IRL: Homestead: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO HAVE GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR 2006 INDYCAR SEASON HILLIARD, Ohio -- The dawn of the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season beings a new face to Rahal Letterman Racing as rookie Paul Dana will pilot the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing...

RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO HAVE GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR 2006 INDYCAR SEASON

HILLIARD, Ohio -- The dawn of the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season beings a new face to Rahal Letterman Racing as rookie Paul Dana will pilot the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Honda/Panoz/Firestone, while Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick return as the drivers of the Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz cars.

Rice entering his fifth IndyCar Series season and his third with RLR is the leader of the all-American crew. The 2004 Indy 500 winner is looking to bounce back from a nightmarish 2005 which saw him post a career high seven DNFs. Rice entered last season with championship aspirations and he enters the '06 campaign with his eyes on the season championship.

"Nobody in the paddock was happier to see last season end than I," said Rice. "I worked hard this off season and I am really looking forward to 2006. I am optimistic that this is going to be a big year for us. There is a lot of similarity between this year and 2004 in that a lot of people are overlooking us heading into the season. I think we will surprise a few of the so called experts."

In Danica Patrick's case the spotlight is shining bright heading into the 2006 season. The surge of post Indy media that became known as Danica-Mania has resumed and the 5'2" 105-pound Patrick faces the challenge of balancing the off track demands with the on track competition.

"There are a lot of expectations heading into the season from fans, sponsors and the media," said Patrick the 2005 IRL Rookie of the Year. "Those expectations are not any higher than what I place on myself. I have always tended to be tougher on myself than those around me. We led races, won pole positions, and raced well last season. The next logical step is to win, but I am only making my 18th IndyCar start this weekend. I still have a lot to learn and I have to build on that knowledge base. Bobby [Rahal] gave me great advice at Homestead last year when he told me to just finish. I am still learning and the key for me is to build on what I have learned to this point. I am heading into the season looking to qualify well and run up front. If we can do that those top-ten results will become top-five results and eventually those top-five finishes will become wins."

Paul Dana has a chance to hit the proverbial reset button on his rookie year. Dana started the 2005 season as a rookie for Hemelgarn Racing, but a back injury suffered during practice for the Indy 500 sidelined the St. Louis native for the remainder of the season. Having run only three events Dana retains his rookie status and has moved to RLR for 2006.

"Having run a few races and watched a lot from the pits have given me a greater understanding of what to expect the second time around," said Dana who finished tenth at Homestead in 2005. "Joining a team like Rahal Letterman has been a dream come true. The entire operation is focused on success and working with Bobby, Buddy and Danica will be a great help during my rookie season."

In 2006 Rahal Letterman Racing enters its fourth full-time season as an IRL IndyCar Series competitor and its second season of running three full-time entries.

"Running three cars was a huge advantage at Indy in 2004 and it really helped at times last season," said Rice. "It really allows a team to maximize its track time and on the two-day weekends that can be critical."

RAHAL LETTERMAN'S NEWEST PARTNER ETHANOL WILL MAKE INDYCAR HISTORY THIS WEEK

This Sunday's season opening race on the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series at the Homestead Miami Speedway marks a new future in auto racing when twenty Honda-powered cars take the green flag. For the first time since the mid-1960s when methanol was introduced to Indy car-style racing, a new fuel grade will be incorporated into the high-tech world of open-wheel competition.

The IndyCar Series has embraced alternative fuel sources with the introduction of ethanol into its fuel blend in 2006. A blend of ten percent ethanol fuel and ninety percent methanol will power the Honda engines in 2006. But, in 2007, all of the machines in the IndyCar Series will run 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol.

A key component of the Ethanol program is the branding of an IndyCar in the Team Ethanol scheme. Rookie Paul Dana will drive the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Team Ethanol Honda/Panoz.

"Team Ethanol and its key sponsors have made a significant impact on the IRL IndyCar Series in the last few years," said Bobby Rahal, co-owner and founder of Rahal Letterman Racing. "The leaders of Broin, Fagen and ICM have a vision on how they can positively affect the availability of fuel with ethanol that is a renewable resource. Their involvement and the historic partnership they forged with the IRL to become the fuel of the IndyCar Series, is bringing them one step closer to bringing that vision to all Americans. Along the way, they are fundamentally changing not only the future of open-wheel racing, but also the way Americans drive. This demonstrates to me that this is a group of companies that want to have an impact on and off the track."

RLR HOMESTEAD/SEASON OPENING SUCCESS

Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a welcome stop for Rahal Letterman Racing over the years. Only twice in the past five times RLR has raced at Homestead has the team failed to post a top-five result. Last season RLR's Vitor Meira started second and finished fourth overall. That was the first of seven top-five results for Meira in 2005.

In 2004, in his RLR debut, Buddy Rice won the pole and led 49 laps before a mechanical issue cost him the lead en route to a seventh place finish.

Rice's pole run in 2004 is one of two season opening pole runs for RLR. Kenny Brack claimed the pole position in 2001 at Monterrey, Mexico in the CART season opener.

This will mark the 15th season opener for RLR since the team's inception in 1992. The team's lone win in a season opener came in the 2000 CART opener when Max Papis claimed his first career victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was the first of Papis' three wins with RLR.

ROEMBKE ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

Rahal Letterman Racing's Chief Operating Officer, Scott Roembke, continues his recovery from a recent illness and has resumed limited office hours on a day-to-day basis. Roembke has served as the General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of RLR since the team was founded in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. He broke into racing in 1986 as a logistics coordinator with Patrick Racing working with the legendary Jim McGee.

"Obviously I am disappointed not to be at Homestead this weekend, and to be part of the season opener for what I believe will be the most competitive IRL season ever," said Roembke. "I truly appreciate all the phone calls, cards and letters I have received over the last several weeks and I am looking forward to being back at the track in the near future."

Longtime RLR engineer Ray Leto is serving as the acting General Manager in Roembke's absence handling all matters pertaining to racing operations while Robert J. Vladem, the Chief Financial Officer of Rahal Letterman Racing is handling all administrative and financial matters.

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTES

Buddy Rice will make his 33rd IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 51st of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 18th IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 47th start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Bobby Rahal is the career leader in starts for RLR with 116 starts. . .Rahal and former driver Kenny Brack are the career leaders in wins for Rahal Letterman Racing with four. Buddy Rice, with three wins is tied with Max Papis for third on the all-time RLR win list. . . 2005 marked the first season since 1998 that RLR failed to win a race. The seven year win streak (1998-04) saw the team collect 15 wins and 24 pole positions. The longest span that RLR went without a win during that streak was 23 races (twice). RLR's last win came when Buddy Rice won at Michigan in 2004. RLR's last win came at Michigan August 1, 2004. The team's current winless stands at 23 races. . .Paul Dana will attempt to be the third RLR driver to win Rookie of the Year honors. Kenny Brack captured the CART Rookie of the Year honors in 2000 and Danica Patrick captured the IRL Rookie of the Year honors last season in addition to the Indy 500 Rookie honors. . .Dana has raced three before times at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2004 Dana captured the pole position for the Infiniti Pro Series season opener and finished eighth. Last season Dana made his IndyCar debut starting 21st and finishing tenth. . .Danica Patrick started ninth at Homestead last year and was running eighth when she was caught in an eight car collision. At the time it was Patrick's first DNF since the 2003, season a span of 20 races. . .RLR drivers have led the first lap of the season each of the last two years. Buddy Rice led the opening lap in 2004 and Vitor Meira the opening lap in 2005. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 29 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. . .In 51 IRL IndyCar Series races RLR has captured nine pole positions, won three times, collected 14 podium results (top-three) and 29 top-five finishes while leading 653 laps.

-Rahal Letterman Racing

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Paul Dana , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira