CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Rahal Michigan review

Team Rahal drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis started on the front row Sunday in the final Michigan 500 at Michigan International Raceway and proved to be the dominant pilots in the 250-lap contest. However, the two drivers wanted similar real ...

Team Rahal drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis started on the front row Sunday in the final Michigan 500 at Michigan International Raceway and proved to be the dominant pilots in the 250-lap contest. However, the two drivers wanted similar real estate of the fast oval on lap 233 as they battled for the No. 1 position. As Brack went high and Papis low in an attempt to pass Bryan Herta for the lead, the two drivers clipped wheels and spun violently in turn four. Brack's No. 8 Shell Ford Lola backed into the turn four wall very hard and Papis' No. 7 Miller Lite Ford Lola spun into the infield grass. Luckily, both drivers walked away but victory was lost as well as nearly a million dollars in racecars. The 500-miler began with Brack and Papis swapping the lead two and three times a lap before the first pit stop. Papis, who just missed the win here in 1999 when his Miller Lite car run out of fuel on the last year, continued his strong runs here at Michigan posted the most laps led in the race with 83. Brack ended up leading 55 laps before the 233th lap incident. Near the 200-lap mark, both Brack and Papis made pit stops and were scheduled to go the distance while the other contenders had to make one more pit stop to finish the 250-lap contest. However, on lap 215, Christian Fittipaldi hit the turn three wall brought out the yellow flag. Both Brack, in the lead, and Papis, second, made quick fuel stops and we set to go the distance on full fuel. It looked like the perfect strategy to have a Team Rahal shootout to the checkered flag. As the two drivers knifed their way through the field again after the pit stop, they approached Herta quickly on the back straight. By the time they hit turn three, Herta was a sitting duck and both Team Rahal were ready to slide by and challenge each other for the win. Papis was low and Brack high entering turn four and, as they looked for ways by Herta, they touched wheels. Both were sent spinning through the corner.

SCOTT ROEMBKE (General Manager, COO, Team Rahal) AFTER MICHIGAN:
"Obviously, we're extremely disappointed. We thought we had the two cars to beat all weekend as the practice showed as well as the race. Now, we look back in the paddock and there is a million dollars worth of wreckage. We ruined two damn good racecars. There are no team orders at Team Rahal. They were both racing for the victory today and things like that can happen. We gave our sponsors Shell and Miller Lite two outstanding cars and the two drivers were looking for the same thing ­ a win. But it didn't work that way for us today. We thought it was a two-car race today but some of the other guys stepped up and made it a five or six-car race at the end. Unfortunately, we didn't get to the finish. We'll have to regroup for Chicago."

KENNY BRACK AFTER MICHIGAN: "We were racing hard for the lead. We both believed we had cars to win today. I was high and Max was low on the track and we just got too close. We were racing for it and things like that can happen. It's very unfortunate for Team Rahal overall. Both cars were strong today. It was a tough race and we both were in the positions we wanted. We pitted for fuel late and we could race all out to the finish. I know the Shell car had a chance to win this race today. But it's now in pile in the paddock area. I hit pretty damn hard but I'm okay. We've had some pretty bad luck lately and it's time to turn it around the second half of the season."

MAX PAPIS AFTER MICHIGAN: "I don't know about this Michigan race. I'm very disappointed for the Miller Lite guys as well as the Shell guys. Our crews gave us cars to win today. I'm okay, but just hurt inside. Kenny and I were fast all day and we were both racing for the win. It was one of those racing things. As a driver, you don't get many chances to win a 500-mile race and we had the car today. As much as we work together on our cars to be fast, it's just unbelievable that we got together in a battle for the win. But they knew Team Rahal was here today. Kenny and I were racing hard and we got together. We both wanted this race very badly. Unfortunately, neither of us got the win today. We'll do the same plan for Chicago (next week). Race hard at the lead and try to win. It's a shame we left our crew guys with this big mess going to Chicago."

After the Michigan incident, the Hilliard, Ohio headquarters of Team Rahal has been hectic to say the least. With two mangled Lolas, the Shell and Miller Lite teams have spent long hours preparing four cars (two primary, two back-up) for this Sunday's Target Grand Prix at the Chicago Motor Speedway. Brack and Papis discussed the Michigan incident after reviewing video tape of the race and both drivers are anxious to return to Chicago for another battle on the tight one-mile oval. Papis won the pole in the inaugural Target race and led the first 65 laps, while Brack led twice last year (for 46 laps) at Chicago but a long pit stop relegated him to fourth. "We were in an excellent position to win the Chicago race last year and I made a mistake," said Brack, a two-time winner this year on ovals at Japan and Milwaukee. "I admit it. Stalling in the pits in the lead was very tough for everyone on our Shell team. This year, we are definitely ready for that track. It's a great event in the heart of Chicago. And the racing is tough. It's hard to pass and the field is so competitive that you can't make a single mistake. That track isn't easy with its tight turns." Papis didn't get to take the green flag last year due to an engine problem, so he is ready for a strong run this Sunday. lap and the personable competitor never saw the green flag. "Last year's Chicago race is one I would like to forget," said Papis, who captured the Portland race in the rain on the road circuit. "We qualified well (sixth) and I thought I had a chance to race for the win but the engine caught fire right after we started it up and that was it. I'm looking forward to coming back to Chicago for another chance. I think we can get back to that strong position at Chicago. We were very fast on the one-mile ovals in testing and teammate Kenny (Brack) has won at Milwaukee. So I feel that Team Rahal has put together a good setup for Chicago. I'm anxious to run there again."

Team owner Bobby Rahal, the CEO of the Jaguar F-1 team, made a brief appearance Saturday at the Michigan International Speedway to speak with his team and several members of the CART community. Rahal also sat in on the media conference for the front row of the Michigan 500 that included Brack and Papis. Rahal made these comments regarding his team in 2001. "I'm quite please with Kenny and Max as well as Scott Roembke (General Manager and COO) and Mark Johnson (Director of Operations)," said Rahal, the three-time CART champion. "They have been very well organized and taken a very professional process. I think everything has been under control and moving pretty smoothly. We brought in some new people this year to assist our current team and I think it has paid off so far. It's still a long season but I think we are better prepared for the stretch run of the championship. We probably could have won a couple of more races but luck wasn't on our side in those races. We think our partners like Ford, Lola, Firestone have stepped up their products this year and, of course, having major sponsors like Shell and Miller Lite have really kept this team growing. We have a solid foundation and I believe we can win more races this year." Rahal was not on hand for Sunday's Michigan 500.

-Team Rahal

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Kenny Brack