Watkins Glen: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing preview



WATKINS GLEN, New York (July 2, 2008) --- McDonald's driver Justin Wilson and Hole in the Wall Camps driver Graham Rahal will encounter another new track for the eighth time this season when they arrive to Watkins Glen International for this weekend's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen but this learning curve is sure to put a smile on their faces. The 11-turn, 3.4 mile course will mark the first time for the road/street course veterans to compete on a track other than an oval in an Indy car since the April 6 race on the streets of St. Petersburg which Rahal won. Both drivers are excited to get back on a road course.

"I'm really looking forward to going to Watkins Glen," said Rahal, who became the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history with his win in his series debut in St. Pete. "We're going back to our bread and butter -- a road course. Obviously a lot of transitioning teams should be more competitive there. I don't know if the win (in St. Pete) has hit me yet. It's cool when people talk about it, to hear my name and things like that. But it's not something that I have thought about much. Obviously we have a huge task at hand this weekend at Watkins Glen. I'm looking forward to getting back to some road courses for the team and myself because I think that's the type of place where we can capitalize on our experience and go out there and do our best."

Prior to St. Petersburg, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) had only tested their Indy cars on a road or street course for approximately 10 laps in Sebring before rain ended the session. The team was pleasantly surprised when Wilson qualified third in his Indy car street course debut in St. Pete and went on to lead 18 laps in the rain soaked event but finished ninth due to alternate pit strategies brought on by the rain. Rahal qualified ninth, but was hit on Lap 37 of 83 which dropped him to 23rd. Alternate pit strategy helped him get to the front and he utilized one of the fastest cars on the track to hold off veterans Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan for three restarts and the win. In addition to the team's win this season, Wilson brought them a pole on the streets of Long Beach in the Champ Car finale but his engine failed on Lap 13 and he was unable to capitalize on having the best race car throughout the weekend.

"Going to a road course is going to be good," said Wilson, the 2006 and 2007 Champ Car runner up to four-time champion and NHLR driver Sebastien Bourdais. "It's what we know, what we have experience with. I think its going to be fun and I'm looking forward to driving the McDonald's car there. The Glen is a higher speed track so it is different than St. Pete because you get more into aerodynamics but hopefully we can have the same kind of performance. It will be good to turn left and right; it's what we are used to. Before we went to St. Pete we hadn't had a chance to run the car more than a few laps on a road circuit so I wasn't expecting to do that well but it turned out the car was very good and very fast so I was pleased with the result in qualifying. With a bit more luck with the strategy we could have had a much better result but generally we were pleased with the progress. Watkins Glen is going to be a similar situation as we still haven't had a chance to test this car on a road circuit yet so we've got some work to do but I'm hoping we will be up there fighting for a pole position."

Seventh-nine of the team's 106 wins and 89 of their 107 poles have been earned on a road or street course. The previous road course race for the team was on November 11, 2007 in Mexico City where Bourdais brought the team their 105th victory in his final race before moving to Formula One and Rahal finished fourth after running third. Rahal went on to bring the team their 106th win in St. Pete this season and Wilson earned the 107th pole on the streets of Long Beach on April 19. Five of the next eight IndyCar Series races will be on road and street courses and Wilson, who has earned four wins, seven poles and 14 of his 15 podium finishes of his 55 starts in Champ Car on this type of course, was NHLR's first choice as a replacement for departing champion Bourdais.

"Watkins Glen looks like it is a great road circuit with high speeds," said Wilson. "I have seen the different configurations of the track back in the Formula One days, from many years ago until now. I have driven on the track in computer and simulator games but I am looking forward to driving a real race car around there. The elevation change is one of the things that make the track very cool to drive. It gives you a great sensation especially when you are driving a car like we have now with high downforce and high power. It's a cool feeling to go over some of these high speed corners; you feel the (G-force) loads. It feels like a roller coaster ride but you are in control. I'm looking forward to it."

Only 15 of the 27 drivers entered in this weekend's race have competed in previous IndyCar Series or Firestone Indy Lights events held at this track since 2005. Although NHLR, Wilson nor Rahal have experience on this track, Rahal believes the team's previous road course experience will come in handy -- to a point.

"Even though a Champ Car is a different car from the Indy car, we went to St. Pete with the belief that it is road course racing and that the Indy car is another race car," explained Rahal. "We tried to use the same theories and the same setups that we would have in Champ Car. That process can be used to a certain extent but all of the bits and pieces of the Indy car are different and the characteristics are different in the handling of the car so there is quite a lot of learning that needs to be done still and I think that is going to come with testing and we haven't really done that yet. It may be a road course but it is certainly going to be quite a challenge. A lot of people might feel that maybe we have a bit of an advantage because we are road racers but, truth be told, there is quite a lot of learning for us to do in these next couple of race on this type of track."

Although Wilson, at 6' 3-1/2" tall is hard to miss, fans will be seeing more of him in the central New York area. Coca-Cola and McDonald's have created approx. 403,000 commemorative cups that feature the driver and his No. 02 McDonald's race car. In addition, 142,500 tray liners that feature Wilson and the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen have also been created for distribution at 95 restaurants in the area.On Saturday and Sunday, Wilson will make an appearance at the McDonald's Family Zone area at the track.

This weekend's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen can be seen on live on Sunday, July 6 at 3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC. The event will get underway with practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the 60-lap race will begin at 3:30 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.

-credit: -NHLR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Sébastien Bourdais