IRL: Texas: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

DALLARA DEBUT FOR RLR TEAM RETURNS TO THE DALLARA CHASSIS AFTER RUNNING PANOZ SINCE '04 HILLIARD, Ohio - Rahal Letterman Racing will switch to the Dallara chassis this weekend ending the team's nearly three year run with Panoz. The Panoz...


HILLIARD, Ohio - Rahal Letterman Racing will switch to the Dallara chassis this weekend ending the team's nearly three year run with Panoz. The Panoz chassis has served the team well as Buddy Rice used the chassis to win three races, including the Indy 500, in 2004. The Panoz also was a force in qualifying as the team won nine pole positions with the Panoz chassis led by Buddy Rice (5) and Danica Patrick (3).

However the competitive advantage that Panoz enjoyed in '04 has eroded and the Dallara has demonstrated repeatedly that it is the more successful of the two chassis available for use in the IndyCar Series. Dallara has won 20 of the last 23 IndyCar Series races. Of those three Panoz wins, two have come on the road course at Watkins Glen, a track where Panoz is acknowledged to hold a slight advantage.

"It is hard to compare apples and oranges," said Ray Leto, General Manager of Rahal Letterman Racing and the race engineer for Danica Patrick. "All the wind tunnel data from the two show that they are pretty close, but in practice and on the race track with a Panoz we have to add more downforce than the Dallara's do to have a stable car in traffic."

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal made the decision at Motegi to switch the RLR program to the Dallara chassis. The decision was based first on the competitive disadvantage the Panoz chassis would be at on the majority of the IndyCar Series track after Indianapolis and secondly on economics. After the No. 17 Team Ethanol car of Jeff Simmons was badly damaged in a practice accident, Rahal decided to purchase Dallara's instead of new Panoz chassis.

"We have to purchase new cars to replace the ones we have ruined," said Leto. "Why would we invest in a chassis that we felt would be at a competitive disadvantage over the second half of the season? We felt coming into 2006 that Motegi and Indianapolis would be the oval tracks were the Panoz was at an advantage."

"We ran the Dallara chassis in 2002 at Indy and in 2003 with Kenny Brack and we have data from that season.," said Leto. "We have run this car in this mechanical form before. All of our engineers here have experience with the Dallara chassis. We have been able to amass plenty of information from Dallara and we have picked up some tips from some of the other teams, but it will still be a challenge. There is something to be said for testing all winter and having run three or four races with the car. You learn a lot about the car and how the driver wants the car to feel. The car will feel different to the drivers. We have to get ourselves used to that. "

"The change in chassis removes issues that we had that were related to the chassis, but it still presents the same set-up challenges we have had every weekend," said Leto. "You still have to get the car to handle, its not just chassis and the aerodynamics. At least now we are on even footing with everybody, but it doesn't guarantee that we move up the grid at all. It just means it will be easier to compare ourselves with the other teams."

The chassis transition has come at the busiest time of the IndyCar Series season. After traveling to Motegi in April the Rahal Letterman Racing returned home to make final preparations for Indianapolis. Following the month of May at Indy the team headed to Watkins Glen and now to Texas. While the team was running the cars on track, the shop based crew and the trackside crew were busy preparing the three new Dallara cars for this weekend as well as maintaining and repairing the Panoz chassis.

The crew has had one off day (May 15) since the beginning of May.

"I have been involved in some pretty ambitious projects under tight deadlines in my years in racing," said Steve Dickson, Race Team Manager for RLR. "This might be the toughest of the projects, but the upside is tremendous. Our crews have done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances."


Danica Patrick will make her 22nd IndyCar Series start this weekend. One of the leading questions thrown towards her by the media is "when will she win." No one knows for sure, but the average number of starts it takes an IndyCar Series driver to win their first race is 33. For Patrick race number 33 will be the third race of the 2007 season.

"Nobody wants to win more than I," said Patrick. "There are so many things that have to fall into place for you to win your first race. We have made progress this year. I have been happy that we are consistently finishing in the top-ten and we have moved up through the field in every race. I have always said the first thing you have to do is to finish consistently and build from there. Eventually those top-five results become podiums and podiums become wins. It is a building process and one that takes time. The switch to the Dallara chassis will help in the races. There were times last year and this year where the car was so unstable that I lost position on track. I think the Dallara will be a better car in traffic and that will help us improve."

One thing that is certain is that Patrick has indeed taken the proverbial next step on track. In the four races she has run this season she has posted a top-eight finish in all four. She enters Texas a career best seventh in the IndyCar Series championship, with one less race to her credit than the rest of the top-ten. Patrick and her teammate Buddy Rice did not run at Homestead after the tragic warm-up accident that claimed the life of Paul Dana.

Patrick has been hampered by the cancellation of qualifying at two of the four races she has run. At Motegi the grid was based off points and she had only a single race to her credit and at Watkins Glen the grid was set off practice times. Last year Patrick won three pole positions tying the IndyCar Series rookie record.


Rookie Jeff Simmons has had a tough start to his IndyCar Series career with RLR. In three races Simmons has been a victim of a DNF in all three. At Watkins Glen Simmons was collected in a lap 19 crash with Kosuke Matsuura that left the No. 17 Team Ethanol car badly damaged an unable to continue.

Even with the DNF Watkins Glen was a high water mark for Simmons. He started a career best 13th and he led his first IndyCar Series lap (lap 9).

"We are coming into Texas with new Dallara chassis and those cars have been the dominant chassis for awhile," said Simmons. "So I think Buddy, Danica and I feel pretty confident that we can be competitive. We need to get the fortunes of the Team Ethanol crew going better this weekend. For me, I have experience at Texas but not in an Indy car. We have run wheel to wheel in the IPS cars and that will be the same in the IndyCar Series. Sure, things will be a lot faster and more competitive. But I think the Rahal Letterman team will come in and run hard. I drove the Dallara chassis in 2004 so I have a little knowledge of the car. It will be new for Danica and Buddy hasn't driven one since 2003. But Buddy and Danica have been hooked up at Texas before so they should a good read on the car. I will take their lead on initial settings and then Al (Bodey, Team Ethanol engineer) and I will see the right direction to go for the weekend. That is one great thing about having a three-car team. We can exchange some information on the settings. I'm anxious to see how the car works on the high banked oval. It won't be an easy weekend with the new cars and fast track. But I think we can be competitive."


RLR's Buddy Rice heads to the Texas Motor Speedway fresh off a season best fourth place finish at Watkins Glen, his second top-five result in four races this season. Rice led five laps and climbed from seventh on the grid to fourth. It marks another solid road course effort for Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 champion. This week Rice will battle the high banked oval of Texas Motor Speedway in one of his favorite events on the IndyCar Series schedule.

"I love racing at night and the Texas race is the premier night race on the IndyCar Series," said Rice. "It is so cool to see the cars under the lights and I am sure it is exciting for the fans. I really haven't had much luck at Texas even though I have been fast there. We had a real shot to win in 2004 in the first race. Tony (Kanaan) and I raced for the lead a long time before Darren (Manning) got into the side of me in turn three. That cost us a chance for the win. We are coming to Texas with all new Dallara's and Dallara's have won a lot at Texas. We have a some learning to do on the new cars but I feel confident that we can be competitive at Texas. The racing is always very wild at Texas. With the high banking, you can run three abreast and that makes for some wild stuff. We are coming off a good finish at Watkins Glen (fourth) so I believe we can continue the strong runs this weekend."

Rice is recognized as the track race lap record holder at Texas Motor Speedway having run a lap of 222.501 mph during the September 2004 race, and Tony Stewart holds the IndyCar qualifying record at 228.012 mph. Team Rahal's Kenny Brack did qualify in excess of 233 mph for the ill fated CART race Texas in April 2001.

Rice's career best start at Texas is second in 2004.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Paul Dana , Danica Patrick