NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING EMBARKS ON ITS 26TH SEASON OF OPEN WHEEL COMPETITION AND ITS FIRST IN A UNIFIED INDYCAR SERIES HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 26, 2008) --- Although the 26th season of competition for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will...
NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING EMBARKS ON ITS 26TH SEASON OF OPEN WHEEL COMPETITION AND ITS FIRST IN A UNIFIED INDYCAR SERIES
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 26, 2008) --- Although the 26th season of competition for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will be one filled with many new challenges, one thing will remain constant. After 105 wins, 106 poles and 244 podium finishes to date, the team remains as determined as ever to get to the front. NHLR will make their debut in a unified IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile, variable banked Homestead Miami Speedway for this Saturday night's Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300.
For a team that is used to being as prepared as possible and spends untold hours to do so, NHLR is facing one of the most challenging seasons in recent history. The combination of talented drivers and an experienced and dedicated team have enabled NHLR to be ranked second to only Team Penske (40 seasons) in terms of success but the short time frame of one month to prepare for their debut in the IndyCar Series has forced the team to have realistic expectations this season. In contrast, when Newman/Haas Racing was formed in November of 1982, Paul Newman and Carl Haas allowed themselves almost seven months to prepare for their first race in Atlanta on April 17, 1983 with Mario Andretti behind the wheel.
New for 2008 will be learning the nuances and inner workings of the IndyCar Series -- on track and off -- as well as learning new race equipment, new tracks and the addition of a new driver. They are hoping that their 2007 experience of learning the all-new Panoz DP01 Champ Car chassis will aid them as the season progresses.
Of the 15 confirmed IndyCar Series races that NHLR will compete in this season, nine events will be on tracks completely unfamiliar to the team and their drivers ustin Wilson, who will pilot the No. 02 McDonald's entry and Graham Rahal who will drive the No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps race car. And while six events will be on tracks the team has run on as many as eight years ago, the data will not aid them because the racing equipment -- Honda-powered Dallara chassis on Firestone tires -- is completely new to the team.
"I am extremely happy to be driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing," said Wilson who will compete in his first race with the team, first in the IndyCar Series and sixth on an oval. "I could not hope to be with a better team, especially while the teams are making this transition. We are going to be racing against some of the top teams in the business so we are not kidding ourselves about how steep of a learning curve we are facing. I believe Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has what it takes to win."
"It's going to be very tough for us to contend with the Penskes, Ganassis and AGRs of the world but as time goes on it will get closer and closer," added Rahal, 19, who finished fifth overall in his rookie season with NHLR in Champ Car last year. "Especially on the ovals for myself, because I've only ever done one before and that was in a Star Mazda car and that's obviously significantly slower than this. And it's going to be quite an eye-opener the first time we race. At the end of the day, with the lack of time to properly prepare, we certainly don't expect to be the quickest."
Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of six tracks on the IndyCar Series schedule that the team previously race on from 1996-2000. 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. Christian Fittipaldi brought the team their highest start here of fourth place in 1998. The banking has been increased since the team tested here last but they were able to get reacclimated during a two day test Monday and Tuesday and turned a combined total of 184 laps. With two hours to go on Tuesday night Rahal lost control of his race car and made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 but was not injured. The team is currently evaluating the viability of repairing the car.
"To have plenty of patience!" said Wilson, whose highest finish on an oval came the last time he raced on one in 2006 at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006 when he finished second place to then-NHR driver Bourdais. "With the two-day weekend it will be easy to feel pressured into going quick but I think that's when you end up in trouble. The plan is to stay calm and make small, positive steps."
"Everybody has been giving me their opinion on how to approach it but I think Brian Lisles said it best," added Rahal of his similar approach. "You go out and try to go a little bit quicker each lap. It's definitely a learning experience and will be all about building up your confidence and speed at the same time. Brian told me some good stories about this process with other drivers. For me, racing on an oval is going to be difficult. I am going into it completely blind as to how it will feel to drive on an oval. But people tell me all the time that road course racers often make the best oval drivers. I hope they are right."