McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE DOORNBOS LOOKING FORWARD TO FIRST ROAD COURSE OF THE SEASON AT THIS WEEKEND'S CAMPING WORLD GRAND PRIX AT THE GLEN WATKINS GLEN, New York (July 2, 2009) --- McDonald's driver Graham Rahal and teammate Robert...
McDONALD'S DRIVER RAHAL AND TEAMMATE DOORNBOS LOOKING FORWARD TO FIRST ROAD COURSE OF THE SEASON AT THIS WEEKEND'S CAMPING WORLD GRAND PRIX AT THE GLEN
WATKINS GLEN, New York (July 2, 2009) --- McDonald's driver Graham Rahal and teammate Robert Doornbos have been looking forward to this weekend's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen since the start of the 2009 IndyCar Series season. The 11-turn, 3.4 mile permanent road course is the first of its kind on the 17-race schedule so far this season and both drivers are excited to get back on a road course for Round 9.
"I would say that everyone on the entire team is looking forward to some road races," said Rahal, who is looking to carry momentum from his highest finish of the season to date of third last Saturday in Richmond where he became the first transition team driver to earn a podium on an oval. "We have momentum on our side and I think that over the next few races the opportunity for a win for our team is very high. We ought to be amongst the best on the road and street courses."
"It has been a very hard and tough start to the season for myself and the team and we have shown strong signs of competitiveness in qualifying but the results we were hoping for on Sundays haven't come yet and with the second half of the season starting in Watkins Glen I'm feeling our luck will change," added Doornbos, who set the second fastest lap on the first day of testing at the Barber Motorsports Park road course in March. "It's nice for me to race on road courses and street courses for the next few events because that's were my experience comes from. But honestly I am feeling more comfortable on the ovals and am starting to understand the set up of the car better so I know that with the combination of both types of racing this is the championship were I want to be! The only road course experience I have with this car and the team is from our pre-season test at Barber and we were competitive there, on the top of the timesheets. But that's testing and now we are racing and there are some very strong teams and drivers out there so it's going to be hard work and play hard!"
The Watkins Glen round will be the first of three consecutive road/street course races and five of the next six events will take place on this type of track. Although Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) has achieved success on each of the different type of tracks they have competed on in their 27 seasons, success on the road and street courses -- which many consider the ultimate test of man and machine due to the physical demands on each -- makes up the bulk of their success. In total the team has earned 80 of their 107 and 90 of their 109 poles on road and street courses.
"I'm looking forward to starting the road and street course stretch off at Watkins Glen," said Rahal who became the youngest pole sitter in series history with his starting position at the 2009 season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg. b^0x001cIt's a physical track with lots of elevation changes and very high commitment corners. This always makes it tough for any driver, but also a lot of fun! Road courses are challenging from a drivers standpoint because they combine all aspects of driving talent. It is harder to get the maximum out of a car on a road course versus being on an oval. I think that road racing ultimately highlights the best drivers in the series."
"On ovals you are very much dependant as a driver from what your car is capable of doing, so the difference between the top teams and smaller teams is bigger and the driver has little he or she can do to change this," said Doornbos, who hopes to top his best start of the season of second place in his oval debut in Kansas here this weekend. "But on a road or street course the driver can work hard with the engineers to tune the car around his preferred set up and try to stay close to the limit and actually get more out of what the car on paper is capable of doing. And physically there is no doubt that it's going to be tougher than racing on ovals but that's what we are paid to do, to stay fit and I take my fitness very serious!"
Although NHLR is no stranger to road course racing, last year was their first event at Watkins Glen International. Despite still being challenged by the initial stages of their transition to the IndyCar Series, the team narrowly missed starting on pole when then-driver Justin Wilson set a lap time only four-hundredths of a second behind Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe and started second. Gear box oil was found to be leaking on his first stop on Lap 7 under caution and he later retired from the race on Lap 22 with gearbox failure in 25th. Rahal crashed in the Saturday morning practice which contributed to an 18th place qualifying position but he rebounded to finish eighth. Both Rahal and Doornbos are optimistic due to the Wilson's potential last year.
"Justin was very competitive here and that certainly makes us feel good," said 20-year-old Rahal who is ranked ninth in series point standings with 180 points, only 39 out of fifth place. "He struggled early in the race before falling out, but I think that we should be competitive from the start. Other teams have tested here and this will challenge us but we should be looking fairly good by race time. The Barber test is a sign of our speed and ability on road courses, we simply need to make it happen. I think we will have the pace on the road course after running well on the street courses at the start of the season. In fact if the Barber road course test is any sign I feel that we should be extremely competitive. Our cars there were very strong and I think that the team has continued to develop a few items that can really help us on the rest of the road races. I feel confident that we should be very competitive."
"For sure the team has developed and understands the car better than they did last year and hopefully this shows this coming weekend," added Doornbos who is only three points behind Raphael Matos in the Rookie of the Year title fight with 141. "But all the other teams have been working hard too so we will see who has done their homework better. In motor racing you can never take anything for granted and you always have to stay sharp and work hard to make sure everything is perfect! This car needs some set up work before the driver is happy on a road or street course because the car has been designed to race fast on ovals with no downforce so we are going to ask a lot of the Firestone grip in coming races and work to fine tune the car around the available grip. This is a big challenge for the engineers and driver and hopefully with my road course experience we can work strong together and get a good result."
For the second straight year McDonald's and Coca-Cola produced 250,000 commemorative cups that feature the McDonald's Indy car driver and a redeemable coupon for reduced priced tickets to the race.
Rahal and his No. 02 McDonald's race car have flown out the doors of the 95 Central New York area restaurants in the Syracuse, Binghamton, Elmira and Utica markets a week ahead of schedule. After having spent much of his childhood roaming around race tracks, he applauds the program the local McDonald's owner/operators have put together at Watkins Glen for families.
"I'm honored to be on the 250,000 cups and represent such great companies in McDonald's and Coke!" said Rahal. "I think that the cup looks great. I'm looking forward to continuing to do fun activities like this. McDonald's also has the Family Zone at the track and I think it's a great opportunity for the families to groom their kids into IndyCar Series fans by presenting them with a fun filled weekend at the track. It's great that McDonald's supports such activities at the track as this and it makes it enjoyable for all parties involved -- including me because I'm going to spend some time there Saturday and Sunday!"
This weekend's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen can be seen on live on Sunday, July 5 at 1 p.m. EDT on ABC. The weekend has been shortened to a 2-day event and will get underway with practice and qualifying on Saturday and the broadcast of the 60-lap race will begin at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the official website of the IndyCar Series, www.indycar.com. It will also be broadcast live on IMS Radio Network and XM Radio Channels 144 and 145.