlantic Championship this season.