IRL: Chicagoland: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING LOOKS TO WRAP 2007 CAMPAIGN WITH STRONG SHOWING IN CHICAGO HILLIARD, Ohio - One of the most interesting IndyCar seasons in recent memory will come to a close this weekend as the championship fight will be decided at ...

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING LOOKS TO WRAP 2007 CAMPAIGN WITH STRONG SHOWING IN CHICAGO

HILLIARD, Ohio - One of the most interesting IndyCar seasons in recent memory will come to a close this weekend as the championship fight will be decided at Chicagoland Speedway for the second consecutive season. And while the Rahal Letterman Racing tandem of Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) have ringside seats for the final round of the 2007 title bout, their attentions will be turned elsewhere - as each has their own prize to chase at this weekend's PEAK Antifreeze 300.

Hunter-Reay carries a 12-point lead in the chase for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie-of-the-Year title this weekend, and could set an IndyCar Series record for fewest starts in a season by a rookie-of-the-year winner. Hunter-Reay will be making just his sixth series start this weekend and carries a three-race streak of top-eight qualifying results into this weekend. Meanwhile, Sharp is looking to solidify a top-10 finish in the season points, which would be the eighth in his last 10 IndyCar seasons. He is currently eighth in the series standings, and is just 23 points out of seventh, with another nine points separating him from sixth place in the championship.

The Chicagoland Speedway has quickly earned a reputation as one of the most nerve-wracking circuits in all of IndyCar, perhaps even supplanting the Texas Motor Speedway as the circuit that provides the closest racing in the series. The 1.5-mile oval has produced the closest 1-2 and 1-2-3 finishes in 10-year IndyCar Series history and has three of the eight closest finishes in the IndyCar record books.

"Chicagoland is one of my favorite tracks on our schedule and is the perfect spot to complete our season," Sharp said. "The finishes at each of our Chicagoland races have been legendary! I'm especially proud of the job that our Patron RLR Team has done on the oval tracks this year. We've gotten strong and stronger and are ready to contend for the win this weekend!"

Sharp's words ring true as you go back and peruse the oval-track results for Rahal Letterman Racing this season, especially for the driver of the familiar black-and-green Patron machine. Both of his podium finishes (Iowa, Michigan) and all nine of his top-10 finishes this season have come on the ovals. In addition, Sharp is the only driver outside of the Penske/Ganassi/Andretti triumvirate to win a pole this year - that coming on the Texas oval.

Hunter-Reay will be starting on a 1.5-mile oval for the second time in his nascent IndyCar career this weekend, his first coming at Kentucky where he qualified a strong eighth before finishing 15th after losing seven laps as the RLR crew diagnosed and repaired a radio problem.

"I am looking forward to finishing the season strongly this weekend," Hunter-Reay said. "We have been doing very well in qualifying recently and with what Scott has been able to do on the ovals this year, I am very optimistic that things will go well this weekend. The track has a reputation for close racing and I just hope to stay out of trouble and be there at the end. Sealing the Rookie-of-the-Year title with just six starts would be big for myself and the team and I intend to go out there and bring it home for Ethanol and Rahal Letterman Racing!"

The final IndyCar weekend of the year gets underway Saturday with practice and qualifying. Sunday's 200-lap race gets underway at 3:00 p.m. local time (4 p.m. Eastern) and can be seen live on ABC.

Rahal Letterman Racing Chicago Notes:

This will be mark the sixth time that the Indy Cars have visited Chicagoland Speedway, which sits 40 miles west of downtown Chicago in Joliet. Three of the eight closest finishes in series history have come at Chicagoland Speedway, including the closest 1-2 (.0024 seconds in 2002) and 1-2-3 (.01 seconds, 2003) finishes. The championship will be decided on the Joliet oval for the second consecutive season, with Dario Franchitti leading Scott Dixon by three points heading into the weekend. Tony Kanaan is still mathematically involved in the championship, but would need to win and lead the most laps along with both of the other drivers finishing out of the top 12.

Scott Sharp has competed in each of the six IndyCar events to take place at Chicagoland Speedway. He has four top-10 results in those six starts, including finishes of ninth or better in each of the last three events. He scored his best qualifying result in 2001 when he gridded third. He led 34 laps in the 2002 race on his way to a seventh-place finish. Sharp will make his 146th IndyCar Series start, the most in league history. Sharp expects to make his 138th consecutive start which is also a IndyCar Series record. His 81 top-10 finishes are also a league record, two more than the 79 put up by Sam Hornish Jr. He leads the IndyCar Series in laps completed this year, running all but 22 of the 2,711 laps run this season. Sharp surpassed $1 million for the 2007 season, marking the fourth time in the last seven years that Sharp has earned more than $1 million in a year. He is tied with series points leader Franchitti in races finished with 15, and holds the longest current race-finish streak with 12.

Ryan Hunter-Reay made his IndyCar Series debut at Mid-Ohio, scoring a seventh-place finish to match a RLR record for the best result by a driver making his debut with the team. He finished sixth at Michigan and is the first IndyCar driver to earn finishes of seventh or better in his first two starts since Felipe Giaffone in 2001. He is the first to score top-10 finishes in his first two IndyCar starts since fellow former Champ Car star Patrick Carpentier in 2005. He leads the Bombardier Learjet Rookie-of-the-Year standings by 12 points heading into the year's final weekend.

Team Facts - RLR has competed in three of the six IndyCar races to be held at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval. The team had competed at the now-defunct Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, winning with Kenny Brack behind the wheel in 2002. Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 30 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. Of Rahal Letterman Racing's 19 wins, three have come on 1.5-mile ovals. Of Rahal Letterman Racing's 30 pole positions, nine have come on 1.5-mile ovals including Scott Sharp's Texas Motor Speedway pole this season. In 79 IndyCar Series races RLR has captured 10 pole positions, won three times, collected 16 podium results (top-three) and 35 top-five finishes while leading 689 laps.

-credit: rlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Scott Sharp , Patrick Carpentier , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sam Hornish Jr.