IRL: Richmond: Patrick Racing qualifying report

Mechanical Problem Sends Patrick Racing To Back Of The Grid For Tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge RICHMOND, VIRIGINA - FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2004 -- Patrick Racing experienced a mechanical problem and had to change the engine forcing them to the...

Mechanical Problem Sends Patrick Racing To Back Of The Grid For Tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge

RICHMOND, VIRIGINA - FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2004 -- Patrick Racing experienced a mechanical problem and had to change the engine forcing them to the back of the gird for tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Speedway in Richmond, Virginia.

The Richmond race is a two-day event and under the IRL IndyCar Series rules any engine change during the two-days requires the team to start at the back of the field. Therefore, driver Al Unser Jr., behind the wheel of the #20 Patrick Racing Chevrolet/Dallara/Firestone entry, with associate sponsorship from Stacker 2, will start 22nd. Never-the-less, Unser Jr. did take his turn in the single car qualifying line because the team decided to check the new engine and they felt they would benefit from the additional track time.

"This has been a tough day for the Patrick Racing team," Unser Jr. said. "We came here with a new engineer and we needed as much track time as possible to get to know each other and get the car working. Unfortunately, it rained this morning so we lost some of time during the first practice. Then the second practice session was cancelled. Finally, we got some time to make up for the time we lost in the morning, but we had a mechanical problem that forced us to stop running and we had to change the engine. That put us at the back of the grid for tomorrow's race," he explained. "It is a shame. I think the Patrick Racing team was making progress and we had some good ideas on what to do to improve the car. But, that is racing. We will just have to make the best of it," Unser Jr. concluded.

Today's schedule originally called for the field to be divided in half and for each group to run two 45-minute practice sessions. Group #1 got their first session in however the second group's session was interrupted by steady showers. The track dried late in the afternoon and group #2 went back out to complete their first practice at 4:00 p.m. Because of the mechanical problem Unser Jr. only managed a fast lap of 17.0489 seconds (158.368 mph) placing him 22nd on the speed charts at the end of practice. With rain still threatening and time an issue, the second round of practices were cancelled and qualifying was rescheduled from 7:15 p.m. to 6:10 p.m.

This will be the farthest back on the grid Unser Jr. has started in four races on the .75 mile banked Richmond tri-oval and his lowest starting position of the season. His best qualifying position at RIS is 11th in 2001. In his three previous races here in Richmond, Unser Jr. has finished in the top-10 all three times including two top-five finishes with one podium, a third place showing in 2001.

Unser Jr., who is in his 22nd season at the upper level of American open wheel racing, fifth in the IRL and first with Patrick Racing, will be making his 327th career open wheel start, 54th in the IRL and third for Patrick Racing tomorrow. The native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has amassed a total of 34 career wins (31 in CART and three in the IRL) including wins at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992 and 1994 and national championships in 1990 and 1994. Unser Jr., a resident of Henderson, Nevada finished an IRL career high sixth in the championship standings last year with 374 points. He finished 15 of the 16 races in 2003, more than any other driver (25 of his last 26 races dating back to 2002 and including the two races this year), and scored 11 top-10 finishes with one victory.

Patrick Racing, which is in its 32nd year of competition, and first in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, will be making it third start of the 2004 season. In the first two races it contested in 2004, the team finished 17th at the Indianapolis 500 and 11th two weeks ago at the Bombardier 500K at Texas Motor Speedway.

Patrick Racing is one of the most successful teams in open wheel racing history.

Patrick drivers have started 789 races, won two national championships (Gordon Johncock - 1979; Emerson Fittipaldi - 1989) and taken the checkered flag 45 times, including three at the Indianapolis 500 (Johncock - 1973 and1982; Fittipaldi - 1989). Considered one of the premier teams, Patrick Racing is owned and led by one of the most respected names in motor sports, U. E. "Pat" Patrick. Patrick is the "father" of the Indy Lights Championship and the co-founder of CART.

The SunTrust Indy Challenge will be televised live on ESPN2 beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET).

-pr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Emerson Fittipaldi , Gordon Johncock