1 WIN, 2 POLES & 2 PODIUMS IN THREE RACES IN ST. PETERSBURG FOR TEAM This will be the team's FOURTH race here. They first competed in the Champ Car race here in 2003 with then-rookie Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira. Bourdais won the pole...
1 WIN, 2 POLES & 2 PODIUMS IN THREE RACES IN ST. PETERSBURG FOR TEAM
This will be the team's FOURTH race here. They first competed in the Champ Car race here in 2003 with then-rookie Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira. Bourdais won the pole position in his Champ car debut and became the first driver to accomplish the feat since Nigel Mansell won the pole for the '93 Australian event -- also while driving for NHR. He led 30 laps and became the first driver in the 25 year history of series to lead the first laps of his inaugural Champ car race. He also set the fastest race lap but he put too much pressure on himself to get back to the front after the team pit him out of sequence and contact ended his race. Junqueira was 2nd fast in prov. qualifying on Friday but his fastest lap in final qualifying (possible 3rd) was not allowed because he brought out a red flag when he spun and stopped on course.
More red flags resulted in a seventh place start and he dropped to 14th in the race due an air hose problem in the pits but charged back to a 3rd place finish...Justin Wilson started third here in 2008 but alternate pit strategy in a rain-soaked event dropped him to a 9th place finish while Graham Rahal started ninth and became the youngest winner in series history in his debut after holding off Castroneves and Kanaan for two restarts to win by a 3.5-second margin...In 2009, Rahal ran the fastest lap times on Friday and Saturday on the streets of St. Pete to become the youngest pole winner in series history at 20 years, 90 days old. As the field entered the wide Turn 1 at the start of the race, second place starter Justin Wilson pulled slightly ahead on Rahal's left while fifth place starter Dario Franchitti made a daring move on his right heading into the right hander. Rahal was not only squeezed in the process, he was hit from behind by Tony Kanaan which spun him sideways and into the grass. He dropped to the rear of the field but rebounded to finish seventh. Robert Doornbos qualified 13th, ran as high as fifth place but finished 11th after having to pit to repair damage from contact while alongside Wheldon for a pass.
HISTORY MAKING POLE IN HIS DEBUT LAST YEAR AT THE HONDA GP OF ST. PETE
Race engineer Martin Pare made his racing debut with NHLR last year as Graham Rahal's engineer. He discussed the feeling of earning a history-making pole in the season-opening round in St. Petersburg as well as other topics below. "I do go to every weekend hoping to be on pole and winning but I didn't expect it. We had a good test at Sebring prior to the event. Winning pole felt pretty good for about 1.5 minutes then you start thinking about the next day and the race coming!"
HOW MUCH OF THE 2009 DATA WILL RELATE TO 2010 AND A DIFFERENT DRIVER?
Pare and company will begin with the pole-winning 2009 setup as a baseline on Friday and gradually work in changes. "We are going to base ourselves on how we ran last year to start. It's never perfect so we will have a plan to try to improve upon. I know Hideki likes similar things to what Graham liked last year but what isn't clear yet is the tolerance level of one versus the other. What was a 2/5 issue last year is now a 2/5 or a 3.5 or a 0.5. The major aspect of the car set-up will be the same as what we used last year. We will incorporate what we think are for sure improvements, made over the winter and tested so far. From the driver stand point we are fortunate in that Hideki seems to like the same characteristics as Graham did last year."
WHAT MAKES A CAR FAST AROUND THE ST. PETE COURSE?
"We focus on finding mechanical grip," said Pare. "St. Pete, and most North American street circuits, require as much down force as the car will produce. With the aero grip set, as much as we have basically, we are thus left to optimize mechanical grip: wheel alignment, spring rates and damper characteristics."
IMPACT OF THE REVERSE GEAR IN BRAZIL AND ELSEWHERE & OTHER OBSERVATIONS
"The reverse gear is only one aspect of getting a car going after an off-track excursion," said Pare. "The engine still has to be running and if you stall you are no better than before. Not having fuel mixtures makes fuel saving more costly lap-time-wise so in the end that might be good for racing. Only having 15 minutes for Round 1 of qualifying in Brazil was challenging because it was a long track. You couldn't do two proper runs with a change in between."J
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE "RUN PLAN" FOR A 2-DAY& 3-DAY STREET EVENT
The season-opening, inaugural Sao Paulo Indy 300 street event was only a two-day event and this was challenging for all drivers and teams. Pare comments on the differences in the "run plan" for two-day events versus 3-day events. "There isn't that much flexibility in the run plan generally because there is more track time than tires available since we have a set amount. Going to a more familiar event, the preparation can be more detail oriented although from year to year there are always some differences in the track."
HIGHER EXPECTATIONS DUE TO PAST PERFORMANCE?
"We would like to make it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying for sure," admitted Pare. "Every year the field gets stronger. In Brazil we were off by approximately 0.5 sec to the fastest in our first group and that landed us in 14th place. It will be a great challenge but that's why we do this!"
NHR / NHLR ON ROAD AND STREET COURSES
Since being formed by Carl Haas and Paul Newman in the fall of 1982, the team has earned a total of 107 wins and 109 pole positions. Eighty of their 107 wins and 90 of their 109 poles came on road and street courses. The team's previous win on a road/street course was in Detroit by Justin Wilson on 8-31-08. Their previous pole on a road/street course was in the St. Pete season opener last year by Graham Rahal (4-4-09). Nine of the 17 races on the 2010 schedule are on road and street courses.
Hideki Mutoh, driver of the No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic Dallara-Honda-Firestone entry:
HIDEKI IN ST. PETE
This will be his third race here and his second event with the team after having driven for Andretti Green Racing, co-owned by former NHR driver Michael Andretti, for the past two seasons. In 2008, he started 14th and finished sixth and started 19th and retired in 15th in 2009 after contact between Wheldon & Doornbos that collected Mutoh.
MORE CONFIDENCE & MORE PRESSURE DUE TO TEAM'S PAST SUCCESS HERE
In addition to entering the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend with confidence based on the team's past performance here, Hideki also admits there is more pressure. "The team has done very well in St. Petersburg. For sure I am more confident in having a good weekend because of this but at the same time I have more pressure too because the team knows their car is fast and I know it is fast too. There is both confidence and pressure going into the weekend. Based on what the team has told me, I think my driving style and how I like my car to react is similar to what Graham liked. My style is pretty easy to adapt to the team's setup. I have no complaints and know we can have a good setup for the Formula Dream / Panasonic car.
"You can always learn from each event and improve.JThe more the team and I work together, the easier it becomes to understand each other and improve on results. I'm much happier that this is a three day weekend than the two days we had in Brazil. Usually we have three day events and it is a more comfortable pace. Two days was a little too tight especially since we qualified and raced on the same day in Brazil. It will be good to have a three day weekend in St. Pete. I'm looking forward to returning there."
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2009 HERE?
"Last year on the last restart I was side by side with the No. 06 car (then driven by Robert Doornbos) into Turn 4. I turned from the outside and unfortunately Dan Wheldon was stopped on the outside of the exit of Turn 4 so I had no choice to go right or left and crashed into to him.J
ABOUT THE "FUN" COURSE
"The promoters have always done such a great job with the track every year and I just like to race in St. Petersburg. It's nice and flat and the track is almost like a road course. It's fun to drive. To have a fast car around St. Pete, traction is very important. At the exit of the last corner, you need to have very good traction.J
HIDEKI CONSIDERS STREET COURSES HIS FAVORITE TYPE OF VENUE
His highest IZOD IndyCar Series start on a road/street course is FIFTH at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma in 2009 and best series road/street course finish is FIFTH at Mid-Ohio and Infineon (both 2009)...His highest overall series start is THIRD at Nashville Speedway (oval) and best overall series finish is SECOND (Iowa 2008).