Cleveland: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

Rahal Letterman Racing Toyota Atlantic Track Talk - Cleveland HILLIARD, Oh. - The 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship will reach the half-way point Saturday afternoon with Round 6 as Argent Mortgage presents the Toyota Atlantic Championship at the...

Rahal Letterman Racing Toyota Atlantic Track Talk - Cleveland

HILLIARD, Oh. - The 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship will reach the half-way point Saturday afternoon with Round 6 as Argent Mortgage presents the Toyota Atlantic Championship at the Grand of Cleveland. As the season approaches the middle ground Rahal Letterman Racing's Atlantic drivers Danica Patrick and Chris Festa head to Burke Lakefront Airport on the shores of Lake Erie second and ninth respectively in the championship.

Patrick, driver of the #24 Argent Mortgage Toyota/Swift, enters Cleveland second in the championship behind current series leader and her former teammate Jon Fogarty. Patrick captured the pole position for the last race at Portland, but Turn 1 contact and the subsequent spin left the Argent car at the back of the pack. Despite a stellar effort to salvage a seventh place finish, Patrick lost the championship lead and slipped a dozen points behind Fogarty the 2002 series champion.

"Portland was a great weekend for the team until that Turn 1 problem," said Patrick who forged a second place finish in the first Portland race and captured the pole for the start of the second race. "To be honest all the good things we accomplished kind of lost their luster, because I was so disappointed in how the second race went. Despite the problems we are still second in the championship, and although we lost a little ground to Jon, I still feel really good about where we are heading into the second half of the season."

Stopping Fogarty, who has won the last three Atlantic races and has lead the last 140 laps run in the series, is a top priority. "I feel like we can go out and qualify up front and race with and beat anybody in the series," said Patrick. "I have a lot of confidence in my team and that comes as we have consistently put together results over the last part of 2003 and the first part of 2004.

Patrick's streak of six straight top-five results, including three podium finishes, was snapped with the Portland finish of seventh. Since Patrick teamed with Fogarty as an expanded two-car Rahal Atlantic program at the end of last season, Patrick has finished out of the top-five only once (Portland).

Chris Festa, driver of the #25 SpacePak/CareCentric Toyota/Swift posted his best result of the 2004 season with a sixth place finish at Portland. Festa has posted four top-ten results in five races including three top-seven efforts. Festa enters Cleveland ninth in the points and fourth in the Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year battle.

"I really didn't know what to expect coming into the series this past off season," said Festa. "The series is a lot deeper than what I expected, which has made adapting to the series more difficult. At the same time having success against the strong field validates what you are doing. The key for me is to take what I have learned over the first half of the season, work with my crew and my engineer, and make myself a better driver over the second half. We are showing progress each week and it is only a matter of time before we reach the podium."

PATRICK TOP-FIVE STREAK SNAPPED AT PORTLAND

Danica Patrick 's streak of six consecutive top-five results was snapped when she was involved in a first turn scrum in the Round 5 race at Portland. Patrick returned to the track, drove through the field and finished seventh, which kept her second overall in the 2004 championship. Patrick has run 17 Toyota Atlantic Championship events for Rahal Letterman Racing posting four podium results, nine top-five results and 15 top-ten finishes. Patrick matched her best Atlantic finish with a second place effort at Portland in Round 4 last weekend.

Patrick signed with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2002 inking a multi year deal which allowed her to make her Barber Dodge Pro Series debut at Toronto in '02. In 22 races total with Team Rahal/Rahal Letterman Racing, Patrick has posted 18 top-ten results.

ROOKIE FESTA HAS IMPRESSED THE BOSS

Bobby Rahal thought highly enough of 18-year-old Chris Festa to sign him to a contract and put him into the second seat of the Team Rahal Toyota Atlantic team. Rahal first took notice of Festa in the Stars of Tomorrow karting program in which Rahal's son Graham ran the last couple of years.

Festa overcame difficulties at Long Beach (flat tire on lap 2) and fought his way through the field to finish 11th. At Monterrey and Portland he navigated the carnage on the starts which claimed more experienced drivers and brought the #25 SpacePak/CareCentric car home to season best results.

"I think Chris has done an outstanding job given some difficult circumstances at Long Beach and Monterrey and Portland," said Rahal. "The maturity that he displays off the track has been on display during the races. He doesn't panic, he just adapts and deals with the circumstances and does the best he can."

PATRICK WRITING ATLANTIC HISTORY

Danica Patrick continues to write racing history with each race she runs for Rahal Letterman Racing. At Portland she became the first female driver to lead an open-wheel championship when she took the series lead after Round 4. At Portland for Round 5 she captured her first Atlantic pole position and became the first female driver to win a pole. She is the only female driver to finish on the podium (four times) and her second place finishes at Miami (2003) and Portland (2004) are the highest results for a female driver.

"It is great to make history," said Patrick. "For me the real measure of when I will have arrived as a driver is when nobody refers to me as a female driver just as a great racer."

FESTA ENJOYING SUMMER IN THE FAST LANE

Chris Festa graduated from high school just six weeks ago. After years of balancing school and racing, Festa finds himself with the summer before college to focus strictly on his racing craft.

"I almost feel guilty with so much free time," said Festa. "Not having to worry about school has allowed me to focus all my energy on getting ready for the races. When I was in school I was constantly balancing my studies and my racing. Even when I was at the track and trying to focus all my attention on the race weekend, I always had school somewhere in the back of my mind. I know that I will have that situation again when I go to college in the fall, but right now it is nice not having to juggle both."

Festa has enrolled at Florida State University for the fall semester and will major in marketing and business. Festa has been granted athletic status at FSU which helps him with scheduling of classes and with tutors who can assist when he is forced to miss class because of a race.

ATLANTIC CHAMPION RICE DELIVERS INDY WIN FOR RLR

Buddy Rice, the 2000 Toyota Atlantic champion, captured the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 last month for Rahal Letterman Racing. The victory at Indianapolis was the first for Rahal Letterman Racing and made team co-owner Bobby Rahal just one of two men (A.J. Foyt) to win Indy as a driver (1986) and as an owner (2004). Rice led 91 laps and one of his chief rivals on the day was Andretti Green Racing's Dan Wheldon whom Rice beat for the 2000 Atlantic Championship.

With his victory May 30th, Rice became the first Toyota Atlantic Championship champion to have won the Indy 500.

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING SEARCHING FOR FIRST OHIO WIN

Rahal Letterman Racing has never won a race in its home state of Ohio dating back to the team's formation in 1992. The best result for a Rahal Letterman entry in Ohio was Kenny Brack's second place finish at Cleveland in 2000. The highest finish for a Rahal Letterman driver at Mid-Ohio was third by Bobby Rahal on two occasions.

Rahal did win the first Cleveland Grand Prix in 1982 while driving for TrueSports. It was his inaugural Champ Car victory. That triumph helped propel the 29-year-old rookie to the Champ Car Rookie of the Year title and second place in the 1982 championship.

The Rahal Letterman Toyota Atlantic program has one race at Cleveland. Patrick finished fifth after starting tenth in 2003. Patrick also raced at Cleveland in 2002 in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and finished seventh.

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Jon Fogarty , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Chris Festa , A.J. Foyt , Danica Patrick