NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING AIMS FOR THIRD WIN AT HOMESTEAD MIAMI SPEEDWAY; McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL TO MAKE HIS DEBUT HERE AND HER ENERGY DRIVER LLOYD TO MAKE HIS DEBUT WITH THE TEAM HOMESTEAD, Fla. (October 7, 2009) --- The 2009 IndyCar Series...
NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING AIMS FOR THIRD WIN AT HOMESTEAD MIAMI SPEEDWAY; McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL TO MAKE HIS DEBUT HERE AND HER ENERGY DRIVER LLOYD TO MAKE HIS DEBUT WITH THE TEAM
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (October 7, 2009) --- The 2009 IndyCar Series season will conclude with Saturday's 200-lap Firestone Indy 300 at the variable-banked 1.5-mile Homestead Miami Speedway. McDonald's driver Graham Rahal will compete at the track for the first time and aim for his second series win as well as third pole of the season in an effort to earn a fifth place season-ending rank. Meanwhile new teammate Alex Lloyd will pilot the No. 40202 HER Energy entry in his return to the track for the first time since his 2007 Firestone Indy Lights win here and hopes to earn a strong result in only his third series start and debut with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR).
"I think the McDonald's team ought to be very competitive in the race," said Rahal who earned his second podium of the season of third place at the previous race in Japan. "I know Alex had a good test there and the team has a lot of momentum so I hope that we can get a good result, jump up in the standings further and carry the momentum to 2010. I think the goals have to be to get at least to sixth in the season-ending point standings and get up on the podium again. I feel that it is certainly possible and that our cars should be quick enough to compete with the top guys. If we run up front, that's the ultimate way to protect yourself from those around you in points."
NHLR enters the Homestead race weekend this year in a dramatically different position than in 2008. Last year's event here was the season-opener and first race for a unified open wheel series which meant the team had approximately one month to prepare for battle against other teams that had a five year head start with the racing equipment. The series allowed transition teams to test here on Monday and Tuesday of race week but Rahal, who had never run or competed on an oval before crashed in Turn 2 near the end of the test. Fortunately he was not injured but the team did not have enough time to repair the race car before the event and Rahal watched from the Spotter's Stand.
"Last year was a challenge for everyone on the team, and certainly I didn't make it any easier in testing," recalled Rahal, 20. "I really started to get comfortable on track and started trying to get in a tow and make some passes. I loved the track initially and the car was working well. I happened to just get by Oriol (Servia) then I lost it. I got a little high, the car bottomed and around it went. This made it really hard for everyone because we had just thrashed to get a car together, and then we needed to do it again for St. Pete. I learned a lot from watching from the spotters stand. It gives you great insight into how a race in the IndyCar Series works, although it is very tough to understand how it feels inside the car, and truly how close and tough the racing is. You get a birds' eye view of it, but as everyone can appreciate it's just not the same as the experience you get racing."
Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of few tracks on the IndyCar Series schedule that the team raced on prior to joining the series fulltime in 2008. It will be NHLR's seventh start here after competing at the track from 1996-2000 and in 2008. Michael Andretti brought the team two victories here (1997, 1998) and a second place finish in 1999 which looked like a possible win before he stalled on his final pit stop and had to settle for second while Christian Fittipaldi brought the team their highest start of fourth place in 1998. Rahal has been able to gauge the progress between tests at Homestead in 2008 and March 2009 and feels the team can be a contender for the victory on Saturday.
"I think we have come a long, long way since the last time we raced at Homestead," said Rahal, who is seventh in series points with a total of 366, only 15 behind fifth-place ranked Danica Patrick (381). "The team has done a great job catching up, and really I think we're very close to breaking through with a win. I think that we have not only come a long way since 2008 but even since testing in Homestead this season. We have vastly improved our performance since we drove last at Homestead and I look forward to seeing how far we have come. The season has certainly been up and down for everyone. We have had a lot of good moments and some that we all regret. I know that I am very happy with the performance of the entire team. We have made a huge improvement and I know that we will continue to do so this winter."
The Firestone Indy 300 will mark Alex Lloyd's second race this season after having competed in the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year where he qualified 11th and finished 13th for Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Chip Ganassi Racing. He made his series debut in the 2008 Indy 500 and the Homestead race will be his third series start. Despite being his first IndyCar Series race at a track other than Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Lloyd is confident that he and the team can put the No. 40202 HER Energy car up front.
"I don't think you can get any more pressure than Indy but for sure there is pressure when you only compete on a very limited schedule and when your experience level in the IndyCar Series is very low," said Lloyd, 24. "Having said that I feel well prepared for the race and I know I have a great team behind me. I think our goals are to run up front and I believe we can do that. I think the HER Energy car is capable of qualifying very high up the grid and if we can do that for sure we will be in a good place for a good strong race."
Lloyd will make his second start at the 1.5-mile Homestead Miami Speedway but his only other race here was about as successful as possible after he qualified second and won the event en route to the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights title for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. To prepare for his first race since the Indy 500 in May, he has been to the team's Lincolnshire, Ill.-base multiple times and has maintained his vigorous fitness regime.
"The test went very well," said Lloyd who ran over 200 trouble-free miles here last Wednesday. b^0x001cObviously I have been out of the race car since May so a big part of the test was to try and shake the rust off as much as possible. Prior to the test I prepared by cycling a lot and doing various weight routines. I spent some time with the engineers going over all the details of the car, setup and what to expect and that certainly helped in my preparation too."
Most drivers in the event will be looking to end their season with a strong result while Lloyd will be looking to get a head start on 2010.
"The title fight doesn't factor into my race," said Lloyd, who won eight of the 15 Lights races en route to his 2007 title. "I am racing for myself and of course the team and HER Energy and our priority is to have a good race. Obviously we don't want to cause any issues or troubles for any of the contenders and just let them battle it out between themselves but at the same time we do want to be mixing it up with these guys. I view this race as the beginning of my 2010 season. I want to use this race as a building block to hopefully serve me well next season."
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing is nearing the close of its 27th season and along the way the team has earned a total of eight championships by Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Cristiano da Matta and most recently Sebastien Bourdais. This history is not lost on Lloyd who followed the team since his fellow countryman Mansell earned back-to-back Formula One and CART titles in 1993.
"It is very surreal for me to be racing for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing," said the Manchester, England native. "I have been a huge fan of the team since I was nine years old watching (Nigel) Mansell race for them. I never would have imagined then that I would be driving for this team. It is certainly a dream come true and a real honor."
After hosting the season-opening race for the past six years, this year marks Homestead-Miami Speedway's move to the season finale. Chicagoland Speedway has hosted the past three season finales, with the IndyCar Series championship being resolved on the final lap of the race each year. Both Rahal and Lloyd expect a close fight between title contenders Scott Dixon (570), Dario Franchitti (565) and Ryan Briscoe (562).
"I know they have to go out there and race like they have all year," said Rahal. "If it's meant to be for that driver, then it will come together. I think Dixon will win the championship. The only reason I think that is he is a little stronger on the super speedways generally, but he is also very consistent."
"I think all three title contenders will go into the race with the approach to win," added Lloyd. "If one of those three wins the race, then they are the champion regardless of what the others do so for sure they need to try everything to win. My prediction is that it will be one of the two Ganassi cars. If I had to put money on it I would go with Dixon."
The 2009 IndyCar Series season concludes Oct. 10 with the Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 4 p.m. (ET) Oct. 10 by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The radio broadcast also will be carried on www.indycar.com. A 90-minute qualifying show will air on VERSUS at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 9.