Rahal Letterman Racing - Track Talk Chicagoland Speedway
"SWEET HOME CHICAGO" FOR ROOKIE DANICA PATRICK
HILLIARD, Ohio -- Rahal Letterman Racing's rookie phenom Danica Patrick returns home to Chicago this weekend for the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at the Chicagoland Speedway. Patrick will be coming into the two-day race weekend fresh off an impressive performance at a recent Honda test at Chicagoland. The 23-year-old rookie grew up in Roscoe, Illinois a suburb of Rockford which is about an hour from Chicago.
While the Chicagoland race has provided an opportunity for her to enjoy a few days at her parents house in Roscoe, Patrick is attempting to approach this race like any other.
"I put more pressure on myself than anyone else ever could, but I probably want this one a little bit more just because it is closer to home," said Patrick. "But, because it's getting towards the end of the season and I'm hoping to have a few good races to close out the season, I really want to do well this weekend. I feel like I'm learning more, that I am better prepared for the events as we go along. I really am looking at these next few events as laying the ground work for next season."
Patrick, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, will be vying for her highly anticipated first win in just her 15th IndyCar Series start. Of the 21 drivers who took the green flag at Infineon Raceway, 12 have won an IndyCar/Champ Car race, and it took those 12 an average of 33 starts to post their first victory.
"It was good to be able to get on the Chicagoland track before the race," said Patrick. "The only other track I'd ever been on before at all was Milwaukee and that was in Atlantics, so it was quite different. It's nice to have been able to log some laps on track, and I just feel more comfortable going to this weekend from the standpoint of how the car feels, the difference between qualifying and race setup with full fuel, how it feels running in traffic with people around me, and how the first, second, third groove feels on the track. It really gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend knowing what to expect."
Patrick heads to Chicagoland knowing that she has captured the pole position at the last two 1.5-mile tracks the series has run on (Kansas and Kentucky). Her next pole position would allow her to tie the IRL IndyCar Series Rookie Pole record currently held by Tomas Scheckter.
"I don't get too caught up in setting records," said Patrick. "My entire approach this season has been about learning, gaining experience and getting better. If I tie or set rookie records great, but I am much more concerned about ending this season on a high note. The best note I can think of would be to win one of these final three races."
RICE HAS MOMENTUM FROM SECOND PLACE AT INFINEON
Buddy Rice heads to Chicagoland Speedway carrying momentum from his best finish of the 2005 season, a second place result at the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix at Infineon Raceway. Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 winner who holds Chicagoland Speedway's race lap record (224.04 m.p.h.), looks to reverse his 2005 fortunes which has seen him post just a pair of top-five results. A year ago Rice posted three wins and was third in the championship, but it was a late season crash at the at the 1.5-mile oval when he and his No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda Panoz machine landed upside down and slid the entire length of the back straightaway, that finally derailed his title hopes. Rice was uninjured in the mishap, but a few scrapes on his racing helmet brings back the reminder of that nasty accident.
"Last year's race was a little tough to take, to be honest," said Rice. "We led the race for quite awhile and I felt we had a car to win. Then I touched wheels with Darren and I am sliding on my lid down the back-straight. That was not the way to finish that race. I have always like racing at Chicagoland. It has a different character than most of the 1.5-mile tracks. The makeup of the surface gives you a lot of grip and we can run the outside line better. I expect another two or three wide race."
Rice enters the weekend 14th in points with 248.
MEIRA PATIENTLY CHASING HIS FIRST INDYCAR WIN
Vitor Meira, the often overlooked member of the Rahal Letterman Racing driver trio, has been close to victory twice this year (2nd at Indy and Kentucky) and enters this weekend with the potential of his first IRL win.
:I wouldn't say I am frustrated, said Meira who will make his 43rd IndyCar Series start on Sunday, "but I would say I am anxious for that win. We have been so close on several occasions, but something has always gone wrong and kept us from winning. I just have to be patient and drive a smart race. One of these weeks everything will fall into place and that victory will be mine."
Meira, currently seventh in IRL points, is just 16 points outside the Top Five in the championship. Last year at Chicagoland, he made a spectacular outside pass on the last corner to pass Sam Hornish Jr. and Scott Dixon and claim fifth.
"I have always enjoyed racing at Chicagoland," said Meira, last year's Tony Renna Rising Star Award winner. "Yes, it is a basic 1.5-mile oval, but it seems to have a different personality. It is wider than most of the other tracks and the grip level is good everywhere. So you see a lot more drivers using the high groove. I think that is why there have been so many close finishes there. I think there will be another close one this year. I just want to have the front of my car cross the line first this time."
Meira has posted the top-finish for a RLR driver in ten of the 14 races this season.
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTABLES. . .
Vitor Meira has posted the top Rahal Letterman result in ten of the 13 races this season, including the last race at Kentucky. . .The three Rahal Letterman drivers have combined to lead 127 laps this season led by Danica Patrick with 60. RLR cars have led in seven of the 14 races. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won at least one race every season since 1998. That seven year streak is the second longest (Newman Haas) such streak in North American open-wheel racing. . ,Patrick is currently the leader in the Bombardier Rookie of the Year competition. Patrick is vying to become the second RLR driver in the team's history to win Rookie of the Year honors. Kenny Brack captured the CART Rookie of the Year honors in 2000. . .Although she is a rookie, Danica Patrick is actually the senior member of the RLR driving trio in terms of starts with the team. Patrick will make her 44th start for RLR this weekend when she takes the green flag at Chicagoland Speedway, while Buddy Rice will make his 30th RLR start and Vitor Meira his 29th start. Bobby Rahal is the career leader in starts for RLR with 116 starts. . .Buddy Rice needs one win to move into a tie for the all time leader in RLR wins. Bobby Rahal won four times during his championship season of 1992 and Kenny Brack won four times during his 2001 season in which he finished as the runner up. . .After 14 rounds of the 2005 season Vitor Meira (349 points) leads his teammates Danica Patrick (271 points) and Buddy Rice (248 points) in the Hilliard, Ohio Mayor's Cup Standings.