IRL: Kansas: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RLR LOOKING FOR FAST START TO SECOND HALF OF THE INDYCAR SEASON HILLIARD, Ohio - The first half of the 2006 IndyCar Series season, that seemingly resembled a roller coaster ride, is behind Rahal Letterman Racing. With Danica Patrick leading the...


HILLIARD, Ohio - The first half of the 2006 IndyCar Series season, that seemingly resembled a roller coaster ride, is behind Rahal Letterman Racing. With Danica Patrick leading the way for the team 12th in the points, RLR is not in contention for the 2006 championship. What the next seven races represent for RLR is a chance to build on the Dallara foundation and to leave an imprint on the 2006 season.

Fortunately for RLR there may not be a better track for the team to do that than at Kansas Speedway. Over the last two seasons the team has posted impressive results on the 1.5-mile oval at Kansas.

In 2004 Buddy Rice started on the front row and battled then RLR teammate Vitor Meira to the wire edging Meira by six inches for the victory. Last season RLR swept the top-three in qualifying led by Patrick who captured her first IndyCar Series pole position. Meira would finish a strong third in the race.

"There is no doubt that Kansas has been a strong track for Rahal Letterman over the past couple of seasons," said Patrick, the 2005 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year. "We have taken a step back with the chassis change, but that is only temporary. This week I think we can draw on our experience at Kansas and combined with our gains in the Dallara and I think we can have a pretty decent race car for Sunday."

This will be RLR's third race with the Dallara chassis. RLR ran Panoz chassis all of 2004 and 2005 and the first five events of 2006. RLR won nine poles and three races including Kansas in the Panoz. In the two races since switching to the Dallara, RLR's top finish has been a 12th place finish by Patrick at Texas.

"The Panoz was a great car for qualifying, but when you got into race traffic the car was very unpredictable," said Patrick. "I've only got two races with the Dallara and the results have been mixed. I chalk that up to the learning curve. I have spent the last two years racing against the Dallara's, so I know how stable they can be in traffic."

For 2004 race winner Buddy Rice, Kansas represents a proverbial reset button to a season that has seen him collect a pair of top-five results, but also three DNF's in his six races.

"Kansas will always be a special place for me since the win in 2004," said Rice. "That was a great race with Vitor (Meira, his then RLR teammate in the second closest race in IRL history). Last year, we had a good qualifying car (2nd) but the car didn't handle as well in the race. Now, we come to Kansas with a new car,

t performing at our expectations. We've got to make the most of what we've got and keep pushing forward. We'll keep working on development and we'll get back up there to the front. We wouldn't have made the change (to the Dallara) if we didn't thank it was good. I believe we will improve for the Kansas race."

Rookie Jeff Simmons actually raced at Kansas in 2004 as a one-off with Patrick Racing. Simmons finished 19th in his 2004 Kansas run, and this week he has a idea of what to expect.

"I am looking forward to coming back to the Kansas Speedway. That area is a big marketing venue for sponsor, Team Ethanol. The current progress of ethanol-blended fuel around the country has everyone interested in the industry and we hope to continue to expand the country's knowledge about ethanol. We will be doing a lot of promotional events with ethanol and the Kansas City area is a great location since the 'corn belt' always has some background on ethanol. For me, I have raced at Kansas before in the IndyCar Series, back in 2004 with Patrick Racing (finished 19th). We didn't finish due to being hit by another car but I enjoyed the track and the experience I got. I raced in the Indy Pro Series at Kansas in 2003 too (finished 14th). It is a great track, one of the best in the country. We are stilling learning about the next Dallara chassis. We had a pretty decent run at Texas with pretty stock cars. We just don't have the information that the other teams have with the Dallara. We have raced two races and most of the other teams have several years of knowledge on these chassis. It is always tough to race a car without a lot of testing. That is the mode that Rahal Letterman Racing is in right now. We'll improve the cars with each race but there is no doubt that we are behind the eight-ball to the other teams. I feel confident we'll get the cars better and better with each race."


Buddy Rice will make his 39th IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 57th of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 24th IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 53rd start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Jeff Simmons will make his sixth start for RLR this weekend and his eighth 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 29 races. . .Jeff Simmons, currently second in the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year standings, is attempting 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. . .Simmons led his first lap of his IndyCar Series career at Watkins Glen (6/4). . .Buddy Rice led eight laps at St. Petersburg, the first RLR laps led on an IRL IndyCar Series road or street course. .He added five laps led at Watkins Glen en route to a fourth place finish. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 29 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. . .In 55 IRL IndyCar Series races RLR has captured nine pole positions, won three times, collected 14 podium results (top-three) and 30 top-five finishes while leading 667 laps.


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