McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL RETURNS TO THE MILWAUKEE MILE AFTER STARTING SECOND HERE LAST YEAR: DOORNBOS MAKES HIS DEBUT AT THE TEAM'S HOME TRACK
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (May 29, 2009) --- The legendary Milwaukee Mile is the site of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's (NHLR) most recent victory on an oval and the team hopes to make Sunday's ABC Supply / AJ Foyt 225 the site of their 108th and most recent win overall. NHLR driver Sebastien Bourdais called his 2006 victory here from pole the most memorable of his championship-winning year because of the gains the team had made on that type of track over previous years. McDonald's driver Graham Rahal and Robert Doornbos hope to repeat that sentiment.
In only his third oval race of his career, Graham Rahal, then 19, qualified second to Marco Andretti here last year by a slim deficit of 2/10ths-of-a-second over a four lap average and started second. With one year of experience in the IndyCar Series Rahal feels he and the team can be even stronger.
"Milwaukee last year was a great event for us,' said Rahal, who became the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history in St. Petersburg this year and also started from pole on the oval in Kansas two races ago. "We were fast right away and the car felt really good and we were really happy with it. I didn't really think we would have a shot at pole but it felt pretty good and it was nice to earn what was my best start all season. It was very close and I think that this year we should have an even better shot at running up front at the Milwaukee Mile. Losing pole by 2/10ths of a second over four laps is nothing and I think we should be strong again."
Unfortunately Rahal was unable to maximize the potential of his fast race car after running between second and fourth place until Lap 130 of 225 when his strong run came to an end. While attempting to lap the slower car of Darren Manning, he drove over "marbles" and lost control of his race car and hit the wall. He subsequently retired in 25th place but both he and the team hope to put the experience they have gained since then to use and finish strong.
"Last year in the race I got a little bit impatient trying to pass Darren Manning on the outside and it bit me," said Rahal. "I know when I go back there, and from here on out, that certainly won't be the case and we're going to make sure that we make it to the end. Our car was very good so it was very disappointing. Both myself and the team have learned quite a lot since last year. At the same time we haven't really tested or raced on a short oval since so it's a bit of an unknown how competitive we will be until we get there. Our race car was very good last year so we should be right up to pace. Is it possible for us to win this year? It is, without a doubt. I expect no less than that. I expect that we can run up front and I certainly think it's possible for the McDonald's team to be a contender."
The 2009 event at the Milwaukee Mile will mark the 26th time for NHLR to compete here in their 27th season. Due to the track being located only one hour from the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based race shop, in addition to team co-owner, Carl Haas' role as the promoter of racing events here from 1992 to 2003, the event is considered the team's home race. IndyCar Series rookie Robert Doornbos, 27, utilized the proximity to the race shop and spent some quality time in the area following last Sunday's Indy 500.
"The team is obviously based very close to the track so I visited the guys at the race shop and also look forward to having the shop-based people at the track supporting us," said Doornbos. "Hopefully that will give us the extra bit of competitiveness which we can use to beat everyone and get a successful result. I've been spending my time chilling out in Chicago and I went to see the boys at the race shop and did some fitness training and sightseeing in Chicago. I'm looking forward arriving to the Milwaukee Mile on Friday and getting back to work."
The team's previous win here in 2006 was their 94th overall. Since then they have earned 13 more for a total of 107 with those wins having come on road and street courses which made up the majority of the Champ Car series. Of the 13 remaining tracks the team will compete on the remainder of the season, Doornbos has only competed on two. But if his oval racing debut at Kansas Speedway was any indication, he should be able to get up to speed quickly at every course.
"I'm looking forward to racing in Milwaukee very much," said Doornbos. "Hopefully it's going to be as good as Kansas was for us so we can just pick up where we left off and be competitive. I don't know much about the track. I've never been there as will be the case with all of the circuits I will race on the rest of the season except Toronto and Edmonton. They will all be new so it's quite a new adventure."
In his oval debut in Kansas, Doornbos qualified second to Rahal and led two laps after the first round of stops before a pit penalty from hitting Rahal's tire dropped him to the back. He was able to recover and finish 12th although he and the team hoped for more. Ironically the previous time the team started 1-2 in a race was here at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006 when Bourdais and then-teammate Bruno Junqueira qualified 1-2, in what was the team's first pole here in 21 years and second overall. The race was not without drama though as Bourdais overcame a punctured tire, which put him one lap down, to bring the team its first win here in 10 years. A win at "home" would not only be the perfect reward for all of the hard work and dedication the team has shown since their transition to the predominantly-oval IndyCar Series, it would also be evidence of the gains made on this these types of tracks.
This weekend's ABC Supply / A.J. Foyt 225 can be seen live Sunday, June 1 on ABC, beginning at 3:30 p.m. EDT. The event will get underway with a half-hour rookie practice, followed by practice and qualifying on Saturday and the 225 lap race on Sunday. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the official website of the IndyCar Series, www.indycar.com. It will also be broadcast live on IMS Radio Network, XM Radio 145 and Sirius 211.