McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE DOORNBOS LOOK FORWARD TO RETURN TO A 1.5-MILE OVAL FOR THIS SATURDAY'S MEIJER INDY 300 AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY SPARTA, Kentucky (July 30, 2009) --- The 2009 IndyCar Series is heading back to an oval track after...
McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE DOORNBOS LOOK FORWARD TO RETURN TO A 1.5-MILE OVAL FOR THIS SATURDAY'S MEIJER INDY 300 AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY
SPARTA, Kentucky (July 30, 2009) --- The 2009 IndyCar Series is heading back to an oval track after three road/street course races and Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) is looking forward to their return to a 1.5 mile tri oval for the first time since Kansas Speedway in April where the team qualified both cars on the front row. McDonald's driver Rahal and teammate Robert Doornbos are hoping to repeat their strong qualifying performance on this type of track at Kentucky Speedway, site of Saturday night's Meijer Indy 300.
"I am looking forward to getting back onto the ovals," said Rahal. "It (Kentucky Speedway) should be very similar to the Kansas track. I think that basically a 'Kansas car' is a 1.5 mile all around car. The trick with Kentucky is it is bumpy and that makes the shock package more of a premium than any of the other 1.5 mile tracks we will go to. I think that its time to see how the McDonald's team has progressed on the 1.5 mile courses, and I am looking forward to giving it a shot this weekend."
At Kansas Speedway on April 25, 2009, Rahal became the youngest pole winner on an oval in IndyCar Series (ICS) history after already becoming the youngest overall pole winner with his top starting spot on the streets of St. Pete in the season-opener. It was also the first pole on an oval for a team transitioning from the Champ Car World Series as well as NHLR's first oval pole since Sebastien Bourdais won from pole at the final Champ Car oval race which was held at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006. The team also earned their first 1-2 start on an oval since the 2006 Milwaukee race where Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira made up the front row. One big difference however was that Kansas marked Robert Doornbos' oval debut. After starting second, he took the lead after the first round of pit stops but was penalized for hitting Rahal's tire while leaving his pit box and had to drop to the back of the field. He learned a lot from that experience as well as in other oval races this season and is looking forward to his seventh race on an oval in Kentucky.
"The last time I was on a 1.5 mile oval it was in Kansas and it was my first ever oval race weekend," said Doornbos, whose highest finish on an oval is ninth place in Texas and Richmond. "Obviously the car was working well and I qualified on the front row in second place which was very motivating for everybody on the team. I learned a lot in that race because I was in all different positions from leading until getting a penalty and driving in last place. I now look forward to going back to a similar track even though I've never been to Kentucky."
Like Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway is a tri oval with similar banking. The Kentucky track is bumpier than the Kansas track but that isn't the only change the team is anticipating. Beginning in Kentucky, IndyCar Series teams will have the option of adding aerodynamic pieces to their cars as well as bursts of additional horsepower in an effort to increase passing opportunities. Rear tire ramps, sidepod extensions and wheel backing plates used together, or in any combination will be optional items for the 1.5-mile ovals.
"From what I have been told, the cars should be quicker and I do think that it is a good first step towards making the cars more racey," said Rahal. "I think the team has made great gains on the 1.5 mile track, specifically those like Kentucky. I think this race weekend gives us a great opportunity to continue on somewhat of a roll from our Richmond performance on ovals. We ought to be very competitive and I have high expectations. I will say with the rule changes it will be interesting to see how competitive everyone is."
"We shall see if some of the technical changes will have an influence on the racing," added Doornbos, who with Mike Conway are the only two ICS drivers who will race here for the first time. "We all have a fresh approach and we all need a good result! The target is to get more side by side racing with more downforce available for the teams to run and this should make things better for the racing show. All my experience in racing has been on road or street courses so it's obvious that I feel more comfortable on those types of tracks but I'm open to learning the tricks of oval racing and that will take time but it's a great challenge. I'm looking forward to working with the engineers to setup a good car as that would make life a little easier!"
Rahal is currently ranked 10th in ICS standings with 235 points, only 50 behind fifth place Danica Patrick with six races to go this season. Doornbos leads the Rookie of the Year battle with 197 points, three more than second place Raphael Matos, and is ranked 12th in series standings. Rahal hopes to carry over the momentum of earning his first podium finish on an oval at the last oval race in Richmond and close in on a top-five, season-ending finish.
"I believe we have everything it takes to finish on the podium here like we did at the last oval race in Richmond," said Rahal, who ran as high as 12th in the race here last year before he retired with gearbox failure. "We are becoming stronger as a team, and I see no reason why with some luck we can't be right there. It's our time to have some luck and it could all come together this weekend. I think it's easy to say we have come a long way, and I am excited to see what happens both in qualifying and the race in Kentucky."