BUDDY RICE LOOKING TO REPEAT INFINEON RUN OF 2005 HILLIARD, Ohio -- Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 winner, hasn't enjoyed his finest racing season in 2006. The 30-year-old Phoenix racer has suffered through a variety of troubles on the IRL ...
BUDDY RICE LOOKING TO REPEAT INFINEON RUN OF 2005
HILLIARD, Ohio -- Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 winner, hasn't enjoyed his finest racing season in 2006. The 30-year-old Phoenix racer has suffered through a variety of troubles on the IRL IndyCar(R) Series this year, but the driver of the No. 15 Argent Mortgage Honda Panoz Firestone car has had his eye on his return to one of his favorite tracks, Infineon Raceway, the tough 2.26-mile road circuit.
"To be honest, it has been a tough year for the No. 15 Argent Honda team," said Rice, whose best 2006 finish was fourth on the Watkins Glen road course. "But I am really excited about coming back to Infineon Raceway. Rahal Letterman feels good about our road circuit setup with the Panoz chassis. We got second last year at Sonoma and I would love to improve on that finish this time around."
Rice's road course record has been impressive since the IndyCar Series started on the road tracks last year. Even with his steady results, Rice is looking for his first road course win since 2000 in the Formula Atlantic series.
"We have been in contention to race for the win on the road circuits," said Rice. "A break here and there would have made the difference but we didn't catch the break we needed. Coming to Infineon this time, I feel confident we can race for the victory. It is a very physical track and one I really like."
Rice has been the closest to victory on the Rahal Letterman Racing team with his second last year at Infineon Raceway. Rice's RLR teammates Danica Patrick and rookie Jeff Simmons have shown they can run up front on the road courses too.
Patrick, the 2005 Indy 500 and IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, exited early in last year's Grand Prix of Sonoma when her No. 16 Argent Mortgage Honda was hit from behind. Patrick and two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves were innocent victims of a charging Ryan Briscoe. Both were knocked out of the event.
"We have made a great deal of progress on the road and street races since we started last year," said Patrick, who recorded her top IndyCar Series road course result of sixth at St. Pete earlier this year. "We have a pair of top-ten results this year and I think the team has really come to grips on what we need to do with the Panoz to be fast on the road courses. Infineon is a tough physical track and driver conditioning will be critical. I have really increased the intensity of my workouts over the last few weeks in preparation for this race."
In mid season, the Rahal Letterman team moved into the Dallara chassis for the oval races, yet the team will stay with its proven Panoz chassis on the road circuits.
Jeff Simmons, a 29-year-old rookie from Hartford, Conn., might be the least experienced of the three Rahal Letterman Racing drivers, but the driver of the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda Dallara Firestone car showed his potential earlier this year with four straight top ten finishes.
Simmons came to the Ohio-based team under difficult circumstances following the death of driver Paul Dana in the season opener at Homestead, Fla., in March. But Simmons 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 finished third in last year's Indy Pro Series race at Infineon Raceway. "I made some rookie mistakes and we were just caught up in some bad luck and unfortunate situations.
"The team is very familiar with the Panoz in all types of settings," said Simmons. "I think the Infineon track will be good for us. That track is extremely physical for the drivers. The change in elevation and the off-camber turns make for a lot of G-loads. But it is a fun circuit to drive. I am anxious to race with the IndyCar at that track."
-credit: Rahal Letterman Racing