HILLIARD, OH . . .At the conclusion of Sunday's race at Road America, the 1999 FedEx Championship Series will have reached the halfway point. Team Rahal enters this weekend's race at Elkhart Lake with Max Papis and the Miller Lite team 9th in...
HILLIARD, OH . . .At the conclusion of Sunday's race at Road America, the 1999 FedEx Championship Series will have reached the halfway point. Team Rahal enters this weekend's race at Elkhart Lake with Max Papis and the Miller Lite team 9th in the points race and Bryan Herta and the Shell team ranked 11th.
Papis has been one of the success stories in CART this season, putting together a breakout campaign that has included three top-five finishes and five top-ten efforts. One of four drivers in CART to finish every race this season, Papis has his eyes set on capturing his first CART victory. "The first half of the season has been a series of ups and downs for us as I have adjusted to a new car and a new team," said Papis. "The chemistry of our team is continuing to develop and that is a process that you can't rush. Each week I feel like we are getting closer to that breakthrough moment when we are going to win. Everybody associated with the team is working hard towards that end."
After a miserable run of early season luck, Bryan Herta is showing the form that had people tagging his name with the phrase championship contender prior to the season. Herta has posted four top-five qualifying efforts in 1999 including starting fourth in each of the last two races. Those second-row starts have resulted in back-to-back sixth-place efforts at Portland and Cleveland, helping to jump-start his season. In the Grand Prix of Cleveland Herta overcame a first lap spin and drove from 27th to challenge for third late in the race.
"I am never happy when I finish sixth, but I can take pride in the race at Cleveland because I know how hard I worked to secure that sixth-place finish," said Herta. "I knew going into the race that I had as good a car as I have had this season and when the bump came on the first lap, I just put my head down and drove harder."
Last season at Road America, Herta started on the front row and led the race in the early stages before a mishap on lap 10 ended his day. Herta posted a fifth-place finish at the track in 1996. Road America is a track on which Herta is one of the drivers to beat.
"I love the track at Elkhart Lake," said Herta. "Road America is a real driver's circuit. It is the most challenging road course that we will drive this season. It is long and fast and there are so many corners that it is a difficult track to drive. It is for those very reasons that I love the course, because it is a real challenge to me personally."
Max Papis has also enjoyed driving on the rolling hills of Road America. "Elkhart Lake is a very special place for me to race. I picked up my first Champ Car points there in 1996. The course at Road America is fast and good for racing and it challenges the driver to be a real man behind the wheel."
Papis has posted a points-paying finish in two of his three career races at Elkhart Lake. In 1996, in just his second race in CART, Papis started 23rd but finished 9th at Road America.
TWICE THE TESTING
Two days after the Grand Prix of Cleveland, Team Rahal was back in full swing testing simultaneously at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio and Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Bryan Herta and the Shell Ford-Cosworth/Reynard tested at Mid Ohio, where the threat of rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures made for difficult driving conditions. Herta posted the eighth-fastest time overall in the two days at 124.08 mph. "The conditions for the test were not at all like what we will see in August," said Herta. "The standard weather for Mid-Ohio is high heat and humidity with lots of sunshine. The weather we had last week was more like what we expect in Portland." At Michigan Speedway Max Papis logged his first "speedway" laps in the Miller Lite/Harley-Davidson Ford-Cosworth/Reynard. Papis was the fastest of the cars assembled at the Michigan Speedway posting a lap at 229.23 mph. "It was pretty much a routine test to help customize the car to me on the speedways," said Papis. "We built up our comfort level so that when we go back to race there in a couple of weeks we have a baseline we can work off of."
PREPARING FOR THE STRETCH RUN
After a few days off for the July 4th holiday, Team Rahal and the rest of the CART FedEx Championship Series shifts into high gear with the busiest stretch of the 1999 season. Over the next ten weeks CART will stage eight races in five states and two Canadian provinces. During this stretch Team Rahal will log nearly ten thousand miles in travel. Included in this stretch of races are two stints of three races on three consecutive weekends. The pressure falls onto the team and the drivers to be physically and mentally ready for each race. The dog days of summer are where a season can be made or lost. According to Tim Cindric, Team Manager for Team Rahal, one of the biggest challenges facing the teams will be a switch from the road/street courses to the two ovals in this stretch. "The combination of the different style courses is what makes the FedEx Championship Series special," said Cindric. "The differences between the courses will test not only a driver's ability in various venues but it also demands a great deal of flexibility from the crews who will prepare the cars." THE BOBBY RAHAL FOUNDATION BENEFITS BIG BROTHERS/BIG SISTERS
The Bobby Rahal Foundation will make a $17,000 donation to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Sheboygan County prior to the race at Road America on Sunday. The Bobby Rahal Foundation is a not-for-profit endowment created by the three-time PPG Cup Champion prior to his final season as a driver. During the 1998 season and "Rahal's Last Ride" the Foundation raised over $400,000. The money has been earmarked for charitable contributions to organizations in CART communities throughout the 1999 season.