Rahal ready to lead at Newman/Haas/Lanigan HVM, Conquest to miss Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park Final opportunity for Firestone Indy Lights teams to prepare for season Drivers fill out basketball brackets
1. Rahal ready to lead at Newman/Haas/Lanigan: At 20 years of age, Graham Rahal could be finishing up his sophomore year of college and debating whether spring break should take him to Cancun, Ft. Lauderdale or South Padre Island.
Instead, Rahal is entering his third season with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, now as the anchor of a team that won two races in the IndyCar Series last year.
Rahal, who has been teammates with Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson the last two seasons, will step up to the red and yellow No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team entry. Rahal earned the position with a fifth-place finish overall as a rookie in Champ Car in 2007, a strong showing in 2008 that included a record-setting victory and four top-10 finishes and maturity beyond his years.
“I think the expectations that are put in place aren’t necessarily because of my role on the team but more because of the fact that I want to go out there and win races and be successful,” said Rahal, who became the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history when he won his IndyCar Series debut at St. Petersburg last year. “Coming from a situation in Champ Car and transitioning here last year, it’s all building blocks and leadership skills and a lot of learning that’s taken place. Basically, every step in my career has been a learning year for me.
“This season, I think the entire team comes in with a lot more confidence, knowing that we ought to have a much better shot at being successful and winning races. I want to go out there and win races and prove that I deserve the role that I’ve taken in this team now. I feel like I’ve done a good job of building the team around me over the last couple of years and now it will hopefully all show through.”
Rahal’s teammate will be 27-year-old Robert Doornbos – a rookie in the IndyCar Series but a driver who has experience in Formula One and Champ Car.
“When I made the move from Formula One to Champ Car in 2007, I had no knowledge of circuits, tires, drivers, engine, whatever of that series, and I had five podiums out of the first six races, so that was a motivation boost,” Doornbos said. “I think my attitude is the same for IndyCar. The team contacted me because they know what I can do, and I’m here to do the best job I can. Of course, I have respect for the ovals, there’s still a steep learning curve, but nothing to be worried about.”
Doornbos is happy to be partnered with Rahal.
“Graham is a great guy,” Doornbos said. “He has a big name in the U.S., so there’s some pressure on him to perform, but I think we should have a strong team this year.”
The team may also field a car for third-year driver Milka Duno, who has been testing with the team.
“For me, it’s good to have the extra data (of teammates),” Rahal said. “On the ovals, it will help to have a couple extra cars to try things on. It’s always a bonus to have more than one competitive car to learn from.”
2. HVM, Conquest to miss Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park: Conquest Racing and HVM Racing will not participate in the IndyCar Series Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park March 22-23. Both teams anticipate using some of their allocation of private test days to test before the season-opening race April 5 at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Jaime Camara drove for Conquest Racing at the February Open Test on the oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway although the team has yet to confirm its driver lineup for 2009.
“We’re in the process of finalizing our program and with that being our main focus we elected to skip the Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park and do a private test at a later date,” Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart said. “We’re looking at doing a test prior to the start of the season, probably at a place like Sebring, which will better help us with our preparation for the upcoming street course races in St. Petersburg and Long Beach.”
E.J. Viso participated in the Open Test at Homestead-Miami for HVM Racing. HVM has been working with Ryan Hunter-Reay to test a second car at the private test. Hunter-Reay was fitted for a seat this week at the HVM shop, where the team will be preparing another car for him. The team has not finalized an agreement with the 2007 Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year but continues to explore opportunities with him for the 2009 season.
“We look forward to having Ryan test for us, but we want to make sure the timing of that test makes sense for everyone,” HVM Racing owner Keith Wiggins said.
Each IndyCar Series entrant that participates in the season-long IndyCar TEAM program (Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix) is allowed 800 miles or six days of testing, whichever comes first, and 18 sets of Firestone Firehawk tires. Entrants with a second car may conduct 1,200 miles of testing with 26 sets of tires, while entrants with additional cars gain 200 miles and four sets of tires per car. Teams are not permitted to test at any track within seven days of a race.
3. Final opportunity for Firestone Indy Lights teams to prepare for season: Martin Plowman understands the importance of the Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 21. The English rookie knows it’s his last chance to prepare for the season-opening doubleheader at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 4-5.
“I wish I could have another test day before St. Petersburg, but this is it for us,” the Panther Racing driver said. “We’ve got to get the most out of the test that we can.”
Panther Racing’s two-car tandem of Plowman and Pippa Mann will be joined by seven cars from six other teams for the series’ first-ever visit to Barber Motorsports Park.
Other drivers participating in the series’ only test on a road/street course will be J.R. Hildebrand and Sebastian Saavedra (AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing), Andrew Prendeville (Team Moore Racing), Mario Romancini (RLR/Andersen Racing), Rodrigo Barbosa (ELFF Racing), Daniel Herrington (Bryan Herta Autosport) and James Davison (Vision Racing).
“Visiting Barber Motorsports Park is very beneficial to Firestone Indy Lights and I hope it will be to the teams participating in the test,” said Roger Bailey, executive director of Firestone Indy Lights. “It’s a chance to make a good impression in a place we’ve never been, while allowing our teams the opportunity to gain information that can help them later in the season.”
While nearly half the teams that will field entries this season will be testing on the 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course near Leeds, Ala., some have opted to miss the test and will concentrate on street-course setups with preseason private tests in advance of the St. Petersburg race weekend.
“I’ve never been to Barber, and I have nothing against the track,” said team owner Brian Stewart, who has opted to take his team to Sebring International Raceway. “But I know Sebring, and I know what I have to do there to prepare my guys for St. Pete.”
4. Drivers fill out basketball brackets: Before the intense racing action begins in less than two weeks, IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights drivers prepared for the first “unofficial” championship of the year – bragging rights over the best bracket.
A number of drivers took time early this week to fill out brackets for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Some studied newspaper capsules and some did it on a whim. As expected, Butler graduate Ed Carpenter followed his heart, picking Butler to win its first round matchup against Louisiana State.
A look at the biggest first round upset predictions:
Cleveland State (13 seed) over Wake Forest (4) – Sarah Fisher
Portland State (13) over Xavier (4) – Sarah Fisher
Mississippi State (13) over Washington (4) – Marco Andretti
Western Kentucky (12) over Illinois (5) – Ed Carpenter and Raphael Matos
Arizona (12) over Utah (5) – Marco Andretti, Raphael Matos and Andrew Prendeville
Wisconsin (12) over Florida State (5) – Andrew Prendeville
Teams seeded 11th were picked for upsets nine times, including by Danica Patrick, who gave Utah State the nod over Marquette.
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. The radio broadcast also will be carried on .indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg. The races will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.