Rahal Letterman Racing Track Talk: Japan Indy 300 JEFF SIMMONS READY FOR HIS RAHAL LETTERMAN DEBUT AT TWIN RING MOTEGI HILLIARD, Ohio - Jeff Simmons knows he joined the Rahal Letterman Racing team under unusual conditions. The Boston College...
Rahal Letterman Racing Track Talk: Japan Indy 300
JEFF SIMMONS READY FOR HIS RAHAL LETTERMAN DEBUT AT TWIN RING MOTEGI
HILLIARD, Ohio - Jeff Simmons knows he joined the Rahal Letterman Racing team under unusual conditions. The Boston College graduate who has lit up the Indy Pro Series ranks with five wins in the last 10 starts will make his RLR debut this weekend at Twin Ring Motegi. Not only does Simmons hope to carve his own niche in the IndyCar Series, but the 29-year-old hopes to continue a legacy initiated by his predecessor, the late Paul Dana.
"These are not the circumstances that I would like this opportunity to come about, but Paul had the same dreams as me," said Simmons, who takes over the wheel of the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda Panoz Firestone car for the remainder of the season. "Like him, this is an opportunity that I've worked so long and hard for. I just want to do my very best to promote the cause that Paul worked so hard for and do the best job I can in the car for Team Ethanol."
Simmons comes to the RLR with strong ladder system credentials and a pair of IndyCar Series starts. So while everything is not new to the East Granby, Conn., driver, this will be his first experience at the ultra-fast 1.5-mile oval north of Tokyo.
"I have never been to Japan and the Motegi track," said Simmons, who'll make his third IndyCar Series start. "But the Rahal Letterman Racing has a lot of experience and success at the track. Kenny Brack won there (in 2001) and finished second a couple of times, and Danica (Patrick) nearly won the pole last year in her first appearance. I know Buddy (Rice) is very fast there, so I am hoping to use their knowledge of the track in my first appearance."
Rahal Letterman co-owner Bobby Rahal believes Simmons has both the talent to succeed on the IndyCar Series as well as promoting the ethanol cause.
"Jeff is a driver who I think has a great deal of potential and a very bright future," said the three-time Indy car champion and the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner. "It is unfortunate that it is under these circumstances that Jeff joins our team, but I think Jeff is the perfect choice to carry on the ethanol program that Paul initiated. Jeff has paid his dues and worked his way up through the developmental series. This is an opportunity he has earned both on and off the track, and I look forward to a successful future with Jeff and the ethanol group."
Simmons knows this opportunity is much different that his first two races in the IndyCar Series back in 2004.
"The last two times, (with Mo Nunn at Indy and Patrick at Kansas in 2004) I was just right climbed into the car and went right onto the race track," he explained. "It was nice to have some time to prepare for Motegi, and we had a good test at Indy (April 5). Rahal Letterman is one of the most professional teams I could ever hope to be associated with, and I truly appreciate the faith that Bobby and the Team Ethanol sponsors have placed in me."
PATRICK AIMS FOR MOTEGI MAGIC
Twin Ring Motegi holds fond memories for Rahal Letterman Racing's Danica Patrick. It was here in 2005 that Patrick shook off the rookie label and showed the ability that prompted Bobby Rahal to sign her. The rookie driver nearly won the pole position in the No. 16 Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz starting second and she led 32 laps en route to a season-best fourth place finish. She would parlay that success into an incredible month of May and her historic run at the Indianapolis 500.
"Motegi is where everything really started to come together last year," said Patrick. "I have high expectations heading back to Motegi this year. We were so close in qualifying, and we had a really strong run in the Argent Honda during the race. There have been other drivers who have won at Motegi for the first time, so maybe it will be my turn this weekend."
Patrick has been in Japan since last Saturday on a promotion/media junket for Honda and Twin Ring Motegi. The 2005 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year opened the season with a sixth place finish on the streets of St. Petersburg.
"We really can't afford a DNF at this point of the season," said Patrick. "Sitting out the first race of the season after the accident with Paul, put us behind in the points, but it is a long season, and we just have to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I definitely view Motegi as a track where we should be able to produce a strong result."
BUDDY RICE OPTIMISTIC HEADED TO JAPAN
The old adage, "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades" rings true for Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice. The 30-year-old Phoenix native has had close runs at Twin Ring Motegi the last two years bringing home a pair of top-six results. That has left Rice optimistic heading to Japan for the 2006 event.
"The last couple of years at Motegi we have been close, but not good enough," said Rice. "Two years ago, I think I had the best car with the No 15 Argent Honda, but we had a mechanical problem early in the race and had to live with it. We finished sixth. Last year, the car wasn't nearly as good, and we conserved fuel for third. To be honest, I'm more confident with our car coming into Motegi this year. Our test at Indy was very good, and I believe we have a car to race up front at Motegi and Indy."
Rice is looking to recapture the championship form he showed in 2004 when he won three races including the Indy 500 and five pole positions en route to finishing third in the points. Rice ran a strong race at St. Petersburg, but a late race punt courtesy of Tomas Scheckter robbed Rice of a fourth place finish and left him 13th. That DNF when combined with the Homestead withdrawal has Rice entering Motegi 18th in the championship.
"We were ready to race well at Homestead, and we didn't get the chance because of Paul's crash, said Rice. "But both my car and Danica's car should be very competitive. I wouldn't' be surprised to see Jeff (Simmons) right up there too. He has never been to Motegi before, but Danica hadn't been before last year and she just missed the pole and was very fast in the race. Rahal Letterman Racing has won there (with Kenny Brack in 2001) and knows how to get a car setup for that place. I'm anxious to get back to Motegi again."
RLR MOTEGI SUCCESS
Twin Ring Motegi has been a successful destination for RLR over the years. After a slow start in which the team didn't have a car finish at Motegi in 1998 and 1999, the team has collected seven top-five results since 2000.
Kenny Brack won for Rahal Letterman Racing at Twin Ring Motegi in 2001. Brack dominated the Champ Car race leading 75 laps and lapping every car but runner-up Helio Castroneves for the victory.
Brack added a second place finish in 2003 and a top-five in 2000. Buddy Rice finished third in 2005 and Danica Patrick fourth. Michel Jourdain Jr. finished fifth in 2002.
The top qualifying effort for RLR at Motegi is second. Kenny Brack started second and finished fifth in 2000. Patrick started second and finished fourth in 2005.
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTES
Buddy Rice will make his 34th IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 52nd of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 19th IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 48th start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Jeff Simmons will make his first start for RLR this weekend and his third 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 24 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 52 IRL IndyCar Series races RLR has captured nine pole positions, won three times, collected 14 podium results (top-three) and 29 top-five finishes while leading 661 laps.