IRL: Richmond: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

DEMANDING RICHMOND UP NEXT FOR RLR COMPACT WEEKEND AHEAD ON INDYCAR'S SMALLEST TRACK HILLIARD, Ohio - The physical demands of IndyCar racing are well documented. High g-forces and extreme speeds challenge all the drivers in the IndyCar...


HILLIARD, Ohio - The physical demands of IndyCar racing are well documented. High g-forces and extreme speeds challenge all the drivers in the IndyCar Series, but several tracks stand out as additional challenges because of the overt physical nature of the course. The two most often mentioned are 12 turn 2.26-mile road course Infineon Raceway and three-quarter of a mile Richmond International Raceway.

Short ovals in an IndyCar are a creature all their own. Without the longer front and backstretch of Indianapolis or Michigan at Richmond the drivers spend the majority of the race turning.

Danica Patrick came to Richmond last year hearing the horror stories of the physical demands. The diminutive Patrick posted a top-ten finish and weathered the storm nicely.

"Everyone spent the first third of the season warning me about Richmond, so I probably built it up in my mind to be worse than it ever could be," said Patrick. "I take a lot of pride in my workout routine. I really hit the weights last season in anticipation of tracks like Richmond and Sonoma. I used to focus my workout on low weights and high reps, but Paul (Patrick's husband physical therapist Paul Hospenthal) convinced me to reverse that and use bigger weights and lower reps. I have seen a marked difference this year in my conditioning. I thought I was in top shape before, but I know I am better prepared this year.

The challenge isn't all physical at RIR. Mentally Richmond is a challenge. "Mental focus is critical anytime you are racing, but some tracks take more of a toll," said Buddy Rice "At Richmond you are pretty much in traffic the entire time. Even if you are leading you will come up on the back of the pack pretty quick. Passing opportunities are at a premium so you really have to work to move up through the field. The biggest challenge for a driver is often to stay patient. Richmond, like any short oval, is a race were attrition can be a factor."

Team Ethanol driver Jeff Simmons first experience with the Richmond track came during a rookie only session on Thursday morning. He, like Patrick a year ago, has heard the 'legend' of Richmond.

"I have never raced at Richmond so I am looking forward to Thursday's testing to get accustomed to the shorter track," said Simmons. "I know that Richmond is a physical track and it is tough on the driver and car. So I am prepared for a long, hard race on Saturday night."

Another aspect that makes the IndyCar Series stop at Richmond so challenging is the compressed nature of the schedule for Round 7 of the 2006 Championship. Richmond is a Saturday night race and is the first of five two-day events that comprise the bulk of the summer schedule.

"Track time is limited because the schedule is compressed and with the new chassis that is a real challenge for us," said Rice. "The entire race weekend unfolds so fast because you practice and then you qualify. If you are off the pace at the start you really have your work cut out for you to get back on track. The Richmond race is one of my favorites and it is a lot of fun to drive. I grew up racing under the lights in Phoenix so I have always enjoyed the night races. The crowd really gets into the race at Richmond. I like that."


Richmond marks the second race for Rahal Letterman Racing with the Dallara chassis. RLR switched to the Dallara chassis. A Dallara chassis has won 21 of the last 24 races including five of the six races this season. RLR ran a Panoz chassis in 2004 and 2005 and through the Watkins Glen race in early June.

"We believed heading into this season that the changes that were made with the Panoz would make it a competitive car, but once we got into the season we saw there was still a discrepancy between the Panoz and the Dallara," said Buddy Rice. "Obviously Bobby and Dave wanted to upgrade the team with the new Dallara's, and I think we can get back to the front of the field with the new cars. It won't be easy as we are starting in the middle of the season and the other teams have had off season testing and multiple practice sessions with the Dallara chassis. Right now we are running a fairly basic Dallara and we have to wait to get some special aero parts the other teams are running. So we are a little behind right now, but this is the right move for the future."

Rahal Letterman Racing enjoyed a fair amount of success with the Panoz chassis. The team won three races including the 2004 Indy 500 and nine pole positions in the team's tenure with the Panoz.


Danica Patrick faces the same question at every stop along the IRL IndyCar Series schedule. When do you think you will win your first race? For Patrick who will make her 23rd IndyCar Series start Saturday night, the question has come to represent what she feels is the hopes of her fans.

"Nobody puts higher expectations on my performance, than I do," said Patrick. "I have always been my harshest critic and nobody wants to win more than I. In the grand scheme of things I am still very early in my IndyCar career. On the average it takes a driver 33 races to earn their first win and that takes me into next season. Every week I am doing the best I can and trying to maximize what I can get out of the car. Up until Texas we had finished in the top-eight at every race. The change to the Dallara presents some new challenges, but it is the right move for the long term. We had maximized what we could get out of the Panoz.

Patrick enters Richmond ninth in the championship, despite having run one less race than the rest of the top-ten, and having posted five straight running results. Patrick has run very consistently, and while she hasn't led a lap this season, she has completed 754 of the 755 possible laps.

Last season Patrick posted a pair of top-ten results on the short ovals (Richmond 10, Pikes Peak 8), but it was her stellar run at Milwaukee prior to a late crash that impressed most racing observers.

"I gained some valuable experience on the short ovals as the season went along," said Patrick. "Richmond was the first big step towards that. We had problems at Richmond, but I persevered and we managed to pick up a top-ten result. By the time we got to Milwaukee and Pikes Peak I felt pretty comfortable in the car."


One could understand if Buddy Rice was rooting for the Miami Heat in the recent NBA Finals. When it comes to Texas, Buddy Rice hasn't had the best of luck. When Rice suffered a mechanical failure at Texas it was his fourth straight DNF at Texas Motor Speedway.

"We have had a bad run of luck at Texas, so I can't say I am sad to see it go by on the schedule for another season," said Rice. "Unfortunately it seems like we always have a car that is pretty good and then something goes wrong. Likewise it seems like every time we build some momentum like Watkins Glen (he finished 4th) something goes wrong at the next race. We are having trouble establishing a consistent run of strong results."

This week Rice heads to Richmond where in three starts he has a pair of top-ten results and last year he finished eleventh. Rice has posted three wins for RLR in his three seasons with the team. Rice's wins came on the super speedways at Indianapolis and Michigan and on the 1.5 mile oval at Kansas.


Jeff Simmons will be making his debut at the Richmond International Raceway this weekend. The 29-year-old rookie from Hartford, CT, has the double whammy of learning a new track and coming to grips with the new Dallara chassis this weekend. "Actually, the Dallara chassis feels similar to the Dallara I drove in the Indy Pro Series," said Simmons. "Sure, the IndyCar is bigger and the Honda power is significantly larger, but the feel of the car is very much like the car I drove in the Pro Series (and he won seven times in the series). I think the new cars will be good for us, it will just take some time."

Simmons race weekend got off to an early start with a rookie only session on Thursday morning. On Tuesday and Wednesday he made appearances for Ethanol. Tuesday night in Milwaukee he appeared with Bobby Rahal in Milwaukee for the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. Wednesday afternoon he toured ALFA LAVA a Richmond based Ethanol plant where he met with the employees and signed autographs.


Buddy Rice will make his 38th IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 56th of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 23rd IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 52nd start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Jeff Simmons will make his fifth start for RLR this weekend and his seventh 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 28 races. . .Jeff Simmons 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. . .RLR switched from the Panoz chassis to the Dallara chassis at Texas. RLR ran the Dallara chassis in 2002 and 2003. RLR ran two IndyCar Series races in 2002 (Fontana & Indy) with Jimmy Vasser and a full slate of IndyCar Series races in 2003. All nine of the team's IndyCar Series pole positions and the three wins all came in the Panoz chassis. The team's highest finish with a Dallara chassis was second with Kenny Brack at Motegi in 2003


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Jeff Simmons , Danica Patrick