IRL: Richmond: Rahal Letterman Racing Friday report

RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO BATTLES TIGHT RICHMOND OVAL RICHMOND, Va. - The smallest oval on the 17-race IRL IndyCar Series(r) proved to be tough for the three drivers of the Rahal Letterman Racing team in qualifying Friday night at Richmond ...

RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO BATTLES TIGHT RICHMOND OVAL

RICHMOND, Va. - The smallest oval on the 17-race IRL IndyCar Series(r) proved to be tough for the three drivers of the Rahal Letterman Racing team in qualifying Friday night at Richmond International Raceway.

The three-quarters of a mile bullring at the Richmond Fairgrounds annually makes for one of the wildest IndyCar Series races and Saturday night's SunTrust Indy Challenge 250-lap feature will have Buddy Rice starting 14th, Vitor Meira 15th and Danica Patrick 21st when the green flag falls at 7:45 p.m. (EDT). The race will be seen live at ESPN2.

Rice's performance might have showed been the most improvement of any of the 22 drivers in the starting field after an attempt to work with new development parts in practice didn't produce the grip needed in the 90-degree heat Friday.

Rice, driving the No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda/Panoz/Firestone car picked up four-tenths of a second on his qualifying lap for a speed of 170.691 miles per hour and will start outside of row seven Saturday. "We tried some development parts in the practice and it just didn't work very well," said the 2004 Indy 500 champion. "We made some big changes for the second practice and that seemed to help. The car feels much better now and we'll improve it in the warm-up. Starting the middle of the pack isn't the best, but if we can get the car handling well on full tanks, I think we can be good in the race. Fuel mileage always seems to be any issue in these short track races and I believe that will be the case again Saturday night."

Meira, currently fifth in the IRL points, wheeled the No. 17 Team Menard/Johns Manville Honda/Panoz/Firestone machine to 15th at a speed of 169.627 m.p.h.

"Buddy's team made some big changes for qualifying and they paid off," said Meira, who finished second at Richmond last year. "So I think that our Menards/Johns Manville team and Danica's team will go in that direction too. We were going down the wrong direction earlier in the day, but I feel confident about our cars for the race."

Rookie IRL driver Patrick, the focus of another media blitz at this race, had never seen the Richmond oval until Friday morning and the learning curve was steep. Danica drove her No. 16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda/Panoz/Firestone car to a speed of 164.707 m.p.h.

"We are kind of struggling as a team as we are off the pace," said Patrick, currently the rookie leader in points. "We just decided to go for it and get the qualifying part done. We know there are some things we are going to change on the car for the final practice and the race. Buddy had a chance to try those changes and they made a difference. Hopefully everything will be okay. This is obviously the shortest track in the IndyCar Series that I have run. I am new to the track and I have a lot to learn. Every race this year is part of a learning curve. That is what being a rookie is all about."

Sam Hornish Jr. won the pole position at 176.244 m.p.h followed his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Patrick Carpentier and Dario Franchitti.

-rlr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira