McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE DOORNBOS TAKE ON THE SHORTEST TRACK OF THE SEASON AT SATURDAY'S SUNTRUST INDY CHALLENGE IN RICHMOND RICHMOND, Virginia (June 24, 2009) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will compete in the SunTrust Indy...
McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE DOORNBOS TAKE ON THE SHORTEST TRACK OF THE SEASON AT SATURDAY'S SUNTRUST INDY CHALLENGE IN RICHMOND
RICHMOND, Virginia (June 24, 2009) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will compete in the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Speedway for the second time this Saturday night. The 0.75-mile oval poses challenges not only due to the amount of race craft necessary for 20 cars to navigate the short track simultaneously. The added factor of heat and humidity further challenge the drivers and teams and turn the race into an action-packed battle as evidenced by the 2008 event that saw only 12 of the 26 cars running at the finish.
"Richmond is an interesting little track," said Rahal, driver of the No. 02 McDonald's race car. "It's an extremely long race, really a race of attrition from start to finish, which is what kind of happened last season. It's quite challenging because of the size of the track and usually it's fairly hot so it's pretty physical. It's a long race which really challenges the driver and the team a lot."Despite making his first appearance in the race last year and only sixth event on an oval in his career, he qualified third. Unfortunately he was one of the many victims of attrition and crashed after 132 of 300 laps while running seventh. Justin Wilson, who drove for the team in 2008, battled on to finish seventh on the short oval and matched his best oval finish to date. Rahal's plan is to finish the event this year and better his current-best oval finish of fourth place in Milwaukee earlier this season.
"Was I surprised by qualifying third last year?" said Rahal who is ninth in the point standings with 145. "Absolutely, because we struggled big time in practice. We thought we would have a good race car but not necessarily qualify up front. It was quite a surprise to qualify well but then in the race, we really never had the pace. And I still to this day don't know exactly what happened when I crashed. I entered Turn 3 and the car turned in. It had understeered like crazy all day and all of the sudden it snapped on me and I lost the back end obviously and crashed. We don't want to repeat that this year and our plan it to finish this race and get some more points for the McDonald's team."
So far this season Rahal has started on the front row three times including poles in St. Petersburg (street) and Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile oval) as also started on the first two rows a total of four times in seven races. He has three top-10 finishes including his highest of fourth place in Milwaukee but feels a strong test at Richmond late last season will help the team run competitively here and build momentum for the rest of the season.
"I think that we should be better at Richmond this year,' said Rahal. "We made a lot of gains at the test at the end of last year and I'm looking forward to going and seeing where we are because the car did feel very good in the test. Hopefully we can turn the corner here and run strong and finish every race."
Rahal's teammate Robert Doornbos will be only one of two drivers in the 20-car field who have yet to run on this track. Mike Conway is the other. Doornbos has come to know firsthand that all ovals are not created equal and will encounter a sixth different type this weekend when he races on the 0.75-mile Richmond International Raceway bullring.
"I have heard the drivers like Richmond," said Doornbos, who is 15th in the point standings with 119 but only 23 points from the top-10.
"It's an extremely short oval -- the shortest of the season -- so probably I'll be surprised again on the first laps as I have been on most ovals this season. It's very important to work hard in practice to find a good setup because is that's off then it's going to be a very long night."Of the five oval races to date, Doornbos earned two top-10 starting positions including second place in his debut in Kansas. He was a contender for a top-10 start at the Indy 500 but two crashes in practice limited his start to 23rd. He has led two laps on an oval and earned his highest finish of 11th place at the high-banked Texas Motor Speedway.
The team continues to work hard to compensate for the five year head start other teams have had with this racing package and every race lap that can be logged will further their progress.
"We know, and showed, that when the car is good we can put it on the front row and fight with the big teams like Penske and Ganassi but we need to keep improving at the workshop and on the track to close the gap to these teams," said Doornbos, who trails Raphael Matos by one point (120-119) in the Rookie of the Year standings. "Lately we have lost a bit of performance but we are working double-hard to get to the front."
This weekend's SunTrust Indy Challenge can be seen on live on Saturday, June 27 at 8:00 p.m. EDT on Versus. The event will get underway with practice and qualifying on Friday and the 300-lap race will begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the official website of the IndyCar Series, www.indycar.com. It will also be broadcast live on IMS Radio Network and XM Radio Channel 145 and Sirius 211.