RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO TURNS THEIR FOCUS TO WATKINS GLEN HILLIARD, Ohio - After spending the majority of the month May in preparation for the Indianapolis 500, RLR driver trio of Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Jeff Simmons turn their attention to...
RAHAL LETTERMAN TRIO TURNS THEIR FOCUS TO WATKINS GLEN
HILLIARD, Ohio - After spending the majority of the month May in preparation for the Indianapolis 500, RLR driver trio of Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Jeff Simmons turn their attention to the famed road course at Watkins Glen International Raceway for round 5 of the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series championship.
For Simmons it will be his first IndyCar Series event on a road or street course. For Rice and Patrick it will be their second trip to 'The Glen' in an IndyCar.
Last year the lone highlight for RLR was that despite finishing 16th Patrick clinched the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year title. Rice suffered a DNF when his car spun leaving the pits on lap 27.
Simmons has a track record of success at Watkins Glen having won events in Formula Ford, Formula 2000, Barber Dodge and in last year's Indy Pro Series (IPS) event.
"For me, Watkins Glen is almost my home track. I grew up near Lime Rock but I raced a lot at the Glen. I think I have as many miles around Watkins Glen as anywhere. I won there last year in the Indy Pro Series and this is my first trip there in an Indy car. I know that Buddy has been fast there and he had a good car at St. Pete so I think we can unload the car in pretty good shape. It will take some time to be patient and learn the car. I know the track well but not with this type of power and braking on a road course. It is a classic track and I love the area around Watkins Glen. That wine country around the Finger Lakes is so beautiful. When I drove in there last year, I had a big smile on my face and I am sure I will this year."
For Buddy Rice a trip to the Glen is a chance to reflect on motorsports history. Having just run the most famous track in the world, Indianapolis, Rice understands the significance of running the road course at Watkins Glen.
"I like racing at the Glen," said Rice. "It is a classic track like Indy, only for road racing. It has a lot of history to it and it is very fast. Man, it is so fast for a permanent road circuit. I have driven a lot of different cars at the Glen. Obviously, I have driven the Indy car there but also three types of sports cars and an F-2000 formula car. Our finish last year's was not indicative of how well we ran there. We were running in the top five. I got excited getting out of the pits and hit the barrier leaving the pit lane. I think we should be quite competitive. We ran in the top five at St. Pete earlier this year and I expect us to be right in the hunt at the Glen. Other than the first road race last year, we have had the No. 15 Argent Honda in contention for the qualifying shootout. I think I have been fifth, sixth or seventh in qualifying at the last four or five IRL road races. I think we can be in the shootout this week too."
Patrick enters the event having posted her top IndyCar Series road/street course result at St. Petersburg. Although Patrick came up through the traditional road racing feeder series, this will be just her fifth start in a IndyCar on a road or street course. The learning curve is steep, especially when she is racing against drivers with a wealth of big car road course experience.
"The biggest area I wanted to focus on in the off season was the road and street courses and improving our results," said Patrick. "The League's limit on testing makes it rough to rack up the miles testing so I ran the Rolex 24 for extra road course time and I retooled my workout regime to better prepare myself for the rigors of road courses in these cars. So far I have been happy with the results of my off season work. Sixth at St. Pete was a marked improvement over our result last year and I have been very happy with my conditioning this season."
PATRICK WORKING TOWARDS HER FIRST INDYCAR WIN
Danica Patrick will make her 21st IndyCar Series start this weekend. One of the leading questions thrown towards her by the mainstream 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. Keep in mind we didn't run the first race because of the accident with Paul [Dana] and so we have three races worth of points compared to four for the rest of the field. In each of the three races I have been happy from the stand point that I haven't made any mistakes and I think we have gotten the most out of the car. It has been well documented that the Panoz has some challenges, but I think our engineers have done a great job of giving each of us as good a car as can be expected."
RLR will utilize the Panoz chassis at Watkins Glen, but the team will switch to the Dallara chassis for the race at Texas motor Speedway.
SIMMONS EYES A CHANCE FOR INDYCAR HISTORY
Jeff Simmons has a chance to make IndyCar Series history this week if he can capture a win at Watkins Glen. Simmons is vying to become the first driver to win in both the Indy Pro Series and IndyCar Series. If he wins this weekend he would have won the Watkins Glen event in both series in consecutive seasons.
Simmons led four laps and posted the win at Watkins Glen last September. It was one of four wins Simmons posted in the IPS in 2005 en route to finishing second in the championship.
THE ROAD COURSE LEARNING CURVE
Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Jeff Simmons all have their racing roots in road racing. All were thrilled to see the addition of road and street courses to the IndyCar Series schedule last season. Even though each has run road courses since an early age, they have found themselves at a disadvantage.
"With the road racing experience that some of the top drivers have before their IRL careers, you need to be very fast to stay up with them," said Buddy Rice. "Some of these guys have run nearly 100 road/street races in CART and IndyCar. I think we have been able to run with them most of the time, but it has been a challenge. It has been exciting to race against guys with a lot more road experience in big cars than me."
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTES
Buddy Rice will make his 36th IndyCar Series start for RLR this weekend and the 54th of his career. Rice is the career leader in IndyCar Series starts for RLR. Danica Patrick will make her 20th IndyCar Series start this weekend and her 50th start for RLR having run Barber Dodge and Atlantics from 2002-04. Jeff Simmons will make his third start for RLR this weekend and his fifth 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 26 races. . .Jeff Simmons will attempt 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 has won four times at Watkins Glen in his racing career. He has won in Formula Ford, F-2000, Barber Dodge and Indy Pro Series. . .Buddy Rice lead eight laps at St. Petersburg, the first RLR laps led on an IRL IndyCar Series road or street course. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 29 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. . .In 54 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 661 laps.
-Rahal Letterman Racing