IRL: Richmond: Patrick Racing race report

Patrick Racing Finishes 21st At SunTrust Indy Challenge RICHMOND, VIRIGINA - SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2004 -- Patrick Racing finished 21st last night at the SunTrust Indy Challenge on the .75 mile banked Richmond International Speedway tri-oval in ...

Patrick Racing Finishes 21st At SunTrust Indy Challenge

RICHMOND, VIRIGINA - SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2004 -- Patrick Racing finished 21st last night at the SunTrust Indy Challenge on the .75 mile banked Richmond International Speedway tri-oval in Richmond, Virginia.

Driver Al Unser Jr., behind the wheel of the #20 Patrick Racing Chevrolet/Dallara/Firestone entry, with associate sponsorship from Stacker 2, started 22nd and got as high as 17th before retiring on lap 119 of the 250-lap contest in 21st. position.

From the beginning of the weekend Patrick Racing faced an uphill battle. The team arrived in Richmond with a new race engineer, Tim Neff, who was hired just 10 days ago. Given the unfamiliarity between the driver and the engineer the ideal situation would have been to have as much track time as possible to get to know each other and work with the car. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. The Richmond race was a two-day event, which automatically meant less time on the track and less time to analyze data together. To complicate matters further, both the weather and a mechanical problem conspired to cut the scheduled practice time in half. Finally, the mechanical problem forced the team to change the engine. IRL IndyCar Series rules require teams that change engines during two-day events start the race from the back of the field.

Even with the situation not at the optimum the Patrick Racing team worked diligently to put the best car possible on the track. By Saturday afternoon's 30-minute warm-up session their efforts seemed to be paying dividends. Unser Jr. turned in his fastest time of the weekend during the warm-up running a quick lap of 16.7904 seconds (160.806 mph). The time still left him 22nd on the speed charts, however it cut the differential to the lead car almost in half.

The improvement on Saturday afternoon led to a more confident team and a belief that the car could be competitive. At the start of the race that appeared to be the case as Unser Jr. moved from 22nd to 19th on the opening lap. However, it quickly became apparent that Patrick Racing did not have the speed to content with the majority of the field. Unser moved into 18th place on lap #10 when Alex Barron crashed bringing out the first yellow flag of the race, which saved Patrick Racing from being lapped. The team picked up one more spot on lap #15 when teams at the back of the field began to pit out of sequence in a strategy move designed to gain track position latter in the race (in fact eventually winner Dan

Wheldon, who started 20th pitted during this yellow). Patrick Racing came in for their first stop during the first yellow on lap #18, which dropped them back into 21st position. Unser Jr. bounced between 21st and 20th over the next 20 laps, but it was obvious the car lacked speed. Unser Jr. and the Patrick Racing crew tried to fight their way through the difficulty, pitting two more times to make adjustments, but by lap 119 the decision was made to retire from the race.

"The Chevrolet engine was great and the Firestone tires were consistent throughout the race. We just didn't have the speed," Unser Jr. said. "We were a moving chicane out there and we didn't want to disrupt the race or become a hazard. That is not the way we race, so I brought the car in," he explained.

This was Unser Jr's lowest starting and finishing position in four races at Richmond. In his three previous contests at Richmond, Unser Jr. finished in the top-10 all three times including two top-five finishes with one podium, a third place showing in 2001 His best qualifying position at RIS is 11th also in 2001.

Unser Jr., who is in his 22nd season of open wheel racing, fifth in the IRL and first with Patrick Racing, made his 327th career open wheel start, 54th in the IRL and third for Patrick Racing last night. The native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has amassed a total of 34 career wins (31 in CART and three in the IRL) including wins at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992 and 1994 and national championships in 1990 and 1994.

Patrick Racing, which is in its 32nd year of competition, and first in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, made its third start of the 2004 season last night. In the first three races it contested in 2004, the team finished 17th at the Indianapolis 500, 11th at the Bombardier 500K at Texas Motor Speedway and now 21st at Richmond.

Patrick Racing is one of the most successful teams in open wheel racing history. Patrick drivers have started 790 races, won two national championships (Gordon Johncock - 1979; Emerson Fittipaldi - 1989) and taken the checkered flag 45 times, including three at the Indianapolis 500 (Johncock - 1973 and1982; Fittipaldi - 1989). Patrick Racing is owned and led by one of the most respected names in motor sports, U. E. "Pat" Patrick. Patrick is the "father" of the Indy Lights Championship and the co-founder of CART.

Next up for Patrick Racing is the Kansas Indy 300, Sunday, July 4 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas. The race will be televised live on ABC at 12:30 p.m. (EDT).

-pr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Alex Barron , Emerson Fittipaldi , Gordon Johncock