Laguna Seca: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

Rahal Letterman Racing - Track Talk Laguna Seca Patrick Looks To Finish Her Atlantic Career On High Note HILLIARD, Oh. - One thing is missing. Although it won't deter her from taking the next step, Rahal Letterman Racing's Danica Patrick will...

Rahal Letterman Racing - Track Talk Laguna Seca
Patrick Looks To Finish Her Atlantic Career On High Note

HILLIARD, Oh. - One thing is missing. Although it won't deter her from taking the next step, Rahal Letterman Racing's Danica Patrick will tell you she has a single regret from her soon to be completed Toyota Atlantic Championship career.

"I haven't won yet," said the competitive Patrick. "We have proven we can run consistently at the front and finish races. We won a pole position, led the championship and have finished on the podium. The only thing missing for me personally is a win. I have one last chance to win and I am hoping to go out on a high note."

This weekend will mark the end of one chapter of Danica Patrick's racing career and the beginning of another. The 22-year-old will complete her two year run in the Toyota Atlantic Championship and begin preparing for her first test in an upper level open-wheel car later this month.

Ironically it was at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in June of 2002 that Bobby Rahal called a press conference and announced to the racing world that he had signed the up and coming open-wheel driver to a multi-year contract and that Team Rahal would enter the Toyota Atlantic Championship with Patrick the following season.

"Bobby showed a lot of faith in me signing me to a three-year contract and announcing an Atlantic program without a sponsor," said Patrick. "Fortunately Norwalk Furniture and Argent Mortgage Company came along and it has been a great couple of years."

What did Rahal see to prompt the three-time Champ Car champion to take a flyer on a then 20-year-old with a handful of Formula Ford races under her belt? "I saw a level of dedication that is uncommon it most drivers," reflected Rahal. "The fact that Danica was willing to move to England and run Formula Ford at the age of 16 spoke volumes to me about the price she was willing to pay to develop her racing craft. There are hundreds of kids who come along with talent, but they are not all willing to pay the price to be better. Danica had the talent, the will to sacrifice for her career and the work ethic needed to develop her skill. I didn't see it as a gamble, I saw it as a chance to give back to this sport that has been so good to me and to help develop a driver who in my opinion will be the next big thing in racing."

High praise from Rahal is both a blessing and a curse for a young driver. When Patrick finished on the podium in her first Atlantic race, the expectations sky rocketed for the young driver. Patrick endured a typical roller coaster rookie season, but she showed constant improvement. She finished on the podium at Miami in the 2003 finale and she carried that momentum into this year's pursuit of the championship.

Patrick will run her 29th race for Rahal Letterman Racing on Sunday. In the 28 races (5 Barber Dodge, 23 Toyota Atlantic) she has run, Patrick has collected five podium results, 17 top-five results, 24 top-ten results and finished 24 of the 28 races. She has posted 12 top-five results in the 13 races and she is the lone driver in the series to have completed every lap this season.

FESTA'S COLLEGE SCHEDULE GOES ON HOLD FOR LAGUNA SECA

In just his third week of college, Chris Festa has logged just a single full-week of classes. Festa's missed classes are due to his involvement in the Toyota Atlantic Championship as the driver of Rahal Letterman Racing's #25 SpacePak/CareCentric Toyota/Swift.

Festa has been granted athletic status at FSU which helps give him priority status in the scheduling of his classes and access to academic tutors who can assist when he is forced to miss class because of a race or test.

"It has been a great first couple of weeks of school, but I still have this last race on my mind," said Festa. "With my class schedule I have time during the day where I can prepare for the race by reviewing notes and watching tapes of races at Laguna Seca. It isn't like high school where the day was filled with classes and there wasn't a break. My professors have been really good about me missing class the first week. It certainly helps to have access to the athletic tutors."

Festa enters the weekend eighth in points and third in the Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year battle. "The series has been even more competitive than I thought it would be," said Festa. "The only way you improve as a driver is to run against a high level of competition and there is no doubt I have learned a lot this season. What we need to do now is finish strong and build momentum for next year. Danica finished last season with a podium at Miami and that momentum carried over to this year. I am looking to do the same."

Festa added the Florida State Seminole to his helmet at Denver and will race at Laguna with the FSU logo on the chin.

FESTA BRINGS SKIP BARBER EXPERIENCE TO LAGUNA SEACA

This weekend will mark the first time Chris Festa has raced at the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, although the 19-year-old rookie does have prior experience at the 2.238 mile track. Festa completed a three day Skip Barber school at Laguna in May of 2002.

"I have watched a lot of races on this track, but this will be the first time I have ever have raced on this track," said Festa. "I have had the opportunity to run on some legendary tracks this season and that has been a thrill. To actually drive on a track where so many of the legends of the sport have run is a thrill for any driver, let alone a rookie in Atlantic, but I can't focus on the fact that this is a historic track. Laguna is a nice mixture of fast and slow and has a lot of elevation changes which makes it a lot of fun to drive. My only experience there was in a Skip Barber car so I can only imagine how much fun it will be in my Atlantic car."

So does Festa have a secret to learning the famed corkscrew at Laguna Seca? "It is the perfect excuse to play a lot of X-Box," said Festa, who uses video games to gain a better understanding of the tracks he will race.

PATRICK IS CONSISTENTLY RUNNING UP FRONT

Danica Patrick posted her sixth straight top-five result at Montreal matching a streak she compiled earlier this season. Patrick leads the Atlantic Championship in top-five results (11) this season, and she has collected a top-five finish in 12 of her last 13 races.

PATRICK IS WRITING ATLANTIC HISTORY

As Patrick continues to write open-wheel racing history with each race she runs for Rahal Letterman Racing, this weekend will be her final chance to record her name as a race winner in Toyota Atlantic. At Portland she became the first female driver to lead an open-wheel championship when she took the series lead after Round 4. Also at Portland (Round 5) she captured her first Atlantic pole position and thus became the first female driver in series history to win a pole. She is the only female driver to finish on the podium (five times) in Atlantic history, and her second place finishes at Miami (2003) and Portland (2004) are the highest results in Atlantic history for a female driver.

2000 ATLANTIC CHAMPION RICE DELIVERS INDY WIN

Buddy Rice, the 2000 Toyota Atlantic champion, captured the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May 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.

TAC TEAM LOOKS TO CONTINUE RAHAL SUCCES AT LAGUNA

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has delivered more wins to Bobby Rahal as a driver and as an owner than any other track. Since 1983 Rahal has collected seven wins at Laguna Seca. As a driver Rahal posted four consecutive wins (1984-87) on the 2.238 mile course and as an owner he has collected three wins (1998-99, 2001) and Rahal drivers have come close on several other occasions.

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Skip Barber , Chris Festa , A.J. Foyt , Danica Patrick