McDONALD'S DRIVER WILSON AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER RAHAL AIM TO CLOSE SEASON ON A HIGH BEGINNING WITH THIS SUNDAY'S PEAK ANTIFREEZE & MOTOR OIL INDY GRAND PRIX SONOMA, Calif. (August 20, 2008) --- With only three points-paying ...
McDONALD'S DRIVER WILSON AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER RAHAL AIM TO CLOSE SEASON ON A HIGH BEGINNING WITH THIS SUNDAY'S PEAK ANTIFREEZE & MOTOR OIL INDY GRAND PRIX
SONOMA, Calif. (August 20, 2008) --- With only three points-paying races left in the 2008 IndyCar Series (ICS) championship, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) plans to utilize the remaining events on three different types of circuits to collect data to enable them to compete on a more level playing field next season. Although the plan is to collect as much data as possible, the end goal has and will always be to win and the team plans to capitalize on any opportunities to do so beginning with this weekend's 80-lap Peak Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix at Infineon Raceway.
"I don't know the track but I can learn it pretty quickly," said Justin Wilson, driver of the No. 02 McDonald's entry. "It would be nice to score a victory here on a road circuit. I think it's possible. I have scored a victory each of the last three years of Champ Car so it would be great to continue that and score one this season even with the added difficulty of being in a new championship. We'll see what we've got when we turn up. Hopefully we can get another strong finish for the McDonald's team on the road course."
Only five of the 14 events the team has competed in so far this season have been held on road and street courses with one of those being the Champ Car finale in Long Beach in April where Wilson started from pole but retired after engine failure. In the other events, the road racing veteran has started second (Watkins Glen), third (St. Pete ICS debut), fourth (Mid-Ohio) and sixth (Edmonton; damaged car in Q2) with his highest finish coming at the previous race in Edmonton of third place. Infineon Raceway is the type of track that has enabled him to show his skill and get to this level of racing.
"I'm looking forward to getting back on a road course," said Wilson who hopes to continue his string of progressing to every Firestone Fast Six qualifying final. "Hopefully we can capitalize on the momentum from our podium finish in Edmonton and put the McDonald's car in contention for another strong finish. I'm hopeful we can go out and be just as competitive and earn another podium. We'll be in a different car this time because my road race car was damaged in Kentucky. Hopefully it will be as good as my new car was in Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Edmonton."
Although it will be the first time for NHLR to compete at Infineon Raceway, the IndyCar Series has been competing here since 2005 with a different winner in each of the past three events. This season the road course has been slightly modified in an effort to create another passing opportunity in Turn 7 of 12 on the slightly-shortened 2.245-mile course. In an attempt to catch up to the regular ICS teams on ovals, NHLR tested at Chicagoland Speedway last week with Wilson handling test duties. Meanwhile, 14 of the 27 drivers entered in this Sunday's race tested at Infineon Raceway last week which should give them a head start on the weekend.
"Unfortunately we didn't get to test in Sonoma because we were getting another car ready for the road courses which took quite a bit of time," said Wilson. "It's a shame because it looks like a lot of people were there and found some speed over the day so that is going to make life more difficult."
"The fact that a good portion of the field tested last week in Sonoma makes it more challenging for us," added Graham Rahal, Wilson's teammate and driver of the No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps car. "Because it took place so close to race week I think the track conditions will be very similar to when we go back but we will just have to catch up to those who tested there. I have raced at Infineon a couple of times but not on the actual circuit that we will race on this weekend but I have seen it on race DVD's and think we can learn the course pretty quickly."
After back-to-back rookie seasons, first in Champ Car in 2007 and now in the ICS, Rahal has made strides in coming to terms with the new racing package and 10 new courses of the 13 he has competed on this season. He missed the season-opener in Homestead due to irreparable damage to his race car from a testing accident but his first series event in St. Pete couldn't have had a better ending for Rahal, who became the youngest winner in open wheel history at 19 years and 93 days old. Although the team has earned 106 victories, they have never taken winning for granted. In their 26 seasons to date only one has been winless (1994; Mario Andretti & N. Mansell), a statistic Rahal continued with his popular victory in his season-opener in April. With two of the three remaining 2008 points-paying events coming on road/street courses left in 2008 and an exhibition race on the streets of Surfer's Paradise, Australia he is hoping for more success.
"It's possible for us to win again this year," said Rahal. "Between Sonoma and Detroit, I think Detroit is our best shot because I think our street course set up is the best of any setups we've had this year judging off of St. Petersburg. And not just because I won in St. Pete, but because I think our car was competitive all weekend. We hope to continue to learn about the car in Sonoma and improve our road course set up and go to Detroit with a shot at being competitive there as well. Any information we can get to help us understand the car better will help us overall."
Wilson is ranked 16 in the ICS point standings with 249, only 49 away from 10th place Oriol Servia (298) while Rahal is 17th with 235. There are four title contenders remaining and current points leader Scott Dixon has a mathematical chance of clinching his second series title this weekend. Rahal understands the affect that ending the season on a high could have on the off season and the building of momentum for a stronger championship position next year.
"We've worked hard as a team, and I think that we see that we were getting closer," said Rahal. "It just takes quite a lot of time and effort to get to the top. Being that we came in so late in the year; that the merger was announced so late, it didn't give us any time to really prepare so the first opportunity we are going to have is obviously this upcoming off-season. We are extremely looking forward to that. I think it is important to finish this season strong and that is what we are hoping for. We all realize that we need to get some good results here at the end, and of course, that gives us more of a knowledge base. And if we are winning or doing well, that gives us confidence going into next season knowing we've figured some things out."