IRL: Indy 500: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING BEGINS ITS QUEST FOR INDY VICTORY HILLIARD, Ohio - The month of May and the on track preparations officially begin for Rahal Letterman Racing on Tuesday afternoon. While RLR's driving trio of Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and...

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING BEGINS ITS QUEST FOR INDY VICTORY

HILLIARD, Ohio - The month of May and the on track preparations officially begin for Rahal Letterman Racing on Tuesday afternoon. While RLR's driving trio of Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Jeff Simmons have all come to the famed brickyard searching for victory in the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing,' the Indianapolis 500, each brings a different approach.

For Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 champion, this year is a chance to erase the frustration and pain of last May. Rice was injured in a practice accident early in the month and was medically unable to defend his 2004 Indy crown.

"I don't really feel any different coming into the month than what I did last year," said Rice driver of the No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Honda/Panoz/Firestone. "We had the fastest car in qualifying and the race in 2004 and Kenny Brack (his replacement for the 2005 race) was the fastest qualifier last year. So I believe RLR has the cars that can compete for the pole and the win. The mindset is different for Indy. You are here for so long and you have so many practice days and it can be mentally taxing. But overall I feel good about coming back to Indy and getting a chance to finally defend the title I won in 2004."

It is easy to forget that a mere 24-months ago it was Rice who dominated the month of May on track and in the headlines. Rice captured the 'triple crown of Indy' by winning the pole, the pit stop competition and finally the Indy 500 itself. In doing so Rice became the first American to win the Indy 500 since 1998 and carved his niche in racing history.

For Danica Patrick the Indianapolis 500 marks the one year anniversary of her historic Indy run and the birth of the phenomena that has become known as Danica Mania. Her second run at Indy will give the IndyCar Series most recognizable driver a shot at claiming the prize that eluded her by a few gallons of fuel.

"A year after my first Indy 500 I am still amazed at the power this race holds," said Patrick driver of the No. 16 Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz/Firestone. "It is a power that changes your life. There is no other race like Indianapolis. I have dreamed about winning Indy since I first started racing. There are so many things that have to fall into place to win any race in the IndyCar Series, but to win at Indianapolis it will take an amazing month. It is a challenge I have been looking forward to for a year."

Jeff Simmons will make his second start for RLR and his second start at Indianapolis later this month. Simmons has dominated the Indy Pro Series over the last couple of seasons and he made the jump to IndyCar Series following the tragic accident that claimed the life of Paul Dana in the season opener.

"When I ran Indy in 2004 I was a last second addition and it was kind of like, congrats now go qualify and get ready for Carb Day and to race," said Simmons driver of the No. 17 Team Ethanol/Honda/Panoz/Firestone. "I am really excited approaching the month and that I will have the opportunity to run a full Indy 500 program with a team that has been one of the best at Indy in recent years."

PATRICK AIMS FOR INDY IMPROVEMENT

Improvement has been the mantra for Danica Patrick on her second trip around the IRL IndyCar Series. In qualifying for the season opener at Homestead Patrick posted the third quickest lap, but then withdrew from the race after the crash involving Paul Dana. At St. Petersburg Patrick posted her top IndyCar road/street course result when she finished sixth. At Motegi Patrick started 14th based on points when qualifying was rained out, but she posted an eighth place finish.

"Experience is just one factor in on track success," said Patrick. "I feel more comfortable coming to these tracks this season, because I have an idea of how the race will unfold and what to expect. At this time last year I was still adjusting to oval racing and to pit stops and to races longer than 45 minutes. This year I can focus on my race craft and not on adjusting to everything around me. That said success in IndyCar isn't all about experience. If it was, last year I wouldn't have had any on track success."

Returning to Indy where she had her top finish last season, Patrick knows there will be a great deal of attention focused on her program. "It is a long month at Indianapolis and so much can happen that it is hard to predict what your end result will be. When we tested here in early April the car felt exactly how it felt on race day last year. So much can change in a year that was a big relief. Rahal Letterman Racing has been one of the top-teams at Indy in recent years and I think our team will be a factor this month, but there is one thing you can never take for granted and that is success at Indianapolis."

BUDDY RICE BRINGS MOTEGI MOMENTUM

The last time Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice finished fifth at Motegi he won the Indy 500. Rice capped a strong run at Motegi with a fifth place finish. When qualifying was rained out Rice started 18th based on points, but he quickly moved through the field and finished fifth. The 13 cars passed in the course of the race was a career best for Rice topping his previous best of 11 set during his rookie season in 2002.

"The last time I finished fifth at Motegi I won the Indy 500," said Rice. "That really has nothing to do with winning Indy, but I have the same feel this year that we had in 2004. A lot of the experts are focused on AGR, Penske and Ganassi as the Indy favorites just as they were in 2004. That year we flew under the proverbial radar and surprised a lot of people in qualifying and the race. The No. 15 Argent Honda has been the fastest car in the field the last two years. I hope we can make it three straight."

SIMMONS EAGER FOR AMPLE TRACK TIME

Weather permitting RLR's drivers will log more practice miles this month than the rest of the year combined. Jeff Simmons will benefit from the extensive practice as he gains valuable seat time in his Team Ethanol Honda/Panoz.

"To have a full month to prepare for the Indy 500 is a benefit I didn't have when I ran the race in 2004," said Simmons who will be making his second start for Rahal Letterman Racing. "This month serves two purposes. First we are preparing for the Indy 500, but secondly this is a chance for me to gain experience that will benefit the Ethanol team over the rest of the season. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, but this being Indianapolis you never know."

Simmons ran the 2004 Indy 500 for Mo Nunn Racing starting 29th and finishing 16th, second highest among the rookie drivers. "It was a phenomenal experience to run Indy in 2004, but everything happened so fast I really didn't get to enjoy myself. I am really looking forward to the entire experience this year and to be part of Ethanol's first Indy 500."

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING'S INDY SUCCESS

Rahal Letterman Racing comes to the Brickyard searching for its second Indy 500 win. Buddy Rice captured the team's inaugural Indy 500 win in 2004. Vitor Meira finished second last season in a RLR car while Danica Patrick brought home a fourth place finish. The 2004 victory at Indianapolis made Bobby Rahal one of only three men to win the Indy 500 as a driver and an owner.

RLR has won the pole at Indy once, but had the fastest qualifying car twice. Buddy Rice captured the pole position in 2004. Kenny Brack, a second weekend qualifier, was the fastest qualifying car in 2005 even though he started 23rd.

RAHAL REMEMBERS HIS INDY VICTORY

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Bobby Rahal's 1986 Indianapolis 500 victory. "It doesn't seem like it has been 20-years until I look in the mirror," said Rahal. "I remember it like yesterday. The biggest thing I remember was the joy of helping Jim Trueman realize a lifelong dream. Because of Jim's illness and because the race was delayed a week, there was never really time to savor the victory. It was an incredibly emotional time for everyone at TrueSports and the Trueman family. I didn't fully understand at the time how winning the Indianapolis 500 changes your life. Ever since that victory I have been introduced as an Indy 500 winner. It becomes a defining moment of your life."

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTES

Buddy Rice will make his 35th IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 53rd of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 20th IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 49th start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Jeff Simmons will make his second start for RLR this weekend and his fourth IndyCar Series start overall. 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 at Michigan August 1, 2004. The team's current winless stands at 25 races. . .Jeff Simmons 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. . .Buddy Rice lead eight laps at St. Petersburg, the first RLR laps led on an IRL IndyCar Series road or street course. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 29 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. . .In 53 IRL IndyCar Series races RLR has captured nine pole positions, won three times, collected

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