St. Pete: NHLR's Robert Doornbos preview

St. Pete: NHLR's Robert Doornbos preview
Jun 19, 2009, 7:48 PM



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 31, 2009) --- The moment Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) driver Robert Doornbos has been waiting for has finally arrived. This weekend's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg IndyCar Series 2009 season opener marks the Dutchman's much anticipated return to open wheel racing in the United States since he finished third in the 2007 Champ Car World Series standings and won Rookie of the Year.

"The time to go racing is finally here!" said Doornbos, 27, who planned to compete in the Champ Car World Series in 2008 but the late reunification of open wheel racing put his plans on hold. "I have been looking forward to driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing for a while now and it's exciting that it is finally time to start the season. My desire to get back to open wheel racing in the US was mega, it was really big. Even though I had a couple of opportunities to go back to Formula One as a test driver, I really wanted to race because I had such a good time in 2007. Obviously the success was nice as well and it really motivated me to be here and be able to fight for wins and championships with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in 2009."

Upon his arrival to the U.S. racing scene in 2007, Doornbos commanded attention right away when he finished second to Will Power in his Champ Car debut in Las Vegas for Minardi Team USA. He went on to finish on the podium in five of his first six races including his first of two wins in Mont Tremblant in Round 6. He also finished second in his A1GP debut in China in Nov. '08. Although this season will pose a new challenge for him as he makes his racing debut on an oval in Round 3 at Kansas Speedway, he is approaching the season the same way.

"To have five podium finishes in my first six Champ Car races is something I am proud of and a feat not accomplished by many drivers," said Doornbos who resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco. "That was a good confidence boost and I am going for the same attitude for St. Pete. Having my debut take place at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete street course is great. I have been watching the DVD of last year's race and the course looks amazing on TV. Of course it's good that the team won the race last year and I think our setup is quite competitive. I'm looking to make the most of it. My second win in Champ Car was on the streets of San Jose so I'm feeling quite confident between my past results and the team's performance not only in St. Pete but on streets courses overall."

The 2009 season-opener on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course will mark the third time for the team to compete here. In the 2003 Champ Car race here Bruno Junqueira finished third for the team and then-rookie 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 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. Justin Wilson started third for NHLR here last year and led 18 laps but Graham Rahal broke through to become the youngest winner in series history in his Indy car debut after holding off veterans Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan through two restarts.

NHLR ran limited test miles prior to the start of the 2008 IndyCar Series season due to timing of the reunification of open wheel racing and the arrival of their race cars three weeks before the start of the season. This year the team has not only tested on the Homestead, Fla. oval, they completed their first ever full day of Indy car testing on a road/street course and built that total to four days for rookie Doornbos.

"I am quite happy with the testing and preparation we have done to get ready for the season because we have been quite competitive,' said Doornbos who set the second fastest lap time on Day 1 of the Barber test. "I had a mix of both type of tracks with my oval debut at Homestead and was obviously quite happy to go to (road courses in) Sebring and Barber to work on our setups for the first two race weekends on street courses where I'm looking to maximize our performance at the start of the championship."

Doornbos, the 2007 Champ Car Rookie of the Year, will take part in a four-man battle for 2009 Rookie of the Year honors and the subsequent $50,000 award. His competition on track is 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion Rafael Matos, former NASCAR driver Stanton Barrett and Englishman Mike Conway. The series will continue its exciting Firestone Fast Six qualifying process and will also introduce the Firestone "alternate" tire program most recently used in the 2007 Champ Car season. Doornbos is excited about both challenges.

"I'm really looking forward to the qualifying process," said Doornbos. "The single-lap flyers are something I am used to from racing in Europe. I have done them in Formula One, A1GP and in the Superleague series. It's a great thing for a driver to try to get the most out of the car and yourself on one lap. It's a huge adrenaline rush. And having the Firestone alternate tire will be good for the championship. I think it will mix it up as it did in Champ Car. In Formula One last weekend the tire difference was quite big so it shows that it can definitely add some spice to the championship."

Not only does Doornbos log many miles through testing and racing, he also logs many air miles. Since leaving his home in Monte Carlo on March 19 for the test in Alabama, he has seen many sights. After two days of testing and four total in Alabama, he traveled to Mexico to concentrate on his physical fitness training before arriving to St. Petersburg on Tuesday, March 31 (today).

On Monday after the Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete he will fly to Portugal for the A1GP event for Team Netherlands (April 12) and will arrive to Long Beach, Calif., on Tuesday before the April 19 Indy car race there. From Long Beach he will make a brief appearance for the IndyCar Series in Phoenix before heading to Kansas Speedway for his oval racing debut on April 26. He will then return home to Monte Carlo for a week of rest before coming to Indy for the month of May and the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500.

The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens with Round 1 of 17 -- the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The 2009 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 Versus and ESPN. All races in 2009 will be telecast in High Definition. Coverage of the Honda Grand Prix will begin with a pre-race show on Saturday from 4-5 p.m. EDT while coverage of the 100-lap race will air from 2-5 p.m. EDT on Sunday. Both broadcasts will air on the VERSUS network.

-credit: -NHLR-

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