RLR TRIO IS SEEKING A BREAKOUT WEEKEND IN KENTUCKY HILLIARD, Ohio -- July 2005, a month that began with Rahal Letterman Racing sweeping the top-three slots in qualifying at Kansas, ended on a down note with all three RLR drivers posting a DNF...
RLR TRIO IS SEEKING A BREAKOUT WEEKEND IN KENTUCKY
HILLIARD, Ohio -- July 2005, a month that began with Rahal Letterman Racing sweeping the top-three slots in qualifying at Kansas, ended on a down note with all three RLR drivers posting a DNF at Michigan. As the 2005 IndyCar Series season moves into the final stages, the RLR trio of Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Vitor Meira are looking to return to the form that led to the dominate qualifying day at Kansas.
Argent/Pioneer driver Buddy Rice, the pole winner at Kentucky last season, has endured the most frustrating RLR season falling prey to a DNF in six of the ten races he has run in 2005. An injury in practice at Indianapolis forced the 2004 Indy 500 winner to miss the opportunity to defend his Indy crown. Rice was running near the front at Michigan when a drive shaft failure ended his day. Recent competitive runs at Kansas, Nashville and Michigan show the 29-year-old native of Phoenix is close to breaking out.
"It has been frustrating, because anything that can go wrong does," said Rice. "We have the same approach as last year and we are doing the same things that we did when we were winning races and winning poles, but we just aren't getting the breaks. All we can do as a team is go out and focus on the task at hand and try to win races. Winning has an amazing way of making you forget your recent troubles."
Rookie sensation Danica Patrick entered Milwaukee in late July with a league high eight straight running finishes, but her quest for the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year has been slowed by back-to-back DNF's. Milwaukee (accident) and Michigan (mechanical) marked the first back-to-back DNF's in Patrick's 40 races with RLR.
"My goal for each race hasn't changed from the start of the season," said Patrick. "I want to finish every race. I look at each race as an educational experience and if I don't run all the laps, then I haven't learned all I can on that day. Bobby [Rahal] told me at the start of the season he wasn't worried about where I finished as long as I finished. We lost a strong run at Milwaukee with the accident and we were just starting to get the car dialed in at Michigan when we had the mechanical problem. Certainly we are looking for the best results possible and based on the success we have had on the bigger tracks I think we have a chance to do well at Kentucky."
Vitor Meira has posted the top Rahal Letterman result in eight of the eleven races. At Michigan Meira was running in the lead pack before an electrical problem necessitated an extended pit stop. Having lost eight laps while changing the ECU, Meira persevered and finished 14th. He retired on lap 184 with severe handling problems in his No. 17 Rahal Letterman/Team Menard/Johns Manville Honda/Panoz/Firestone.
"When a day starts as promising as Michigan did, it is a disappointment when you only finish 14th," said Meira. "This is a tough portion of the season, six races in seven weeks can build momentum or beat you down. We need to comeback strong after the off week and see if we can make a run to the end of the season. The championship is out of reach, but a top-five finish is within reach."
MEIRA SEEKING THAT ELUSIVE FIRST WIN
Vitor Meira has been chasing that elusive first IndyCar Series victory since his debut in the League in 2002. As he makes his 40th IndyCar Series start this weekend, the 28-year-old Brazilian sees a track at Kentucky that could deliver that win.
"The Kentucky Speedway is a tricky track," said Meira. "I learned that a few years ago when I crashed in practice and missed a few races (2003). Last year at Rahal Letterman Racing we raced up front with Buddy and several other drivers. It is a wide track and passing is definitely possible. We had a really good car at Michigan two weeks ago and we had a mechanical problem early in the race. Once we fixed that problem, the car was very good. I think we can have that kind of car at Kentucky too. We have had some success on the mile and a half ovals and I think we will bounce back from the disappointment at Michigan."
Seven different drivers have won races for RLR since the team was founded as Rahal-Hogan Racing in 1992. Four of the seven have been first time winners with RLR including Buddy Rice (2004), Max Papis (2000), Bryan Herta (1998) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (2003).
RICE EYES REPEAT OF POLE RUN AT KENTUCKY
Rahal Letterman Racing won six IndyCar Series pole positions and three races in 2004. Buddy Rice won five pole positions last year including a pole winning run at Kentucky. Rice ran a brilliant race and finished .0581 of a second behind Adrian Fernandez.
"Kentucky is a fast place that I really like," said Rice. "It is like many of the 1.5-mile high banked speedways on the IRL circuit. Last year, we won the pole and just missed winning the race. We have had good cars on the 1.5-mile ovals since last year, but lately we haven't had any luck at all. It is something that we haven't figured out lately. But I know this team is good and Kentucky should be a strong track for us. The Honda is producing excellent power and that will help us too. We just need a good solid weekend to turn around our fortunes."
A Rice victory at Kentucky would move him into a tie with Bobby Rahal and Kenny Brack for the most wins in team history (4).
PATRICK REMAINS PATIENT IN PURSUIT OF HER FIRST WIN
The spotlight has been focused on Danica Patrick since her historic run at Indianapolis in May. The 23-year-old has balanced the demands of a rookie campaign in the highly competitive IndyCar Series with the media frenzy that has been dubbed 'Danica Mania.' Despite her impressive rookie credentials much of the mainstream media has initiated the 'Danica Win Watch' keeping an eye on the rookie and anticipating her first IndyCar Series win. Of the 23 drivers who took the green flag at Michigan, 12 had posted an open-wheel racing win in the IndyCar Series or Champ Car. The average number of races it took those drivers to post their first win was 33. Only three of the 12 posted a win in their first 17 races, the number of races Patrick will run in her rookie season.
"Not everybody wins in their first season, in fact most people don't," said Patrick. "There's only been a few in the current series that have. I think you have to take into consideration what the circumstances are, how the team is performing, how you're doing, how much you're learned and how fast, how lucky you've been, the breaks you've caught. I think all those things have to come into play and we have to take notice of what's going on. I'd love to win a race this season. I would love it. That would be my most recent dream come true. We'll have to wait and see. I'm not going to let that decide whether or not I've had a good season."
Kentucky will be just her twelfth IndyCar Series start. Prior to making the jump this season to Rahal Letterman's IndyCar program, Patrick ran 29 races in Barber Dodge and Toyota Atlantic for RLR.
"I'm very early in my career," said Patrick. "I've done so little, and I've done so little oval racing, and there's just so many things that are new to me. People who are close to racing and know what is going on in the sport understand where I'm at in the learning curve. They have a good grasp of what's going on each and every weekend and they understand that this is a process that takes time. Nobody wants me to win more than I want to win for myself. With media expectations or without expectations I will give the same effort and try just as hard for that win."
In the history of the IRL IndyCar Series only three true rookies have ever won a race. The last to do so was Tomas Scheckter in 2002.
"I think that the win could come as early as this season, and it could take until next season," said Patrick. "I really don't know. I do think we've definitely shown the ability to be fast. We've shown the ability to run up front, to lead races, to qualify on pole. I think for me to win this season a lot of things have to come together at once. I need to have a good car. I need to qualify well. I need to have good pit stops. I need to make good decisions on the track, catch a break here and there. I think there's a lot of stuff that has to fall into place. When you're a rookie, it's hard to make everything great if you're not always up front. You need even more luck for it to all come into play at one race."
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTABLES. . .
Vitor Meira has posted the top Rahal Letterman result in eight of the eleven races this season, including the last race at Michigan. . .The three Rahal Letterman drivers have combined to lead 116 laps this season led by Danica Patrick with 60. RLR cars have led in six of the ten races. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won at least one race every season since 1998. That seven year streak is the second longest (Newman Haas) such streak in North American open-wheel racing. . ,Patrick is currently the leader in the Bombardier Rookie of the Year competition. Patrick is vying to become the second RLR driver in the team's history to win Rookie of the Year honors. Kenny Brack captured the CART Rookie of the Year honors in 2000. . .Although she is a rookie, Danica Patrick is actually the senior member of the RLR driving trio in terms of starts with the team. Patrick will make her 41st start this weekend when she takes the green flag at Kentucky, while Buddy Rice will make his 27th RLR start and Vitor Meira his 26th start. Bobby Rahal is the career leader in starts for RLR with 116 starts. . .Buddy Rice needs one win to move into a tie for the all time leader in RLR wins. Bobby Rahal won four times during his championship season of 1992 and Kenny Brack won four times during his 2001 season in which he finished as the runner up. . .After eleven rounds of the 2005 season Vitor Meira (257 points) leads his teammates Danica Patrick (221 points) and Buddy Rice (173 points) in the Hilliard, Ohio Mayor's Cup Standings.
-Rahal Letterman Racing