IRL: Chicagoland: Rahal Letterman Racing race report

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING WRAPS INDYCAR SEASON WITH PAIR OF TOP-SEVEN FINISHES JOLIET, IL - Rahal Letterman Racing wrapped up the 2007 IndyCar Series season in strong style on a sunny Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, with the veteran Scott Sharp (...

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING WRAPS INDYCAR SEASON WITH PAIR OF TOP-SEVEN FINISHES

JOLIET, IL - Rahal Letterman Racing wrapped up the 2007 IndyCar Series season in strong style on a sunny Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, with the veteran Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) scoring his third top-five finish of the season in leading a pair of top-seven finishes for the Hilliard, Ohio-based team.

Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) earned his third top-seven result in his six starts, coming home in the seventh spot to wrap up the Bombardier Learjet Rookie-of-the-Year title, setting a series record for the fewest number of starts by the winner of the IndyCar Series' top rookie honor.

Sharp scored the best result of his seven previous Chicagoland events with a fifth-place finish, solidifying the eighth position in the final championship standings.

"It was a really good day for the Patron Rahal Letterman Racing team," Sharp said. "The car was very well balanced in traffic and that's what you need at this place. The guys gave me great pit stops all day, the car was good in the draft and the guys on the radio did a nice job getting me through some tough spots. The last set of tires were perfect and really helped us stay up front."

Sharp started from the 11th spot with Hunter-Reay alongside in 12th, and both drivers wasted no time marching forward. The RLR duo each gained a pair of spots in the first 18 orbits of the 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval, then inherited another two more when Marco Andretti crashed and Tomas Scheckter had wheel problems on Lap 35.

The subsequent pit stops helped write a script that saw Sharp and Danica Patrick battle each other for most of the rest of the 200-lap race, with both drivers running nose-to-tail for the next 100 laps. Meanwhile Hunter-Reay had a war of his own to fight, battling over the same time frame to stay in the top 10.

Those skirmishes continued through two rounds of green-flag pit stops, but a Vitor Meira crash on Lap 135 scrambled things like a breakfast order of eggs. The resulting caution and lengthy delay to repair the SAFER Barrier ended up dropping Hunter-Reay a lap down and knocked Sharp back to eighth when the race restarted with 48 laps to go.

Undaunted, the duo put their heads down and started digging their way back to the front. Sharp moved up to seventh and then sixth with 20 laps to go, with the entire field needing to pit for a fuel to make it to the end of the event. Sharp pitted for a splash of Ethanol and did not change his Firestone Firehawks, stretching the life of the tires over the final laps.

The RLR team that had seen a number of bad breaks go its way over the last two races finally caught one nine laps later when Patrick spun on Pit Lane, bringing out a final caution flag. The stoppage moved Sharp up to fifth on the final restart and promoted Hunter-Reay to seventh, where they would finish two laps later. The result was the 10th top-ten result for Sharp on the year and also sealed the Rookie-of-the-Year crown for Hunter-Reay, whose only complaint on the day was that his beloved Miami Dolphins fell in overtime in the NFL season opener.

"Seventh is a solid result for us to end the season on. It was a wild day our there and I think we got the best possible result we could for what we went through today," Hunter-Reay grinned. "This makes up for some of the tough breaks we've gotten in the last couple of races. We accomplished more in six races than I ever thought would be possible when I joined the team. This is a great team, with a bright future. I see the Rookie-of-the-Year award as not so much a great honor for me, but more as a symbol of what we accomplished as a team this season."

The eighth-place finish in the championship in the best in the last two seasons for RLR, while Hunter-Reay's Rookie-of-the-Year award makes RLR the only team in series history to have two drivers win top rookie honors.

-credit: rlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Scott Sharp , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Marco Andretti , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira