IRL: Rahal Letterman Racing looks for 2nd Indy win

IRL: Rahal Letterman Racing looks for 2nd Indy win

Very new to the Indy Racing League and its IndyCar Series in 2004, not much was expected from Rahal Letterman Racing as they entered the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Buddy Rice with his car and the Borg-Warner Trophy. Photo by...

Very new to the Indy Racing League and its IndyCar Series in 2004, not much was expected from Rahal Letterman Racing as they entered the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Buddy Rice with his car and the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
During that month of May, the team comprised of castaways Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira and Roger Yasukawa pretty much flew under the radar, for the most part not making the bid for fastest lap during each day's practice "happy hour". They quietly went about their program and showed their hands when it counted, MBNA Pole Day and Race Day.

Rice went on to win the shorted (180 laps) race in his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone racer, Meira took sixth and Yasukawa was tenth. And that was the end of the team's being able to snooker the competition into thinking they could roust Rahal Letterman Racing on any given weekend. It simply didn't happen.

This year the team with Rice, Meira and rookie Danica Patrick has no chance of being ignored, particularly with Patrick high atop the speed chart most any day she's on-track in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda.

Not quite a novelty anymore, Patrick has shown her ability to graduate well from smaller formulae and compete on an even playing field with seasoned veterans.

"This is the fastest I've ever gone" in an open wheel racer, Patrick explained. While her goals for this season haven't really changed - the objective is to finish each of the 17 contests - the bar has moved forward, she confirmed. "I'm looking to finish in the top ten all the time and have good qualifying results on each track we go to."

Rahal Letterman Racing press conference: Vitor Meira, Bobby Rahal, Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
That determination carries over to her teammates. Despite having an accident Wednesday morning that will force the reigning Indy 500 champion to sit out the first weekend of time trials, Buddy Rice is determined not to let the situation get him down.

"I'm feeling okay," Rice admitted. "I spoke with Dr. [Henry] Bock and Dr. [Terry] Trammell yesterday and will get together with them later today" to discuss different scenarios. "I'm ready to go; I just want to get back in there. The back doesn't feel that bad," he said of the severe bruise he sustained in the 100g+ Turn 2 crash.

Rice also suffered a mild concussion despite not losing consciousness in the incident but remarked, "I had lots of concussions when I was a kid (playing baseball) and this wasn't a big one at all."

Meira understood the results posted by this team in 2004 "opened a lot of eyes. We're getting closer to where we want to be for this race; in fact we're almost there. I don't want to be comfortable in the car fror qualifying; rather it should be right on the edge. I think," the Brazilian intimated, "you'll see a Pole speed somewhere between 226-227mph on Saturday."

Going into today's Fast Friday activities and MBNA Pole Day tomorrow, Meira stands fifth in the combined, four-day results with a speed of 227.037mph in his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda.

For his part, team co-owner Bobby Rahal, winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500 believes his team is "strong enough" to overcome the incident with Rice and the media glare that hovers over Patrick. "I feel bad for Buddy but it doesn't mean he can't win from 23rd (should Rice be barred from qualifying this weekend, as the League has indicated he will). It's a shame he can't get Pole again, though."

The new qualifying format, where 11 cars are locked in for the first three days with bumping allowed throughout, Rahal thinks the new format may be "more interesting but it makes for a long day because you could be bumped. This format," Rahal continued, "may be a bit more fair than the old system but it's all part of the game. It's important not to get ahead of ourselves at this place."

Rice agreed the new format should be "more exciting. It's different from when you had 40-plus cars trying to make the field. You can't just kill time under these rules. You still have to get a proper time to make the field.

"I know we have one of the best crews in the business here - we did win the Checkers/Rally's Pit Crew Contest last year so I think we'll be fine." Still unsure of what caused his Wednesday shunt Rice will have the opportunity to inspect data later today. "We'll sort it out today: it could be driver error, a mechanical issue or the weather but we just don't know yet."

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Series INDYCAR