St. Pete: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (April  2, 2008) --- Of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's
(NHLR) 105 victories and 106 pole  positions in their previous 25 seasons of open
wheel competition, 78 wins and 88  poles have come on road and street courses
so it is only natural that they will  feel more comfortable in their
surroundings on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary  street course that will host the
Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, April  4-6.

Although long hours have been the norm since the team received their Dallara chassis on March 3, the learning curve will not be quite as steep as it was during the Gainsco Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. While nine of the 15 confirmed IndyCar Series races that NHLR will compete in are on tracks the team is completely unfamiliar with, the layout in St. Petersburg is one of the six they have limited experience on after having competed here in a 2003 Champ Car event. The IndyCar Series teams and drivers have raced here the past three years.

In NHLR's 2003 race here Sebastien Bourdais became the first driver to win the pole in his series debut since Nigel Mansell won the pole for the '93 Australian event -- also while driving for then-named Newman/Haas Racing. Bourdais led 30 laps and became the first driver in the 25 year history of the series to lead the first laps of his inaugural Champ car race. He also set the fastest race lap but put too much pressure on himself to get back to the front after the team pit him out of sequence and contact ended his race. Also driving for the team was Bruno Junqueira who was second fast in provisional qualifying on Friday but his fastest lap in final qualifying (possible 3rd) was not allowed because he brought out a red flag when he spun and stopped on course. More red flags resulted in a seventh place start. In the race he dropped to 14th due a disengaged air hose on his first pit stop but he charged back to a third place finish

McDonald's driver Justin  Wilson and Hole in the Wall Camps driver Graham
Rahal hoped to get 3.5 hours of  valuable track time with NHLR at Sebring
International Raceway yesterday but  rain ended the test prematurely after each only
ran 10 laps at testing  speeds.  The small taste of driving  an IndyCar on a
road course has each excited about this weekend's  event.

"I am looking forward to driving the McDonald's Indy car on a street circuit and seeing how we stack up against everyone else," said Wilson who won four races on road/street circuits in Champ Car and was the 2006 and 2007 runner up to the champion Sebastien Bourdais. "We're not going to be at the very front right away but hopefully we can be a little bit closer and work up a setup and have an enjoyable race and a stronger performance as far as lap times against the others. Hopefully we will be closer to the pace and have a similar result to what we would do on a normal race weekend. We'll see how things work out."

Hole in the Wall Camps driver Graham Rahal will be making his IndyCar Series debut this weekend after missing the opening round of the season last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway when the team was unable to repair his race car in time after he crashed during a test there earlier in the week. Rahal finished fifth in the 2007 Champ Car season-ending standings after 14 events on road and street courses. He is looking forward to his first road/street course event since last year's season finale in Mexico City on November 11 where he ran third in the late stages of the race before he was passed and finished fourth.

"A lot of the drivers that  I know like the (St. Pete) circuit and think that
it is a great venue," added  Rahal, who became the youngest podium finisher
in Champ Car history with a  second place finish at Houston last year at 18
years, 3 months and 18  days old.  "Being that it is right  on the coastline I am
really looking forward to being part of it.  It will be a nice atmosphere and
since  it is a street course, it will be more comparable to what we are used
to from  running in Champ Car.  I've watched  the St. Pete races in the past
but it's always tough from a driver's standpoint  just to watch and expect to
automatically have it figured out.  Certainly that is going to be a little
bit of a learning curve.  Hopefully  we can get a good result because we missed
last week and we have a lot of ground  to make up."

The IndyCar Series will enhance its popular Firestone Fast Six qualifying format for road and street courses beginning with this weekend's visit to St. Petersburg.. Single-car qualifying, which previously preceded the Firestone Fast Six shootout, will be eliminated on road and street courses in favor of group sessions that will progressively narrow the field to the fastest six, who will then enter a 10-minute shootout for the pole.

"From what I have seen so far, it looks very similar to Formula One and should be entertaining for the fans and challenging for the drivers," said Wilson, who earned six poles on road/street courses while in Champ Car. "It will put an emphasis on being consistently quick and should be quite interesting. You've got to be quick to continue progressing. I'm looking forward to trying it out and see how I get on."

"The new  qualifying format is a good formula for excitement for the fans,"
added Rahal  who started as high as fourth place, three times in Champ Car
last season.  "I think that if you continue through  all the segments, you are
certainly going to get a lot of track time and a lot  of time to work on the car
because it is very Formula One-like in that you  aren't going to get to work
too much on the car between qualifying and race day  but overall I think it's
a good formula and a good way to add some excitement  for the fans.  Track
time is key for  us since we have ground to make up and if you continue through
the process  you're going to get a lot more.  For  the newer drivers it's a
good way to learn the track more than just in  practice."

The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with Round 2 of 16 -- the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 6 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The 2008 schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ESPN. All races in 2008 will be telecast in High Definition. The Honda Grand Prix will be televised on Sunday beginning at 2:30 p.m. EDT.

-credit: -NHLR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Nigel Mansell , Graham Rahal , Sébastien Bourdais