McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND DOORNBOS READY FOR NEXT STRETCH OF FOUR RACES IN A ROW ON THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRACKS BEGINNING WITH THE IOWA CORN INDY 250 DES MOINES, Iowa (June 18, 2009) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) and drivers Graham...
McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND DOORNBOS READY FOR NEXT STRETCH OF FOUR RACES IN A ROW ON THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRACKS BEGINNING WITH THE IOWA CORN INDY 250
DES MOINES, Iowa (June 18, 2009) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) and drivers Graham Rahal and Robert Doornbos made the most of the first weekend off after six consecutive weeks of work in the IndyCar Series. Now they will return to action refreshed and focused on the next task -- Sunday's Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway, the first of six races in the next seven weeks including four in a row that will begin on the banked, 0.875 track in Iowa.
"The time off was nice, very welcome for everybody after a very busy stint," said Doornbos, 27, who combined R&R with training in Aruba. "I left the country and went to the sun to work out and chill out so I really enjoyed that. I worked hard on the fitness because that is going to be important over the next races in the summer. I'm feeling very sharp and ready for action."
"I spent my week off doing PR days for the IndyCar Series in Elmira and Rochester, New York and at home in Columbus (Ohio) then I got to go boating one day, which was a lot of fun," added Rahal, who pilots the No. 02 McDonald's race car. "I had some friends over on Friday night which was also a lot of fun, so I got a little bit of relaxing in but still did a lot of work during the break. I got to meet Coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes which was pretty darn cool."
During his rookie IndyCar Series season last year, Rahal earned his best finish on an oval at the 0.875 mile Iowa Speedway oval. He started the event 16th based on point standings due to qualifying being rained out but he and the team worked hard the entire race to adjust the car to the changing conditions and he finished 10th after a very strong final stint. The team continued to improve their oval setups through 2008 and over the off season and Rahal qualified on pole twice and started on the front row in three out of six races. He topped his best oval finish of 10th in the 2008 Iowa race with a fourth place at the Milwaukee Mile earlier this season and is looking to better that position at this challenging race track.
"Last year Iowa was a great race for us, we were very competitive'" said Rahal. "The car felt extremely good in the race. It was good learning race and we finished 10th which was our best oval finish of the season. It's a long race and you've got to be very patient and that's what we did, and in the end it worked out for us. I think the challenge of Iowa is it's a very small oval, even smaller than Milwaukee, but it's very high banked so the most challenging part is it's a very physically demanding track. It separates the men from the boys which is pretty exciting. It will be the first of two short ovals in a row. I think that the McDonald's team should be very competitive in Iowa. We were competitive there last year and with (race engineer) Martin (Pare) coming on board, I think that we've got a good base to build on. Martin was with Andretti Green last year and they were very good there and his knowledge base of this circuit will really help us."
Although teammate Doornbos charged up the racing ladder and made it to Formula One within five years of switching vocations from tennis, oval racing is a completely different racing experience for him and he is taking on new challenges every weekend including racing on his shortest oval to date this weekend in Iowa. To the casual observer, it might be thought that all ovals are created equal and that if you are competitive on one you will be competitive on all. But the truth is that the nuances of each track call for different racing setups. In his first oval race ever at Kansas Speedway, Doornbos out-qualified series champions and Indy 500 winners with his second place start and briefly led before a pit penalty dropped him to the rear of the field. Each oval track after that has been a different variation and he has continued to gain valuable experience.
"The oval experience is more impressive than what I thought before actually competing on ovals," said Doornbos who is only 12 points away from a top-10 rank with 104 points in 15th place. "There is a lot to learn but I'm a fast learner, it's been like this my entire career. Hopefully now, together with the team, we come off quite a solid Texas performance with more to build from. It wasn't the fastest one we've done but at least it's something we can build on. I feel comfortable on ovals and, when the car is fast enough, I can put it on the front row. When it's not fast enough I can also bring it home like in Texas when we finished in 11th place. Now we just need to make sure we find a car which is really fast so it is really a team effort. I do the job on the track and team does the job in the factory but I'm sure we can do it."
Iowa Speedway hosted its first IndyCar Series event in 2007 and NHLR first competed here last year. Not only did Rahal finish 10th, then-teammate Justin Wilson ran as high as seventh place and finished 12th. In addition to focusing on being competitive in Iowa, the team has to plan ahead in order to be as prepared as possible to run well at each of the events. The upcoming four week stretch includes two oval races (Iowa, Richmond), one on a road course (Watkins Glen) and a street race (Toronto). That diversity appeals to both drivers.
"I think the next four races are going to be tough but our team is used to challenges like this and I think that everybody is well prepared," said Rahal, who is ranked ninth in points with 126. "We will be happy to be back on some road courses, whether that will be returning to the street course in Toronto or permanent road courses like Watkins Glen. And I think we should be very competitive on the short ovals so the next four (races) should play right into our strengths."
"Having this next stretch of four in a row is going to be very good because it will really show who the good drivers are and which ones prepared the best physically and mentally," added Doornbos. "You can really extract the maximum out of yourself by driving on these different types of tracks whether you are on a short oval, road course or street course. Its where, as a driver, you can really make a difference. Obviously for myself, I am really looking forward to getting on a road course. The only road course I have done so far is the Barber test and we ended up second quickest there on the first day. We were competitive so I really look forward to getting my first strong result in Watkins Glen even though I don't know the track and then heading to Toronto which is a nice street course. You can always have fun there if the car is good. Diversity is very important for a driver. You have to work really hard to show what you can do."
This weekend's Iowa Corn Indy 250 can be seen on live on Sunday, June 22 at 1 p.m. EDT on ABC. The event will get underway with practice and qualifying on Saturday and the 250-lap race will begin at 12:30 p.m. CDT on Sunday. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the official website of the IndyCar Series, www.indycar.com. It will also be broadcast live on IMS Radio Network and XM Radio Channel 145 and Sirius 211.