IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-03-16

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- March 16, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. Sneak Peak 2006: Rahal Letterman Racing hopes to regain form: 2. Dolphins standout named Grand Marshal for Toyota Indy 300 3. Luyendyk takes to streets of St.

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- March 16, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Sneak Peak 2006: Rahal Letterman Racing hopes to regain form:
2. Dolphins standout named Grand Marshal for Toyota Indy 300
3. Luyendyk takes to streets of St. Petersburg
4. Sharp visits Place of Hope

1. Sneak Peak 2006: Rahal Letterman Racing hopes to regain form: After an up-and-down 2005, Rahal Letterman Racing hopes to regain its championship contending form this season.

2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice and 2005 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick return to the Hilliard, Ohio-based team with Bombardier Rookie of the Year candidate Paul Dana and sponsorship from Team Ethanol joining this season.

"Everyone is optimistic prior to the first race of the season, but I think there are a number of positives as we head into the 2006 season," team co-owner Bobby Rahal said. "I expect Buddy to recapture the form that made him a title contender in 2004 and I expect Danica will take another big step forward. There are a lot of expectations that are placed on her by the media and the fans, but the amazing thing is those expectations are less than she places on herself. Paul will be trying to make up for the lack of experience in the IndyCar Series. My charge to him will be the same as any rookie driver. Finish races and maximize your experience. The more laps you turn, the better prepared you will be for the next race."

Rice, who won three races in 2004, couldn't find Victory Lane last year and struggled with numerous mechanical failures. Though he recorded a pair of top-three finishes last season, he is ready to turn the page.

"I was never happier to see a season end than I was last year," Rice said. "I was really frustrated by the tough run of luck we had last season, but a few months away from the daily grind, and I am ready to go. I feel like we can return to the form that made us a championship contender in 2004."

Patrick, meanwhile, enters the year trying to maintain the momentum of her successful rookie campaign, which included a rookie-record three pole positions and fourth place finishes at Twin Ring Motegi and Indianapolis.

"When I look back on last season, it is hard not to get excited for this year," she said. "We had a great season, winning three pole positions and leading several races. I asked myself what is the next step, and logically, I know it is winning races. That said, Homestead will only be my 18th IndyCar Series start. The stat came out last season that it took on the average 33 starts for a driver to win their first IndyCar race. I won't make my 33rd start until next season. All I can say is that nobody wants me to win more than I do."

Dana, who began 2005 as one of Patrick's rivals for Bombardier Rookie of the Year, saw his promising season cut short by a back injury sustained in a crash while practicing for the Indianapolis 500. The graduate of the Indy Pro Series returns in 2006 with confidence after moving to a top-line team.

"It is literally a dream come true to be driving for Rahal Letterman Racing," he said. "As a young driver, you dream about an opportunity like this with a championship caliber team. I am certainly behind my teammates in terms of experience, but even though I didn't run a lot of laps last season, I did log a lot of time in the pits, and I learned a lot of things just by watching. I am really excited for the first race and to get my second rookie season underway."

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING
Car numbers: 15 (Rice), 16 (Patrick), 17 (Dana)
Chassis/engine/tire: Panoz/Honda/Firestone
Drivers: Paul Dana, 30, of St. Louis, Danica Patrick, 23, of Roscoe, Ill., and Buddy Rice, 30, of Phoenix.
Race engineers: Jeff Britton (Rice), Ray Leto (Patrick), Al Bodey (Dana)
Chief mechanic: Ricardo Nault (Rice), Ed Daood (Patrick), Jim Prescott (Dana)
Chief Operating Officer: Scott Roembke
Team manager: Steve Dickson

2. Dolphins standout named Grand Marshal for Toyota Indy 300: Miami Dolphins star Jason Taylor has been named Grand Marshal for the March 26 Toyota Indy 300 presented by XM Satellite Radio at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The standout defensive end will give the command to start engines to the stars of the IndyCar® Series for the opening race of the 2006 season. After the race, he will present the winner's trophy in Victory Lane.

"I'm thrilled to serve as Grand Marshal for the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway," said Taylor. "To have the opportunity to witness some of the best drivers on the planet race side-by-side at over 220 mph in my own backyard is certainly one of the most exciting parts of being associated with a great company like Toyota."

Taylor's blue-collar work ethic endears him to the Dolphins' faithful. The nine-year veteran has started 98 consecutive regular-season games. He led the Dolphins in 2005 with 12 sacks, and he ranks third in the NFL in sacks among active players. He is the Dolphins all-time leader in sacks with 92.5.

He also ranked third on the 2005 team in tackles with 77, which is unusual for a defensive lineman. Only linebackers Zach Thomas and Channing Crowder recorded more stops in 2005. Taylor also ranked seventh on the Dolphins' roster in scoring -- he returned a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown and registered a safety.

3. Luyendyk takes to streets of St. Petersburg: Indy Pro Series driver Arie Luyendyk Jr., will give residents of St. Petersburg a preview of the upcoming Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 17.

Luyendyk, who will drive the No. 25 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Dallara in the Miami 100, will drive select VIPs around town in a gas-powered, two-seat IndyCar Series machine.

Among his stops will be BrightHouse Networks Field, the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the St. Pete Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

4. Sharp visits Place of Hope: IndyCar Series veteran Scott Sharp faced some of his toughest competition ever during a visit to the Palm Beach Garden (Fla.) Paxon campus of Place of Hope on March 15.

Sharp challenged some of the children to race in side-by-side IndyCar Challenge Simulators equipped with the IndyCar Series 2005 game by Codemasters for Xbox.

Place of Hope is a non-profit community organization and a unique faith-based, state-licensed child welfare organization providing family-style residential care with hope and healing opportunities. It is in its fifth year caring for abused and neglected children in Palm Beach County.

"I just feel fortunate that I am so blessed in my life to be able give back," said Sharp, a Jupiter, Fla., resident who also signed autographs and posed for photographs. "I had looked around for a while for something that I could become involved with and was introduced to the tremendous organization that is Place of Hope.

"It is because of this organization that when kids enter this unique foster care program, they can go into a warm and loving environment right from the start. I intend to become more involved with Place of Hope and their mission by becoming a mentor to one of these exceptional children."

Correction: In the March 14 edition of the notebook, it was incorrectly reported that Troy Hanson had passed his Indy Pro Series rookie test. Hanson only has been cleared to compete in the road/street events in the series. We regret the error.

***

The IRL IndyCar Series opens the 2006 season with the Toyota Indy 300 at 3:30 p.m. (EST) on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The IMS Radio Network broadcast is also carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition opens with the Miami 100 at 12:30 p.m. on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast at 1 p.m. on March 31 by ESPN2.

-irl-

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Series INDYCAR , INDYLIGHTS