2004 IRL Preview: Rice Seeks To Take Advantage of Opportunity INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2004 -- Buddy Rice is the first to acknowledge that his short-term results will impact his long-term prospects with Team Rahal. Rice will sit in the...
2004 IRL Preview: Rice Seeks To Take Advantage of Opportunity
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2004 -- Buddy Rice is the first to acknowledge that his short-term results will impact his long-term prospects with Team Rahal.
Rice will sit in the No. 15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda/ Firestone car until Kenny Brack is cleared to return from injuries sustained in the season-ending 2003 race. That will most likely cover at least the first three races of the IRL IndyCar Series season.
"I know I'm entering into a tough situation with Kenny's injuries," said Rice, 28, who had a best finish of ninth in 13 races last year with Red Bull Cheever Racing. "I know this is Kenny's ride and I'll gladly jump out when he is ready to go. But for now I'm pumped up about driving for Team Rahal, a top-notch operation.
"This is the chance to show my abilities. (Co-owner) Bobby Rahal has told me that if I show well in Kenny's car that he'll work hard to put me in another car."
To realize that goal, Rice knows he must regain the success of 2002, when he had two top-five finishes in five races with Red Bull Cheever Racing. Rice has been running at the finish in 17 of his career 18 starts.
"I think I do have something prove with Team Rahal," said Rice, a Phoenix native whose best career finish, second, came in his IndyCar Series debut at Michigan in 2002. "Last year wasn't what I expected after we were so competitive in 2002. It was frustrating. I think the Team Rahal opportunity will bring me back to a competitive edge that we lacked last year."
Brack had eight top-10 finishes in 16 starts last year and was ninth in the point standings in his first full IndyCar Series season since 1999.
"I saw Buddy in the (Toyota) Atlantic Series and always felt he had lots of talent and potential," Rahal said. "So it was an easy choice to go with Buddy until Kenny is ready. If Buddy is in point contention early in the season, then we'll work extremely hard to get the funding for Buddy for the entire year."
Added chief operating officer and general manager Scott Roembke: "We have kept close to Buddy since his Atlantic days. We wanted to run him in 2001 but the finances just weren't there. With Kenny's injuries, Buddy was a logical choice to fill the seat and I believe he'll show that he has lots of potential. We just have to give him a solid car now."
Team Rahal signed Roger Yasukawa to a two-race contract (Twin Ring Motegi and the Indianapolis 500) in January. He recorded eight top-10 finishes in 16 starts last year with Super Aguri Fernandez Racing.
"Last year was a learning year for me," said Yasukawa, who was runner-up to Dan Wheldon for Bombardier Rookie of the Year. "This year I must challenge to win races."
Said Rahal: "Adding Roger to our lineup for Motegi and Indy is a tremendous asset for Team Rahal. Roger showed plenty of potential last year in his rookie season in the IRL and his working with Buddy and Kenny will help him and our team overall for two of the most important races for us this year. Kenny previously won at Motegi and Indy and he has a great knowledge of those tracks that can assist both Roger and Buddy.
"Roger brings a strong professionalism and enthusiasm to our organization. His working with Honda adds to our preparation for those events. We believe the new Honda G-Force car will be a strong package this year."
A CAPSULE LOOK AT TEAM RAHAL:
Sponsors: Pioneer, Argent Mortgage
Chassis/engine: Panoz G-Force Honda
Owners: Bobby Rahal, David Letterman
Drivers: Buddy Rice, Kenny Brack, Roger Yasukawa
Team manager: Steve Dickson
Crew chief: Ricardo Nault
Chief mechanic: Ricardo Nault
Engineer: Todd Bowland
Bobby Rahal (co-owner with David Letterman): "Kenny is the kind of guy that if a doctor tells him it's four months to heal, he'll try to do it in three or better. I still say when you look at the severity of that accident; it's only by the grace of God that Kenny is still with us. I've always had nothing but the highest regard for Kenny. I was very upset when he got hurt but his recovery, even with all the glitches, has been, I think, extraordinary. He's still got that drive."
Buddy Rice: "I was hoping to have a chance with Team Rahal back in 2001 but nothing ever came together. Now it's up to me. Kenny's team was extremely competitive last year. Now I think it will continue to improve. I'm anxious to work with Honda. They have a good motor."
Kenny Brack: "I know I learned a lot in 2003 and I had been in the IRL for three years previously. I'm sure that Buddy and the team will be able to adjust quickly to the new cars. I still think that I'm very competitive on the track. You know, it's my life, basically. I just want to try to get back into that position. I wanted (to jump back into the car) yesterday. But I've got to wait until my bones are completely healed and I feel completely 100 percent healed. So, I'll wait. But, hopefully, it will happen soon."
Roger Yasukawa: "Team Rahal and Honda will have a strong package for me. I was very impressed with the team after my first meeting with them. Obviously, Team Rahal has a first-class operation and I am hoping to learn a lot from Bobby's experience as a former Indy 500 winner. I think Team Rahal has a great car for Japan. Kenny Brack won there in 2001 and almost won the race last year with Team Rahal. So I feel good about going to Japan with this effort."
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season begins with the Toyota Indy 300 at 2 p.m. (EST) on Feb. 29, 2004, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network.