Rahal Letterman Racing Track Talk 2005: Homestead RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO READY FOR 2005 INDYCAR SEASON HILLIARD, Ohio - After all the off season speculation the three-car Rahal Letterman Racing tandem of Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira and Danica...
Rahal Letterman Racing Track Talk 2005: Homestead
RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO READY FOR 2005 INDYCAR SEASON
HILLIARD, Ohio - After all the off season speculation the three-car Rahal Letterman Racing tandem of Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira and Danica Patrick is ready for its debut. It is this young talented combination of drivers that will carry the RLR banner throughout the next several seasons.
Buddy Rice made his debut for Rahal Letterman Racing a year ago at this very track. Rice, who at the time was a substitute driver for the injured Kenny Brack, made the most of his opportunity winning the pole position for the season opener and leading 40 laps. It was the first step in a breakout campaign for Rice that saw him win three races, including the Indianapolis 500, and five poles en route to third in the 2004 championship. Rice, one of the favorites for the 2005 championship, is back in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda/Panoz/Firestone, and this time he wants to start the season with a victory.
"I am out to win races this year and if those wins take Rahal Letterman to the championship so much the better," said Rice. "I felt like we left some races on the table last year and this year I want to make sure we get those extra wins. If you win races, the points will fall your way. Homestead is the first chance to score points and it will be important for us to start strong. We had a car to win last year, but a punctured tire ended our chances. This year I know we have a car to win at Homestead."
Rice's teammate, Vitor Meira, winner of the 2004 Tony Renna Memorial "Rising Star" Award, comes to Homestead with his own championship aspirations. At this time last year Meira was without a full-time ride and was searching for an opportunity in the IRL IndyCar Series. That opportunity came when Rahal Letterman Racing expanded to a two-car program. Meira was tabbed to run the second full-season entry which began competition at Motegi. Meira made the most of his opportunity posting eleven top-ten results in 14 races, including six top-five results. Meira finished eighth in the championship despite running two fewer races than everyone else in the top-ten. This year Meira is back with a full-season ahead of him in the #17 Rahal Letterman Team Menard/Johns Manville Honda/Panoz/Firestone.
"This is the best opportunity for me since I came to the USA to race in 2002," said Meira the personable Brazilian." The Rahal Letterman team is strong and we know we have a competitive package with the Honda/Panoz. I see us being in the fight season for the championship. We came close to winning a couple of races last season and the breaks always seemed to go against us. It would be great to start the season with a win at Homestead."
The newest member of the Rahal Letterman Racing IndyCar Series program, has actually been with the team the longest. Danica Patrick, driver of the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda/Panoz/Firestone, has been with Rahal Letterman since the 2002 season running in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and the Toyota Atlantic Championship. After three seasons grooming her skills, Patrick is ready to make the jump to the IRL IndyCar Series. Patrick has enjoyed success in each series she has run, but she knows the IRL IndyCar Series is the toughest challenge yet.
"This is the biggest jump I have made in my career," said Patrick. "I know the competition will be fierce, but I still feel good about the opportunity. I have worked hard to get to this point and I know I have a great team in Rahal Letterman Racing standing behind me. I am in a great position for a rookie getting to run with one of the top operations in open-wheel racing. The car is capable of running with the leaders and it is up to me to get the car there. I am on a steep learning curve, but I am in a great situation in which to learn."
RICE LOOKS TO DEFEND HIS HOMESTEAD POLE
Buddy Rice captured the season opening pole position at Homestead/Miami Speedway in 2004. It marked the first time in Rahal Letterman Racing history that a driver won the pole position for his first race with the team. Rice won five pole positions last season, the second best single season total in RLR history. Kenny Brack, the driver Rice replaced in the Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda/Panoz/Firestone won six pole positions during the 2001 season. If Rice or another RLR driver can win the pole this wee at Homestead, it would mark just the third time in team history that the team has successfully defended its pole position at a track in back-to-back seasons.
Laguna Seca 1998-1999
Bryan Herta, 1998
Bryan Herta, 1999
Long Beach 2002-2003
Jimmy Vasser, 2002
Michel Jourdain Jr., 2003
Rahal Letterman Racing has captured two season opening pole positions. Kenny Brack claimed the season opening pole at Monterrey, Mexico in 2001 and Buddy Rice captured the season opening pole position at Homestead last season.
RLR DRIVERS LOOKING FOR SEASON OPENING WIN
Rice, Meira and Patrick enter this weekend looking to capture the season opening victory at Homestead. Only once in the team's 13-year history has Rahal Letterman Racing won the season opening event. That win came in 2000 at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Max Papis piloted the Miller Lite machine to victory after starting 14th.
MEIRA PREPARED FOR HIS FIRST IRL SEASON OPENER
It is hard to believe, but Sunday when Vitor Meira takes the green flag at Homestead he will be running in his first season opening IRL IndyCar Series event. Meira is starting his fourth IndyCar Series season, but he has never raced in the season opening event.
In 2002 Meira raced in the final four events of the season with Team Menard. In 2003 Meira didn't make his debut until Indianapolis in May. Last season Meira was driving the two-seater at IRL events and searching for a ride. He signed on with Rahal Letterman Racing, but he didn't make his season debut until Round 3 at Motegi.
Meira's last season opener came in the 2002 in Formula 3000.
PATRICK READY FOR HER INDYCAR DEBUT
On a team with the defending Indy 500 winner (Buddy Rice) and the 2004 Rising Star Award winner (Vitor Meira), it could be easy for a rookie to get lost in the shuffle. Easy unless that rookie is Danica Patrick who has been the center of a great deal of media attention heading into the season opener. As the only female driver in the IRL IndyCar Series Patrick occupies a unique niche in the ultra-competitive IndyCar Series.
Patrick comes to the IRL IndyCar Series with an impressive resume, but even she knows that doesn't mean anything now that she is in the big time. The fact that Bobby Rahal patiently waited three-years while grooming his young prot0x00e9g0x00e9e is impressive, but it doesn't put a single championship point on the board.
Patrick made her debut in North America with Rahal Letterman Racing in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. She moved onto two highly successful seasons in the Atlantic Championship as she posted sixth and third place results in the championship. Patrick has crafted a reputation as a fierce competitor, but one who consistently brings the equipment home in one piece. In 24 Atlantic starts, she collected 22 running results and 15 top-five finishes.
In her two years in Atlantic she won a pole position (Portland 2004), finished second twice (Miami 2003, Portland 2004), on the podium five times and she became the first woman in the history of open-wheel racing to lead an open-wheel championship when she took the points lead after Portland last season.
Patrick will be the third female driver to compete in the IRL IndyCar Series (Lyn St. James & Sarah Fisher) and she knows that the challenge is hers to build on what her predecessors have accomplished.
"I can't get caught up in the female driver thing," said Patrick. "All I can do is go out and work hard and do my best. I hope that someday people will talk about me as a driver and not as a female driver. When my name is discussed and they don't have to mention my gender is when I know I will have arrived as a driver."
RAHAL RACING NOTABLES. . .
Rice's pole at Homestead in 2004 wasn't just his first IRL IndyCar Series pole, it was the first IRL IndyCar Series pole for Rahal Letterman Racing. . .Rice will appear on his boss Dave Letterman's Late Show on Wednesday, March 2. . .Rice will be driving in his third race in the state of Florida in the last month this weekend. The 2004 Indy 500 champion competed in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2/5-2/6) and in the season opening IROC race at Daytona (2/18). . .Rice posted the fastest preseason testing time at Homestead in early January. . .Meira is searching for his first IndyCar win. He will become the fifth open-wheel driver to record his first IndyCar/Champ Car win with Rahal Letterman Racing and should he do it this year he would be the third in three years. Bryan Herta posted his first win at Laguna Seca in 1998, Max Papis posted his first win at Homestead in 2000, Michel Jourdain Jr. posted his first win at Milwaukee in 2003 and Rice posted his first win at Indianapolis in 2004. . .Patrick will be in New York City along with Rice on the IRL IndyCar Series Green Flag Media Tour on Wednesday and Thursday. . .Patrick will be starting her fourth season with Rahal Letterman Racing. Only Bobby Rahal (7 seasons) and Bryan Herta (4 seasons) have driven as many campaigns as Patrick for RLR.