RAHAL EARNS POLE FOR LIBERTY CHALLENGE IN SERIES DEBUT
INDIANAPOLIS (Friday, June 30, 2006) -- Put Graham Rahal in a race car, and he will be fast. The 17-year-old earned the pole position for his Indy Racing League Indy Pro Series^Ù debut -- the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 1.
Rahal will be the youngest starter in the history of the Indy Racing League when he takes the green flag for the 25-lap event on the inside of Row 1. Rahal lapped the 13-turn, 2.605-mile circuit in 1 minute, 25.5810 seconds, 109.580 mph in the No. 42 Kenn Hardley Racing entry.
"It's just a (practice), and here we are and the team has done a great job," said Rahal, who is the sixth driver to win the pole in his/her Indy Pro Series debut. "We're struggling quite a bit with the setup but that could be a lot of track, and for me, it could just be the way the car is. I haven't had that much time in it. Certainly, we're working hard this evening. We hope to get a better car for tomorrow. If we can take off in the beginning and fight at the end, that's the best way to go at it."
The pole is the second consecutive for Kenn Hardley Racing, which started on the point with Bobby Wilson at Watkins Glen International on June 4. Wilson, who went on to win that event, will start fourth in the Liberty Challenge.
Alex Lloyd, driver of the No. 26 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., entry, will start second after lapping the circuit in 1:25.6590, 109.481 mph. Lloyd also started second on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and on the road course at Watkins Glen.
"I had no idea what position I was in before I came in so I was surprised to be as close as we were, but I wasn't feeling that comfortable in the car," Lloyd said. "But we're on the front row, and that's obviously important because it's a short race, at least in comparison to what we are used to. So it is good to be in the front and to try to break away -- the two of us -- and stay out of trouble."
Raphael Matos, winner of both races at St. Petersburg, will start third while series point leader Jay Howard will start fifth. Reigning series champion Wade Cunningham will start sixth.
LIBERTY CHALLENGE PRACTICE/QUALIFYING NOTES:
Rahal is the sixth driver to win the pole position in his Indy Pro Series debut. The others are A.J. Foyt IV (Kansas 2002), Thiago Medeiros (Homestead 2003), Marco Andretti (St. Petersburg 2005), Sarah McCune (Chicagoland 2005) and Raphael Matos (St. Petersburg 2006).
Rahal could become the sixth driver to win his debut race. Drivers who have won their first Indy Pro Series start are Foyt, Mark Taylor (Homestead 2003), Phil Giebler (Homestead 2004), Andretti and Matos.
Rahal becomes the youngest starter in the 11-year history of the Indy Racing League. The previous youngest starter in league history was A.J. Foyt IV when he was 18 years/281 days at the Homestead-Miami Speedway IndyCar Series race in 2003.
Although not listed on the official entry list, several Indy Pro Series cars feature new sponsors on their sidepods. Car No. 8 driven by CR Crews has Magnus Energy Marketing, car No. 9 driven by Scott Mansell has Chicago Climate exchange, car No. 41 driven by Raphael Matos has Bridgers Consulting & Paxton Engineers, Inc., car No. 42 driven by Graham Rahal has Norwalk Furniture and car No. 76 driven by Mike Potekhen has 360Brake.com.
Car No. 4, driven by Logan Gomez, sports the United States and Indiana flags. Gomez is from Crown Point, Ind.
CR CREWS (No. 8 CR Crews Capital Investment Group): "We got another investor in. They're an oil-exploration company. They do a lot of offshore drilling."
SCOTT MANSELL (No. 9 Michael Crawford Motorsports): "I met my sponsor from Chicago Climate Exchange about four months ago. The Chicago Climate Exchange they set companies into legally binding agreements where they have a target of lowering their emissions by 1% each year. If they meet these targets, you get credits for the carbon, and you can sell those credits. If you go above, you have to buy them, so it sets up a market that also hopes to lower emissions. They're sponsoring me in the three races that I'm doing over here."
JIM GUTHRIE (Owner, No. 41 Guthrie Racing Car Crafters Special): "One of our crew guys, John Graspas, I sponsored his stock car about 20 years ago. He does a limited late model stock car in Albuquerque, N.M. Now he's the president of Bridgers & Paxton. I had lunch with him the other day and said, 'Why don't you come out and join our team.' And he said, 'I'll do better than that, I'll help you out a little bit.' And I said, 'Oh man, that's great.' It's not a lot, but it's a lot for us. We appreciate his help and his contribution."
Sean Guthrie cleared to drive at Nashville: Indy Pro Series driver Sean Guthrie has been cleared to drive after July 5 by Dr. Henry Bock, IRL Sr. Director of Medical Services. Guthrie suffered a concussion in an accident during an Open Test at The Milwaukee Mile on June 14. He is working on the Guthrie Racing pit crew of cars No. 4 and No. 41 this weekend.
SEAN GUTHRIE: "I don't have my driver's suit on, but I'm still running. I had to run and get Logan's (Gomez) helmet earlier today from the pit lane. Running hard and trying to have fun. I went and saw Dr. Bock. He said that he was glad I wasn't running here, but he has cleared me to drive at Nashville. I'll go home and do some shifter-kart stuff and just kind of prepare. I'll take July Fourth off and go have some fun, and we'll be ready by Nashville.
Guthrie Racing changes fuel pumps on cars No. 4 and No. 41 after practice: The Guthrie Racing cars both experience problems with their fuel pumps during the first practice session. Both were being repaired prior to qualifying.
SEAN GUTHRIE: "Everything was good yesterday. We fluffed and buffed everything, then we go out for this first session, about five laps into it Raphael was second or third quick when the fuel-pressure alarm came on. We knew 10 gallons was in it, so we put a little bit more in it, and he made a lap and then it quit again. We came in, tore the airbox off the car and pulled the fuel pump out. I helped do it last time, so I just happen to be the guy doing it again."
*** Howard sports new look: Jay Howard will have a new look when he starts the Liberty Challenge. The driver of the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car received a new helmet after the qualifying session. The helmet features a "World Cup" paint scheme.
JAY HOWARD (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon/Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "I changed the paint scheme from the usual black, yellow and silver to red, white and silver to help support England in the World Cup. It has a pound coin with the Queen's head on the crown of the head. There are three lions on top of the head. That's the symbol of England. All sports teams have the three lions on their jerseys. The St. George's Crosses are all the way around. That's the flag of England. I've got "1996 World Cup Winners" on the chin of helmet for the last time England won the World Cup. "God Save the Queen", the National Anthem of England, is on the side of the helmet. My signature is on the back, and coincidentally, the No. 7 car is the same number as David Beckham. The haircut's the same too."
INDY PRO SERIES LIBERTY CHALLENGE POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 42 Kenn Hardley Racing, qualified first): (You were quick at the test but not quickest, what made the difference to get you to the pole position?): "I'm not really sure. I think at the end of the test, the last few laps we went the quickest we had gone. With the amount of miles we had on the tires then, that was a pretty good lap time. So now coming in here, with fresher tires, it definitely allows us to be quicker. We had the pace of Matos and people like that in the test, but it just didn't show. When Matos put on new tires, then he'd go quicker. It was just really a game and in the end; we just didn't end up on top. It's just a test, and here we are and the team has done a great job. We're struggling quite a bit with the setup but that could be a lot of track and for me; it could just be the way the car is. I haven't had that much time in it. Certainly, we're working hard this evening. We hope to get a better car for tomorrow. If we can take off in the beginning and fight at the end, that's the best way to go at it." (Inside or outside starting position is better?) "Inside is always an advantage because the first corner is a right hander. It's tough to tell. I think definitely the inside is the choice for me because it's kind of tight in (turns) 1 and 2 and for anybody to stay on the outside in (Turn) 1, it would be pretty difficult to hang on. But, certainly, anything can happen. I've seen some crazy things in racing. I just hope to get a clean start and make it through. I have no doubts that we will, but certainly it's very important to get through that first corner." (Your goal is to participate in F1 - why?): "I've always been that way since I was young. I don't really know. I guess Formula One was always the ultimate dream. For the past few years, I didn't know whether anything would ever happen, taking the step over there. Certainly now things are coming together. I was supposed to have GP2 test by now, but that obviously fell through. It's just, for me, Formula One is the ultimate goa l. And to get to Formula One, in my opinion, you have to be in Europe." (About the pressure of performing in front of the F1 teams): "It's very difficult for me because I've only been in the car three times ever. The first time I was in the car only for about an hour. Certainly it's a tough step to just jump in and try to be quick. The pressure of being in front of a Formula One crowd is very high. Things have gone well so far. There's one more session to go, and that's the important one. Now we just need to go out there and perform at our best, whether that's winning or not, we just have to try our hardest and in the end, we hope we're up front." (About the variety of cars in which he's raced): "I've had opportunities in most series around the world. It's been exciting. When you get to drive so many cars, it's all experience. So far, I'm just being a big sponge and soaking up everything I can."
ALEX LLOYD (No. 26 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., qualified second): "We struggled a little toward the end of the test day a couple of weeks ago and struggled a little bit today with the setup of the car. We made some big changes from practice to qualifying, which really didn't work too much. We have a problem in the car, which we can improve, and there is certainly more time to come if we can get it sorted. But to be honest, I was surprised. I had no idea what position I was in before I came in so I was surprised to be as close as we were, but I wasn't feeling that comfortable in the car. But we're on the front row, and that's obviously important because it's a short race, at least in comparison to what we are used to. So it is good to be in the front and to try to break away -- the two of us -- and stay out of trouble. Graham and I have been pretty close in times. We have been a maximum of seven-hundredths of a second (apart) in qualifying, and I believe there is a bit of a gap to third so it would be good if the two of us could get away and stay out of trouble and fight for it toward the end. Whether that is going to happen or not, who knows? People make adjustments overnight, but certainly at the moment we have a little bit of pace over everybody else so hopefully we can get a bit of a gap, stay out of trouble and see what happens at the end of the race." (About car later in session): "The car was actually exactly the same. We just put the second set of tires on and seemed to find more grip with that run. I actually didn't have a great lap. We hit the limiter with one of the gears, and it cost a little bit. But we found that we were finding we were getting literally one good lap, which was the first lap, and then we were falling away quite a lot. But for whatever reason we found a quite a big chunk in the car then we made a few changes in the session, and actually went back to where we started, as we weren't really making any improvements. So in the end it really wasn't too bad. And I think every will be str uggling with the track. The track is quite slippery. It isn't used too much, so it will improve over the weekend as more rubber is laid on it. So tomorrow the track can change completely because the track has changed, so we will just have to see how we go." (About the track): "It's a difficult one, really. It's a compromise. I am sure there are people out there running high downforce to deal with the mid-section, sacrificing that for straight and vice-versa. So there is not really a given rule for what you do in qualifying and race. You just have to do what feels right and produces the best lap time at the end of the day."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 41 Guthrie Racing Car Crafters Special, qualified third): "I think it was a good run. I think we made a couple little mistakes in our qualifying. It is so competitive that you can't make those kinds of mistakes. We changed the car before my last run. We made the car better, and I think we have a good car for the race, for sure."
BOBBY WILSON (No. 24 Kenn Hardley Racing, qualified fourth): "I knocked off my fast lap after we put on a new set of tires. The car felt pretty good, and I just tried to drive it hard. I couldn't really find anyone out there to work with or really pull a draft with. I think we could have done a little bit better if we could have had a little help. We will be happy with starting fourth, though." (About his strategy for the race): "We just need to go out there and finish this race."
JAY HOWARD (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, qualified fifth): "The track is definitely a lot cleaner than it was. It is a little bit nicer to drive now that the track has been used. We do not quite have our stuff together, to be honest. Our plan of attack wasn't too good then. We pretty much wasted two sets of tires, so I'm not very happy, to be honest."
WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing, qualified sixth): "It was difficult when to pick to put new tires on. I think we should've put them on a bit earlier. My first set, I got held up, and it was on the second and third laps when the tires were at there best and we couldn't push any harder. Then I didn't really make the most of my last set of new tires and caught traffic one lap and couldn't really put the whole thing together. I was struggling a little bit in terms of outright pace. I'm sure we'll be able to work hard and improve it for tomorrow."
NICK BUSSELL (No. 52 Cheever Racing, qualified seventh): "It was all right. We were hoping for a little bit more than that. We have some work to do, but hopefully we're going to make some good changes for tomorrow and be good for the race." (About the road course): "It's different. The first time I ran here on the actual track was during the Open Test last year on the road course. It didn't hit me at first that I was actually at the Speedway. It's different, for sure."
JONATHAN KLEIN (No. 27 Klein Tools/Turn-Key Forging, qualified ninth): "Not starting where we would like to. But the car is fairly decent, and I think we have a good car in the long run. We may not be able to rip off laps quick, like on a new set of tires. But the car is consistant, I think the car will be strong for the race." (Did you feel that you had any advantages or strengths? Faster down the straights or strong in the corners? Where did you fall into place?) "Right now the balance of the car is quite good. We have a new motor in the car. So we are still waiting for it to mature a little bit and get into it's full power. Because these motors seem to gain power as they wear on. We're still waiting for that to happen. But hopefully that will happen for tomorrow. But we will see."
LOGAN GOMEZ (No. 4 Guthrie Racing and the Indyana Kid, qualified 17th): "It felt real good. This is our first actual event in the IPS car, and this is actually our sixth open-wheel formula car race, so we're just getting used to the car. I'm working as hard as I can, and the team's putting a great car under me. My teammate, Raphael Matos, is doing well. I can't ask for more, just more time in the car, and over time I'll develop a feel for the car and we'll be running up front." (About tomorrow's race): "I think a couple of people are going to make a few mistakes, and we'll have the opportunity to move up." (On being from Indiana and racing at IMS): "It's a great honor. The Speedway is very well known throughout the world. It's nice to be from this state and to have supporters from Indiana behind you."
The next IndyCar Series event is the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at 1 p.m. (EDT) on July 2 at Kansas Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Liberty Challenge on July 1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The race will be telecast by ESPN2 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on July 6.