McDONALD'S DRIVER WILSON AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER RAHAL MAKE DEBUT ON THE HIGH-BANKED TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY SATURDAY NIGHT FORT WORTH (June 3, 2008) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will head south to compete at this Saturday ...
McDONALD'S DRIVER WILSON AND HOLE IN THE WALL CAMPS DRIVER RAHAL MAKE DEBUT ON THE HIGH-BANKED TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY SATURDAY NIGHT
FORT WORTH (June 3, 2008) --- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will head south to compete at this Saturday night's Bombardier Learjet 550k at the Texas Motor Speedway (TMS). The saying 'Everything is bigger in Texas' certainly applies to the banking on the 1.5-mile track and the "biggest" drivers in the IndyCar Series are hoping to adapt quickly to the new challenge.
"We have had a difficult start to the year due to the short amount of time between the reunification and the start of the season," said Wilson. "Getting used to the ovals has been difficult but I feel that we have adapted and I feel more and more comfortable as we go along. Indy was great experience. Kansas, before that, was very good. I was able to get some experience because there was a lot of side-by-side action. I feel that I an ready and capable and as the season goes on I think you will see Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing get more and more competitive. I think before the season ends, we'll see the McDonald's car running at the front."
The IndyCar Series has held races at Texas Motor Speedway since 1997 and the track has featured the closest racing in series history. In 18 races on the 1.5-mile oval since 1997, 13 have been determined by less than one second. Six races, including last year's, had a margin of victory of less than one-tenth of a second on the tracks that features 24-degree banking in the turns.
"I have heard that Texas Motor Speedway produces intense racing because everyone is in a tight pack, flat-out, running nose to tail," said Wilson, who will drive an Indy car on a high-banked track for the first time Thursday night. "The emphasis is on not making a mistake and trying to be around people you trust as drivers and have a good pit strategy to try to get some positions and move up the order. Other than that I only thing I have heard is its got big crowds and very enthusiastic fans. The steepest banking I have run on so far is Kansas or Homestead so I'm looking forward to getting on track in the McDonald's car and experiencing the banking at Texas and get a feel for it myself. I have no idea what to expect physically. I know it's pretty demanding; the loads are more vertical than they are on some of the lower banked tracks. It will be different but I should be able to adapt pretty quick."
"I think the key to a great series is having the diversity of tracks," said Wilson, the two-time runner up to the Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais. "You have to be the master of all different types of tracks whether you are racing on a one-mile, low banked short oval, the 1.5-mile high-banked high speed ovals, at Indy or on the road and street circuits. All of those different types of tracks take different requirements from the driver and to do well on each of those gives you a good feeling. You know you have done a great job if you can master all of them."
Wilson and teammate Graham Rahal are included among the 10 IndyCar Series drivers that will compete at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time. With only two days of testing not conducted at a race weekend, Rahal has done an excellent job getting acclimated to oval racing. In only his third oval race in Milwaukee, he narrowly missed becoming the youngest oval pole winner by two-tenths of a second over a four-lap average and settled for an impressive second place. While taking an "intensive" course of Oval Racing 101, he has continued to impress onlookers but knows he faces yet another steep learning experience on the high-banked TMS.
"At first it's tough to get used to driving on the ovals," said Rahal. "Overall that is not too bad but it's very tough running in traffic; I think that is the most difficult part. With the high banking in Texas, you can run really, really close and side-by-side. That's pretty intense."
Since the announcement of reunification of open wheel racing on February 27 and soon-after start of the season on March 29, the transition teams have worked on an almost daily-basis to assemble race cars, work on race set ups and begin research and development programs for the unfamiliar equipment. Each new track brings new challenges to the NHLR drivers and team and every waking moment is devoted to closing the gap to the teams that have used the current Dallara-Honda-Firestone package since 2003.
"I think we can be competitive on one-mile ovals like Milwaukee but when it comes to oval tracks like in Texas it will take a little more time to gain the experience on," said Rahal. "We've done a lot of aero work and built some tweaks and put them on but it doesn't seem like we have gone much quicker. I think being competitive comes down to all of the tiny details and that sort of experience just takes time. It's going to be tough for us to catch up to the regulars but having the whole month at Indy was used as a big test session and that certainly helped us prepare for the rest of the season."
The IndyCar Series has gained momentum in 2008 as the sole form of open wheel racing in the US. Historic finishes by Rahal and Danica Patrick, as well as dominant performances by 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon and teammate Dan Wheldon and a maiden victory by Ryan Briscoe, have brought the series an increased amount of attention and the season hasn't even reached the half-way mark. Rahal is optimistic about the potential.
"I think the future is pretty bright for the IndyCar Series," said Rahal. "Capitalizing on the momentum the series has comes down to the marketing people. Having the victories by Danica and myself and all of the other momentum creates a lot of interest, especially from the media, and I think that is one of the things that is going to help open wheel racing get back to where it used to be in the mid-90's."