NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING HEADS TO A NEW "HOME TRACK" FOR THE PEAK ANTIFREEZE & MOTOR OIL INDY 300; McDONALD'S DRIVER WILSON AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER RAHAL READY TO GET BACK TO WORK AFTER SECOND TEAM WIN OF THE SEASON JOLIET, Ill.
NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING HEADS TO A NEW "HOME TRACK" FOR THE PEAK ANTIFREEZE & MOTOR OIL INDY 300; McDONALD'S DRIVER WILSON AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER RAHAL READY TO GET BACK TO WORK AFTER SECOND TEAM WIN OF THE SEASON
JOLIET, Ill. (September 4, 2008) --- Hot off their second win of the season in Detroit, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) is now focused on adding another venue to their list of "home races" this weekend with the IndyCar Series (ICS) season-finale, the PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. The Joliet, Ill. venue, located approx. one hour from the team's base in Lincolnshire, Ill. joins two nearby tracks in Wisconsin -- Road America in Elkhart Lake and the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, as tracks considered home events for the team. In addition, team sponsor McDonald's is based in nearby Oak Brook, Ill.
"This weekend is a home race for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and also McDonald's so it will be an important event for us to have a good race and do our best," said Justin Wilson who earned his first victory in the No. 02 McDonald's race car and fifth in a Champ or Indy car on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit last Sunday. "We're hoping for another good result at the last points-paying race of the season. We tested at Chicagoland a few weeks ago and I think we learned a little bit so we have our fingers crossed that it will pan out for race weekend as well and we can be closer to the front."
The championship battle has come down to the final points paying race of the season at Chicagoland but on-track battles will not be limited to title contenders Scott Dixon (606 points) and Helio Castroneves (576). Wilson's victory in Detroit vaulted him to 11th in the championship standings with 321 and within reach of the Bombardier Rookie of the Year (ROY) award and the $50,000 bonus. The three-way battle for the honor includes Hideki Mutoh (334; +13 pts to JW) who stands in the way of Wilson for both ROY and a top-10 season ending rank and 14th place Will Power (301; -20 pts to JW). Wilson is the only driver of the three to have won so far this season and is looking forward to what he believes will be his favorite 1.5-mile oval of the season and the site of a good title fight.
"The track is one of the nicest 1.5 mile ovals that we go to because the transitions seem much nicer on-and-off the banking and on-and-off the straights," said Wilson who tested here on August 12 while the majority of the field tested at Infineon Raceway. "I think that will make it easier and much safer for side-by-side racing. There have been some good races here in the past and I'm sure the one this year will be the same. I think it will be an interesting finale because of the championship. I don't really mind who wins because I like both Scott and Helio. I think they are both great drivers but I have to say that Scott has the advantage right now on 1.5-mile ovals. The Ganassi cars have been very quick on those all year and he has a 30-point lead so I definitely think the battle is in his favor. But who knows what could happen? Hopefully it is a good battle and they sort it out between themselves."
The event will mark the sixth race ICS event on a 1.5-mile oval this season and fifth for NHLR who competed in the Long Beach Champ Car finale while the ICS regulars were in Japan. Of Wilson's five events on 1.5 mile tracks this year, his highest finish was ninth place in Kansas in April where he led five laps. Of the different types of ovals, the team has found the 1.5 mile venues the most challenging.
"It's tough on the 1.5 mile tracks to be quick because you are flat out all the way around and it comes down to experience and development of the car," said Wilson. "We are going to have to keep working on the development of the car and making it more efficient aerodynamically and mechanically to cut through the air faster. I think we will get there it just takes time. We've already caught up a lot compared to the front running teams but it's tough to do. We've probably cut the learning curve in half since the beginning of the season but the last half is probably going to be the toughest to overcome."
The previous race on a 1.5-mile oval took place at Kentucky Speedway on August 9. Wilson and his teammate, Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps car, qualified 19th and 20th respectively. In the opening laps Rahal was able to gain seven positions but both cars eventually retired with gearbox-related issues. Despite the disappointment at the result, both were very pleased with the performance of their cars in race trim and know that every experience will help the team catch up to those who are in their sixth season with this racing package.
"After having a great start in the Kentucky race I have a lot of confidence going into this weekend and feel we can do a good job," said Rahal, who gained five positions on the start at Kentucky and another two before he pit due to gear-related trouble. "I am looking forward to it (Chicagoland). Justin and I will have our work cut out for us in the race and we will battle it out there. We have had good cars this year on ovals but it is just a matter of finding a little more speed out of them which is what we have struggled with. I think it is going to take some time in the off-season to perfect that and to get the final little bits of speed out of it but we have done a heck of a job to get where we are now. It has taken a lot of work from the engineers and crew. We're getting there."
With only one month notice that the reunification of open wheel racing would happen before the 2008 season began, and barely more than two weeks to prepare race cars, NHLR faced one of their most daunting challenges. Limited test time coupled with a season that saw only one instance where there was more than one weekend off in a row further challenged the team. Being competitive this season has been rewarding given the added challenges but the team's goal has, and will always be, to win.
"Coming off a win last week is a big boost of confidence for the team," said Rahal who has an 11th (Texas) and 12th (Kansas) place finish on 1.5-mile ovals this season. "With our two wins, we're still the only transition team to have won an Indy car race and that gives us a great sense of pride. We have made some great strides in testing. As far as myself and the team, I think we have made some improvements over the season. I certainly have made more mistakes early in the season over last year that were uncharacteristic of me. But since that time we had definitely had some better runs. We should have had a couple more top-10 finishes if strategy didn't get in the way. We have had some success here late in the season and that certainly gives us a lot of confidence."
The PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 will be the eighth IndyCar Series event conducted at Chicagoland Speedway. While NHLR has competed four times at Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Ill. from 1999-2002 with one win (Cristiano da Matta) and two podiums (2nd -- Michael Andretti), it will be their first race at this track. Once the Chicagoland race concludes Wilson, Rahal and NHLR will take a much deserved week off before focusing on an off-season test program as well as the exhibition race in Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia on Oct. 26. In the 2007 race in Australia previous NHLR driver Sebastien Bourdais clinched a history-making fourth straight title before he went on to earn a record-matching eighth win of the season at the finale in Mexico City. Both drivers are looking forward to a little R&R.
"Others might say that the season has flown by but for me, it seems like it has taken quite a lot of time," said Rahal. "The races are so close together that if you get behind you are going to stay behind. We started the season behind and the fact that the team won two races and has made improvements on the ovals is a testament to their dedication and talent. We are all looking forward to the off-season and regrouping."
"The season went pretty slow during the year but now that there is only one left it seems to have gone by pretty quick," added Wilson. "It's a very intense season. I'm certainly looking forward to the off season but at the same time I want to get started and get out there and have a chance at winning more races."