Sonoma: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview

McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE SERVIA PLAN TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE FINAL ROAD RACE OF THE SEASON -- THE INDY GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA SONOMA, Calif. (August 20, 2009) --- The final stretch of the 2009 IndyCar Series season begins this weekend...


SONOMA, Calif. (August 20, 2009) --- The final stretch of the 2009 IndyCar Series season begins this weekend at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway in the heart of California's wine country. Only four races remain this season -- one on a road course and three on ovals -- and McDonald's driver Graham Rahal and teammate Oriol Servia plan to make the most of the final road race of the season on the 12-turn, 2.303-mile picturesque Infineon Raceway road course.

"I am not going to lie; expectations are high for the race at Infineon Raceway," said Servia, who returned to the team at the previous race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after earning a second place season-ending rank for them in 2005 as a replacement for the injured Bruno Junqueira. "Mid-Ohio was a great racethat helped as a warm up for me after not being in the race car for a while. I feel that for this weekend we are much better prepared. It is hard to know exactly what to expect from us as we didn't come to test like other teams but there is no doubt we come much better prepared than the last race and I liked this track a lot last year so I wouldn't discount the possibility of having both team cars on the podium."

"The McDonald's team has been extremely competitive on all road courses this season, only missing the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying once," added Rahal, of his pole in St. Pete and total of five top-six qualifying positions in six road/street course events. "I think we can continue this, but having missed the test there last week where most of the other teams ran, put us behind but my hopes, as well as the teams, stay high. We need to make every minute count in an already shortened weekend. It's a tough circuit as is so that makes it difficult to be good there as well. We will have to push our hardest from the second practice begins to make sure we are competitive."

The IndyCar Series will hold its fifth annual event at Infineon Raceway this weekend and it will be the second time for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing to compete here. In 2008, team driver Justin Wilson missed his first Firestone Fast Six of the season and started seventh, ran as high as fourth and finished ninth in a race that saw multiple pit strategies which limited his finishing position. Rahal started 15th and finished eighth.

"Last year I think we had a pretty normal race," said Rahal. "We tried to stay out of trouble and the goal was to just make it to the end. We struggled throughout the weekend, so we knew if we just had a basic race with no issues then we would get a better result than our starting position. I think our experience will help us, but what will help us as well is having the experience of (race engineer) Martin (Pare) coming from another team and having a completely different opinion on setup."

Like Pare, Servia will add another opinion on car setup for the 12-turn, multi-elevation road course after having started sixth last year for KV Racing Technologies. He ran well but finished a disappointing 15th due to running what ultimately turned out to be the wrong pit strategy like Wilson and a large portion of the field. He's hoping to recreate one of his 2005 memories where he earned one win, one pole and a total of seven podium finishes in 14 races with the team.

"Last year at this race we probably had one of the best cars out there," said Servia. "Unfortunately the final result didn't show it as we got caught in the wrong strategy but we definitely had to pace to win. It is my second race with the team this season but it also happens to be the last road course so basically it becomes the last chance to win a non-oval race this year. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has always been the most competitive at this type of track so we don't want to miss the opportunity to shine in what it is a more familiar terrain. Back in 2005 when I last raced for the team you could hardly get us off the podium so we don't expect any different from this weekend."

Of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's 107 wins and 109 poles, 80 wins and 90 poles have come on road and street courses. Rahal is ranked eighth in series point standings with 289 and is only 32 back from fifth place ranked Danica Patrick, who has 321. He has set his goals for the remaining road course race at Sonoma and ovals in Chicago, Japan and Homestead and hopes to close on a top-five, season-ending rank as well as carry on the team's tradition of earning at least one win per season, which has been accomplished all but one year prior to 2009.

"I would love to have another pole, and gain a win before the season is over," said Rahal, who started from pole twice this season and has a highest finish of third on the oval in Richmond. "We have been close, and I don't see why we can't get another podium, and hopefully be good enough to capture my second career win for the team."

Honda Performance Development has allotted 15 presses of the overtake assist button for 15 seconds each for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma this weekend. The overtake assist option, instituted for the race at Kentucky Speedway earlier this month, provides a 5-20 horsepower boost based on fuel setting and 200 RPMs (for a total of 10,500) for each time the system is engaged. A button is on each steering wheel. There is a 10-second recharge period between presses.

"I think the push to pass is a great option that in one way or another will end up becoming normal in all types of racing," said Servia of the feature. "It feels only natural, from the driver and spectator perspective. Many race arcade games have "nitro shots" or "super boost" to pass or to not be passed, and it becomes one more element for the drivers to play with and the fans to follow. It is my opinion though that we need a little more aggressive strategy with it than we have now. Honda does an outstanding job providing great powerful and reliable engines but I think that a bigger "kick" in the push to pass would just help them get more recognition, as they deserve."

-credit: nhlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Graham Rahal , Danica Patrick