Mid-Ohio: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview



LEXINGTON, Ohio (July 16, 2008) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will return to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend for its 22nd event here and first since 2003 for this Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. McDonald's driver Justin Wilson will make his first appearance at the track but his teammate, Hole in the Wall Camps driver Graham Rahal has been coming here since before he could walk.

Before Graham was born on January 4, 1989 in Columbus, Ohio, his father, Bobby was competing annually at the Mid-Ohio course. He made 16 starts (1983-98) here during the CART days and posted eight top-three finishes, including victories in 1985 and '86. He later drove at Mid-Ohio for his own team beginning in 1992. Graham has many fond memories of long weekends at this track with his siblings and friends. Those memories also include the occasional joyride on golf carts, much to the chagrin of security. After competing here a few times in lower formulas, this weekend will mark the first time for him to race near his New Albany, Ohio home in the "big leagues."

"I don't have that much experience personally at Mid-Ohio," said Rahal, who resides in New Albany, Ohio. "I have been there many times but a lot of those times I was just watching. The team has a lot of experience there though. They raced there before I was even born but there is still going to be a bit of a learning curve initially due to the different equipment. I will have a lot of friends and family at the race. We're going to try to have as many people as we can at the track because it's kind of my first time ever to race this close to home at this level. We've been lucky to have a lot of fans at Mid-Ohio because of Dad and he's obviously had a lot of success there. I would like to continue that."

The younger Rahal has had his own share of success at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile scenic road course. In 2005 he raced in the Formula Atlantic class and won the same national title that his father claimed 30 years earlier in the SCCA National Run-offs at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He hopes to add another title to his resume in a few years but his current goal is a top-10 season-ending rank in the IndyCar Series standings. He is currently ranked 16th with 201 points, but within reach of 10th place Ed Carpenter's 222.

"We started to get a lot closer to having a good car at the end of the Watkins Glen weekend and I think that all the information that we can take from that weekend can really benefit us as the season goes on," said Rahal, who gained 10 positions in the previous road course event in Watkins Glen to finish eighth. "Obviously there are a heck of a lot of road and street courses in the next month so we need to make sure we do all the homework and be as competitive as we can. If you look at points, these road and street courses are what is going to help us get back into it. We're only 21 points out of 10th place so by no means are we out of it to get a top-10 finish at the end of the year. There is definitely a lot of work to do though."

In Newman/Haas Racing's previous 21 races here, they won three events (Michael Andretti 1990-1991, Mario Andretti 1984), six poles (Mansell 1993; Mi. Andretti 1992, 1991, 1990; Ma. Andretti 1986, 1984) and 11 podiums (2nd -- C. Fittipaldi 2002, Tracy 1995, Ma. Andretti 1990, 1988, 1983; 3rd -- C. Fittipaldi 2000, Mi. Andretti 1996, 1989). It will be their first race here as NHLR. After qualifying first (Long Beach), second (Watkins Glen) and third (St. Pete) for the three non-oval races this season, McDonald's driver Wilson hopes to become the eighth different driver to win in the IndyCar Series this season.

"Given how we performed on the road and street courses so far this season, I hope we are in the same position again and challenge for pole position," said Wilson, who succumbed to a gearbox leak at Watkins Glen after he narrowly missed the pole by 0.04 of a second and started second. "It would be great for the McDonald's team to pick up our first win! We have been very competitive on the road circuits this year and I don't see why that can't continue. It's not a given, we've got to make sure we do everything right and if we do that we will have a chance."

Wilson is looking to turn around his luck this weekend. He battled car-related problems in the last two events but specifically on road and street courses, which is the two-time Champ Car runner up's specialty, he has encountered disappointment. He surprised the team with a third place qualifying effort in St. Pete, the teams ICS debut on a street course, but strategy dictated by rain shuffled him to a ninth place finish after he led 18 laps. In the Champ Car finale in Long Beach, he earned the team's only pole this season but retired with a rare engine failure on Lap 13. He is hoping to put the disappointment of retiring from the previous road race at The Glen behind him with a strong finish at Mid-Ohio.

"I'm looking forward to going to Mid-Ohio," said Wilson. "I drove the course on video games years ago and watched last year's race on DVD. From what I have seen, it's a fantastic track with a lot of elevation changes. It's a bit like a roller coaster ride with the off-camber corners and elevation changes. It's what I enjoy and I am looking forward to it."

When NHR competed here previously, the Mid-Ohio race was commonly referred to as the most physically demanding race of the season. Rahal believes it will be even more so this year after the track recently repaved the course.

"The course is very physical," said Rahal. "It is one of the more physically demanding places we will race at all season. By no means is it going to be easy to complete the race. I haven't raced there since they repaved it and I have been told that it's got even more grip. If that's the case it's going to be an even tougher weekend. There are a lot of fast, high G (force)-loading corners as well as some that are slow. It's fun because you go through the esses and there are a lot of elevation changes at a rapid pace which makes it more exciting. It's a cool place and I love going there."

"I have heard it is a physically demanding track but we are used to road racing so we should be fine," added Wilson. "You just have to make sure you are hydrated and save your energy. We had quite a few road races last year so I think we are ready for one this weekend. The hard part this year is that we are on the road so much this season and are not able to train as much as we normally do. You have a question mark about your fitness because you have spent more time sitting around at a race track than working out as compared to previous seasons. Still I think we will be in good shape and I am not too concerned."

In recent years in the Champ Car series, the Edmonton race was considered one of the most physically demanding due to the level of grip the airport street circuit provided. With the addition of the Rexall Edmonton Indy to the IndyCar Series schedule in two weeks, the two most physical races of the season will be back-to-back. Although the team can keep the cars in the same course configuration rather than change from oval set-up to road course, the short turnaround will still be challenging.

"Having two road races in a row is going to be good for the team," said Wilson. "It's still a tough schedule and the team is working flat-out to keep up. Even though the cars will stay in the same configuration between Mid-Ohio and Edmonton, there is still quite a lot of work to be done between the two events. The travel time alone to get the equipment from Ohio on Sunday night to Edmonton by Wednesday morning is a factor and that doesn't include the two days needed to prepare the cars for the next race. It's a big challenge but we are looking forward to these next two races and hopefully we will come away from them with two great results."

-credit: nhlr

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Michael Andretti , Graham Rahal , Mario Andretti , Ed Carpenter