IRL: St. Pete: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RICE AND PATRICK READY FOR A RETURN TO THE TRACK AT ST. PETERSBURG HILLIARD, Ohio -- After an emotional and difficult week, Rahal Letterman Racing's driver duo of Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick will return to the track this weekend for the Honda...

RICE AND PATRICK READY FOR A RETURN TO THE TRACK AT ST. PETERSBURG

HILLIARD, Ohio -- After an emotional and difficult week, Rahal Letterman Racing's driver duo of Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick will return to the track this weekend for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The race will essentially serve as the 2006 season opener for RLR. The team withdrew the cars of Patrick and Rice from the season opening race after the tragedy involving Paul Dana last Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Buddy Rice collected two of his four top-ten results on road/street courses last season. Rice finished seventh at St. Pete and second at Infineon. The 2004 Indy 500 champion is ready to kick start his season this weekend in the No. 15 Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz/Firestone.

"Racing is what we do, so despite the unfortunate circumstances, we have to be ready to race this weekend," said Buddy Rice. "From the standpoint of the season, we have lost an event and those points are crucial in the championship. With fewer races this season there is less opportunities to make up a loss of points or to overcome a costly DNF. I feel pretty good about where we are at with our road course program for the Argent Mortgage/Honda. We had some success last year and we made significant progress in the off season."

For 2005 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick the frustration of Friday practice at Homestead turned to optimism after a stellar qualifying run on Saturday. Patrick claimed the third spot on the grid with a fast lap of 216.798 mph.

"It will be a relief to get back on track and to get our season started," said Patrick. "We have spent a lot of time in testing and preparation for the season and unfortunately the start of our season was delayed. The choice not to run last week was Bobby's [Rahal] decision and I think it was the right one. We have to view Homestead as a race where we basically had an early DNF. In the grand scheme of the championship and the season standings Homestead could be a factor."

Patrick will be making her fourth IndyCar Series start on a road course. She finished 12th at St. Petersburg a year ago after fighting gearbox troubles during the race.

"Through a pit strategy, we had a decent run going at St. Pete," said Patrick. "When we lost the gearbox we had to pit and change the gears which cost us a couple of laps. There was a lot of impatience on display in the race here last year. I don't know if that will be the case again this year or not, but you have to be ready to take advantage of your competition's mistakes."

RLR will be a two-car team this weekend at St. Petersburg. The team will not race the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda/Panoz. Team owner Bobby Rahal announced last Sunday that the car would be withdrawn from this race following the fatal accident that claimed the life of driver Paul Dana.

RAHAL LETTERMAN AT ST. PETE

This weekend will mark the third time Rahal Letterman Racing will race on the streets of St. Petersburg. In 2003 at the inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, RLR driver Michel Jourdain Jr. started fifth and finished second. Last year Buddy Rice started 17th and finished seventh, one of four top-ten results Rice posted last year. Danica Patrick started 15th and finished 12th and Vitor Meira drove the third RLR entry to a fifth place finish after starting 12th.

PAUL DANA FOUNDATION

Following last week's accident here has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the racing community and those involved with the IRL IndyCar Series for the Dana Family and Rahal Letterman Racing. In lieu of flowers the Dana family is requesting donations be made to:

Paul Dana Memorial Fund For Renewable Energy
c/o National Bank of Indianapolis
107 N. Pennsylvania St., Suite 100
Indianapolis, IN 46204

-rlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Buddy Rice , Paul Dana , Danica Patrick , Michel Jourdain , Vitor Meira