CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Rahal Houston Preview

Team Rahal owner and driver Bobby Rahal comes to the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston this weekend for the first and last time as a driver. Rahal, who has three races remaining in his 25-year driving career before turning his full attention to team...

Team Rahal owner and driver Bobby Rahal comes to the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston this weekend for the first and last time as a driver. Rahal, who has three races remaining in his 25-year driving career before turning his full attention to team ownership and his directorship in the CART organization, is glad the series has arrived in the Lone Star state. "Texas is a market we've coveted for a long time," he said. "We are fortunate to have a lot of loyal fans in this area of the country, and it will be nice to be able to race in front of them before I hang it up. This event is also of keen importance to our sponsors - many of whom have major operations and sizeable customer bases here. I think it's going to be great marriage for the city, the state and the series."

A pattern has emerged in CART recently which has seen drivers earn a second series win soon after their first. Jimmy Vasser (Miami and Australia, 1996), Greg Moore (Milwaukee and Detroit, 1997), Mark Blundell (Portland and Toronto, 1997) and Dario Franchitti (Road America and Vancouver, 1998) have set the trend. "That's a trend we'd certainly like to see continue," said Team Rahal driver Bryan Herta, who took his inaugural series victory two weeks ago at Laguna Seca Raceway. "There's probably a certain amount of confidence from winning that first race that carries over into the next few. It certainly doesn't make it any easier, though."

Bryan Herta had the opportunity to tour the Grand Prix track this summer during a visit to Houston. He also got a first-hand look at what's going in to preparing the downtown for its very first FedEx Championship Series event. "I've been on the streets that will make up the track," Herta said, "but they were obviously still in use when I did. We had to drive in the opposite direction from the one we'll race, so it was hard to develop a mental picture of what exactly it will be like. I must say I was very encouraged by the effort I saw being put into the event. There is a real buzz about the race around the city and an obvious commitment to its success. As (primary sponsor) Shell's hometown, we have added incentive to perform well here. We want to give our very best effort."

Qualifying always seems to be among the keys to success on street circuits. If that holds true in Houston, Bryan Herta would be a pretty good bet to perform well. The 28-year-old Herta has qualified in the top five in eight of the last nine CART FedEx Championship Series events, including front-row starts in each of the last three. He sat on the pole for the Long Beach street race earlier this year, one of three poles he's claimed already this season. "There's little arguing the importance of qualifying on tracks like this one," Herta said. "It also happens to be something we've been doing quite well of late. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I think we've got the very best equipment combination right now. It also has to do with the fact that our team has really hit its stride."

As a guest on last week's CART media teleconference, Bryan Herta was informed that Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach had lifted his probation following his win in the Grand Prix of Monterey. "I guess I can really go wild, now," was Herta's tongue-in-cheek response. He is the fourth CART driver to win a race while on probation.

Bobby Rahal has been called an ambassador for racing before. That title was never more well-earned than last week, when Rahal addressed both the Chamber of Commerce in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Advertising Federation of Columbus, Ohio, on the business of racing.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Bryan Herta , Mark Blundell , Greg Moore