IRL: Watkins Glen: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING GETS BACK TO ITS ROOTS WITH WEEKEND TRIP TO WATKINS GLEN HILLIARD, Ohio - Scott Sharp ( ...

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING GETS BACK TO ITS ROOTS WITH WEEKEND TRIP TO WATKINS GLEN

HILLIARD, Ohio - Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and Jeff Simmons (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) each carry long and celebrated road-racing backgrounds despite the fact that they now compete fiercely in the IndyCar Series, which was created as an all-oval series 11 years ago. The recent change in the series' philosophy has played into the hands of not only the aforementioned drivers, but those of the entire Rahal Letterman Racing organization, as the Ohio-based team built its glittering legacy primarily on the road courses of the world.

The drivers will get to return to their roots this weekend, as will the rest of the RLR organization, as the IndyCar Series heads to one of the most fabled road courses in the United States - Watkins Glen International - for Sunday's Camping World Watkins Glen Grand Prix.

"I'm very excited to return to the Glen with the Patron Rahal Letterman Team," Sharp said. "My second race ever was at Watkins Glen, which I won. It's a track that I've had a lot of success at and enjoy the heritage of the circuit. The high speed, flowing corners are like no other in North America!"

Sharp has done well in his previous two IndyCar starts at the New York track, scoring a pair of top-10 finishes despite not having much success in qualifying. He came from 14th to finish ninth last season and gained nine spots from his grid position to place ninth in the inaugural event in 2005. Sharp has been one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit in recent weeks, stringing together five consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time since 2002-03. Dario Franchitti and Vitor Meira are the only other drivers in the series with a current streak that can match that of Sharp over the last five events.

Simmons is looking to rebound from a costly Richmond visit, where his Lap 155 accident dropped him to 15th in the point standings. The Connecticut native returns to the Glen this year, looking to atone for last year's misfortune, where he was involved in an accident on Lap 18 that left him 19th in the final order. Watkins Glen is a track where Simmons has had his own measure of success, with wins in a number of different formula. He led the first lap of his IndyCar career there in 2006, won there in 2005 in the Indy Pro Series and also won the SCCA Formula 2000 event there in 1997. The SCCA win propelled him in to the U.S. Pro Formula 2000 ranks that year, where his best finish in his three events that year was a fifth-place run at Watkins Glen.

"Watkins Glen is one of the most picturesque road courses in the country and one that I'm very familiar with," Simmons said. "Every time I go back it's like I'm coming back to an old friend. I probably have more miles there than just about any track in the country so I hope to have a very productive weekend and get Team Ethanol back on track for a strong finish to the season. A top-five is our goal and nothing less is expected."

The 10th race on the 2007 IndyCar schedule will take place Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time and can be seen live on ABC. The Indy Cars will kick things off on Friday with two practice sessions, while Saturday will see cars on-track for 30 minutes each before qualifying. The run for the AAMCO Transmissions Pole will take place at 1:30 p.m. local time on Saturday and fans can follow all of the action via the timing and scoring feature on www.indycar.com.

Rahal Letterman Racing Watkins Glen Notes:

This will be the third time that the Indy Cars will compete at Watkins Glen International. The 3.4-mile road course has played host to many of the legends of motorsport dating back to its time with Formula 1, Champ Car and a number of top road-racing series such as IMSA and Trans-Am. The Indy Cars came to Watkins Glen in 2005. Scott Dixon has won both IndyCar races to be held on the track.

Scott Sharp broke a league record with his polewinning performance in Texas, snapping an 87-race streak between pole positions. The pole was the sixth of Sharp's career and his first since the Kentucky event in 2001. Sharp will make his 138th IndyCar Series start, the most in league history. Sharp expects to make his 131st consecutive start which is also a IndyCar Series record. His 78 top-10 finishes are also a league record, three more than the 75 put up by Sam Hornish Jr.. He has finished all but 13 of the 1,819 laps of competition run this season, which is second only to points leader Dario Franchitti in the series. Sharp is just $82,187 away from reaching the $10 million mark in winnings in his IndyCar career.

Jeff Simmons will make his 24th IndyCar Series start this weekend. He made his first IndyCar trip to Watkins Glen last season, qualifying 13th and finishing 19th after a Lap 18 accident. Simmons has led six laps of competition to date this season, setting a new career high-water mark. He has finished in the top 10 in four of the last six events as he continues to fight for a berth in the top 10 in the championship standings.

Team Facts - RLR has competed in both of the IndyCar Series events to take place at Watkins Glen since the series stepped up its road-course presence in the last two seasons. The team struggled in its first trip to Watkins Glen in 2005, but rebounded strongly last season as Buddy Rice came from 11th on the starting grid to finish fourth while Danica Patrick gained eight spots from her starting position to place eighth. RLR's last win came at Michigan August 1, 2004 (Buddy Rice). The team's current winless streak stands at 45 races. Both Sharp and Simmons have led laps this season through the year's halfway point. Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 30 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. Of Rahal Letterman Racing's 19 wins only five have come on a permanent road course, the last of those being Michel Jourdain Jr.'s 2003 Champ Car victory at Montreal's Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Of Rahal Letterman Racing's 30 pole positions, nine have come on permanent road courses, the most recent being Danica Patrick's 2004 pole at Portland, which came in Toyota Atlantic competition. In 73 IndyCar Series races RLR has captured 10 pole positions, won three times, collected 15 podium results (top-three) and 34 top-five finishes while leading 678 laps.

-credit: rlr

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