IRL: Kentucky: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

SIMMONS HEADS INTO KENTUCKY'S MEIJER INDY 300 WITH CONFIDENCE HILLIARD, Ohio - Rahal Letterman Racing's rookie driver Jeff Simmons is coming into Sunday's Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret with confidence. The 29-year-old racer...

SIMMONS HEADS INTO KENTUCKY'S MEIJER INDY 300 WITH CONFIDENCE

HILLIARD, Ohio - Rahal Letterman Racing's rookie driver Jeff Simmons is coming into Sunday's Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret with confidence.

The 29-year-old racer from Hartford, Conn., might be the least experienced of the three Rahal Letterman Racing drivers including Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice, but the driver of the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda Dallara Firestone car has been impressive in his last four races.

Simmons came to the Ohio-based team in difficult circumstances following the death of Paul Dana in the season opener at Homestead, Fla., in March. But Simmons has shown the potential that Bobby Rahal saw in Simmons when he hired him in the third race this year.

Simmons has recorded four consecutive Top Ten finishes at Kansas, Nashville, Milwaukee and Michigan. His seventh at Nashville was a career high for Simmons.

"The beginning of the year was tough for me and the Team Ethanol crew," said Simmons, who has two Indy Pro Series wins (2004, 2005) at Kentucky Speedway. "I made some rookie mistakes and we were just caught up in some bad luck and unfortunate situations, but we have been able to put that behind us now. It was difficult with no pre-season testing and really no testing at all with the Team Ethanol car. Now we have been able to test at Kentucky and that will help us coming into the race weekend."

Simmons got in a rookie test last week and it proved helpful not only to Simmons but to the entire RLR team.

"We came to Kentucky straight from the Michigan race," said Simmons. "Everyone was a little tired but the test was very helpful. We were able to work on several areas of the chassis and that will help Danica, Buddy and myself when practice opens on Saturday. We are still learning more about the Dallara chassis."

Rahal Letterman Racing switched from the Panoz to the Dallara chassis at mid-season and the learning curve has been steep. But Simmons believes the team is getting closer to the team's Panoz success the past few years.

"The team was very familiar to the Panoz in all types of settings," said Simmons. "But we are gaining momentum with the Dallara. I think the last three races will be good for us."

The Rahal Letterman squad excelled with Panoz chassis in the past two years as Rice and Patrick have captured the last two pole positions at Kentucky. Rice just missed winning the Kentucky event in 2004 (by 0.0581 seconds to Adrian Fernandez) and RLR's Vitor Meira nearly captured last year's contest finishing second by 0.0779 seconds to Scott Sharp.

"I have always liked the Kentucky track and I thought I had a chance to win the race in 2004," said Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 winner who'll drive his popular Argent Mortgage Honda Dallara Sunday. "We have been getting better with the Dallara chassis on the bigger track and Jeff's test should help us coming into the race. There is no doubt that testing and racing at the same time on a new car is difficult. But the Rahal Letterman engineers have been working many hours to get the new car up to speed. I think have shown that in recent races. Now, it is time to race for the win. We have been improving and now we need to get into the mix with the leaders. Kentucky is a wide track and two grooves are possible. So I feel like we have a better setup for this weekend."

Patrick was lightning fast in practice last year at Kentucky and she has scored two fourth place finishes with the new Dallara chassis this year. Patrick tied the IRL rookie record for poles last year with three (Kansas, Kentucky, Chicagoland).

Patrick comes to Kentucky after a frustrating finish at Michigan. The 2005 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year had finished every race this season (nine straight) and appeared poised to claim another top-ten result when she ran out of fuel with less than two laps remaining in the Firestone Indy 400.

"It was frustrating to have worked so had and to have seen a solid result slip away," said Danica. "Still I can take solace in the fact that even though we had a difficult race we were able to work our way forward and to be in a position to post a decent result."

This week Patrick returns to the Kentucky Speedway for the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret. It marks the popular driver's first time back at the track since she won the pole at Kentucky in 2005.

"We had a great car last year, but we had problems in the race and we had a problem with the gearbox which left us down several laps," said Patrick. "It proved to be a long and frustrating day. This year we have been slower in qualifying, but over the last several events our race set-up has been outstanding. Hopefully we can make some progress, build upon Jeff's test, and turn in a better qualifying performance. If we can start up front and race the way we have the last few weeks who knows how good our results can be?"

RAHAL LETTERMAN NOTES

Buddy Rice will make his 43rd IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 61st of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 28th IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 57th start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Jeff Simmons will make his tenth start for RLR this weekend and his twelfth IndyCar Series start overall. Bobby Rahal is the career leader in starts for RLR with 116 starts.

-credit: Rahal Letterman Racing

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Buddy Rice , Jeff Simmons , Paul Dana , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira