NHLR embarks on 26th season
Although the 26th season of competition for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will be one filled with many new challenges, one thing will remain constant. After 105 wins, 106 poles and 244 podium finishes to date, the team remains as determined as ever to get to the front. NHLR will make their debut in a unified IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile, variable banked Homestead Miami Speedway for this Saturday night’s Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300.
For a team that is used to being as prepared as possible and spends untold hours to do so, NHLR is facing one of the most challenging seasons in recent history. The combination of talented drivers and an experienced and dedicated team have enabled NHLR to be ranked second to only Team Penske (40 seasons) in terms of success but the short time frame of one month to prepare for their debut in the IndyCar Series has forced the team to have realistic expectations this season. In contrast, when Newman/Haas Racing was formed in November of 1982, Paul Newman and Carl Haas allowed themselves almost seven months to prepare for their first race in Atlanta on April 17, 1983 with Mario Andretti behind the wheel.
New for 2008 will be learning the nuances and inner workings of the IndyCar Series – on track and off -- as well as learning new race equipment, new tracks and the addition of a new driver. They are hoping that their 2007 experience of learning the all-new Panoz DP01 Champ Car chassis will aid them as the season progresses.
Of the 15 confirmed IndyCar Series races that NHLR will compete in this season, nine events will be on tracks completely unfamiliar to the team and their drivers Justin Wilson, who will pilot the No. 02 McDonald’s entry and Graham Rahal who will drive the No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps race car. And while six events will be on tracks the team has run on as many as eight years ago, the data will not aid them because the racing equipment -- Honda-powered Dallara chassis on Firestone tires -- is completely new to the team.
“I am extremely happy to be driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing,” said Wilson who will compete in his first race with the team, first in the IndyCar Series and sixth on an Although the 26th season of competition for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) will be one filled with many new challenges, one thing will remain constant. After 105 wins, 106 poles and 244 podium finishes to date, the team remains as determined as ever to get to the front. NHLR will make their debut in a unified IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile, variable banked Homestead Miami Speedway for this Saturday night’s Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300.
“It's going to be very tough for us to contend with the Penskes, Ganassis and AGRs of the world but as time goes on it will get closer and closer,” added Rahal, 19, who finished fifth overall in his rookie season with NHLR in Champ Car last year. “Especially on the ovals for myself, because I've only ever done one before and that was in a Star Mazda car and that's obviously significantly slower than this. And it's going to be quite an eye opener the first time we race. At the end of the day, with the lack of time to properly prepare, we certainly don't expect to be the quickest.”
Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of six tracks on the IndyCar Series schedule that the team previously race on from 1996-2000. Michael Andretti brought the team two victories here (1997, 1998) and a second place finish in 1999 which looked like a possible win before he stalled on his final pit stop and had to settle for second. Christian Fittipaldi brought the team their highest start here of fourth place in 1998. The banking has been increased since the team tested here last but they were able to get reacclimated during a two day test Monday and Tuesday and turned a combined total of 184 laps. With two hours to go on Tuesday night Rahal lost control of his race car and made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 but was not injured. The team is currently evaluating the viability of repairing the car.
“To have plenty of patience!” said Wilson, whose highest finish on an oval came the last time he raced on one in 2006 at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006 when he finished second place to then-NHR driver Bourdais. “With the two-day weekend it will be easy to feel pressured into going quick but I think that’s when you end up in trouble. The plan is to stay calm and make small, positive steps.”
“Everybody has been giving me their opinion on how to approach it but I think Brian Lisles said it best,” added Rahal of his similar approach. “You go out and try to go a little bit quicker each lap. It’s definitely a learning experience and will be all about building up your confidence and speed at the same time. Brian told me some good stories about this process with other drivers. For me, racing on an oval is going to be difficult. I am going into it completely blind as to how it will feel to drive on an oval. But people tell me all the time that road course racers often make the best oval drivers. I hope they are right.”
The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2008 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 ESPN. All races in 2008 will be telecast in High Definition. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2. The GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 will be televised live on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, March 29.
Round 1 of 16 – The 2008 IndyCar Series
DATE: Friday – Saturday, March 28-29, 2008
BROADCAST: Live on ESPN2 from 8-10 p.m. ET
TRACK LAYOUT: 1.5-mile variable banked oval
RACE LENGTH: 200 laps / 300 miles
2007 WINNER: Dan Wheldon
2007 POLESITTER: Dan Wheldon
NHR Stats – Homestead-Miami Speedway (5 events from 1996-2000)
WINS HERE: 2 (Michael Andretti – 1997, 1998)
POLES HERE: 0 (C. Fittipaldi earned the team its highest start here of 4th place in 1998)
PODIUM FINISHES: 3 (2nd – Michael Andretti 1999)
WINS & POLES
ON OVALS: 27/18 The team has earned 27 of their 105 victories and 18 of 106 poles on oval
OVAL RACE: Milwaukee Mile 2006 where Bourdais won from pole after dropping one
lap down due to a punctured tire. Junqueira was hit by Dominguez on
WILSON’S BEST OVAL
START/FINISH: 3rd at Milwaukee - 2005 / 2nd at Milwaukee - 2006
RAHAL’S BEST OVAL
FINISH: 2nd in 2005 Star Mazda junior formula race at Pikes Peak
Driver Stats and Quotes:
JUSTIN WILSON, driver of the #02 McDonald’s Dallara / Honda / Firestone:
- AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY: Will be his first race here, first in the IndyCar Series and sixth on an oval. Although he has never raced at Homestead, it is the site of his first time behind the wheel of an open-wheel car in the U.S. as well as his first time on an oval and first time to drive a car prepared by Newman/Haas Racing, who brought him to the U.S. to test for them on October 8, 2002. Although invited back for a driver shoot-out he opted to pursue an opportunity in F1. Sebastien Bourdais ultimately won the shoot-out and went on to become Rookie of the Year (2003) and four-time champion (2004-2007).
- OVAL RACING HISTORY PRIOR TO 2008: Wilson has competed on an oval track five times. His most recent oval race was in 2006 at the Milwaukee Mile where he started fourth and finished second to Bourdais while driving for RuSPORT. In 2005 he started third and finished fourth in Milwaukee and started ninth and finished 11th in Las Vegas. In 2004 he started eighth and finished fourth in Milwaukee and started 15th and finished eighth in Las Vegas.
- 2006 & 2007 RUNNER UP TO THE CHAMPION: Finished runner up in the Champ Car championship to the driver he recently replaced, four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais, in 2006 and 2007. Was a championship contender until the conclusion of the penultimate race of each season. He also finished third to NHR drivers Bourdais and Oriol Servia in 2005.
- FIFTH SEASON IN A U.S. BASED OPEN WHEEL SERIES: After competing in Formula One for Minardi and Jaguar in 2003, Wilson came to the Champ Car World Series as a rookie in 2004. In his four seasons of CCWS competition he won four races and six poles. He finished on the podium 15 times in 54 starts and led 409 laps.
- FOUR WINS, SIX POLES AND 15 PODIUMS IN CHAMP CAR: During his four seasons in the Champ Car World Series, Wilson earned FOUR wins (2005 – Toronto, Mexico City; 2006 – Edmonton; 2007 - Assen), SIX poles (2005 – Portland, Mexico City; 2006 – Toronto, Mexico City; 2007 – Portland, San Jose) and earned 15 podium finishes in 54 starts. After an impressive rookie season with Mi-Jack Conquest Racing in 2004 where he finished 11th in the season-ending standings, he moved to RuSPORT for 2005-2007. He finished third to NHR drivers Bourdais and Servia in 2005 and runner-up to Bourdais in 2006 and 2007.
- PERSONAL: Justin Boyd Wilson was born on July 31, 1978 (29) in Sheffield, England…He married the former Julia Coggins in England on 12-29-2006 and the couple reside in a suburb of Denver and are expecting their first child in June 2008…His father Keith was an amateur Formula Ford racer in England but retired before Justin was born due to a crash that broke his back and legs. Instead of taking interest in mother Lynne’s love of horses, Justin followed his father’s passion and began racing karts when he was eight…In order to help finance his 2003 season in Formula One, Justin created a company -- Justin Wilson PLC – and approx. 900 investors “bought shares of Justin” which raised $2 million. A portion of his earnings go toward repaying the debt…He has conquered the challenges of dyslexia and, if he wasn’t a race car driver, would be a designer of cars or etc. because he is curious about how things work or how to improve them…Hobbies include cycling, miniature golf, video games, karting and trying to fly one of his two RC Helicopters…He spends his free time plotting and completing home improvement projects as well as trying to find time to mow the yard between races…His typical day begins at 7 a.m. and he calls the U.K. and checks his email before spending an hour at his local gym with Julia. After lunch he rides his bike for 1.5 hours and devotes the remainder of the day to home projects, reading 50× pages of NHLR engineering reports and hanging out with friends…At 6’ 3-1/2” he is the tallest IndyCar Series driver…Listens to Coldplay, Stereophonics, The White Stripes and dance music.
GRAHAM RAHAL, driver of the #06 Hole in the Wall Camps Dallara / Honda / Firestone:
- AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY: Will be his first race here, his first IndyCar Series race and second event on an oval track after having finished second at Pikes Peak in a Star Mazda event in 2005.
- ALSO IN 2008: Rahal competed in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona for the third time where he co-drove a Ford Riley for Michael Shank Racing with Justin Wilson, Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson. Started from pole and overcame several minor problems while running in the lead pack until Wilson hit curbing that led to extensive repairs but the team came back to finish sixth.
- FORMULA ONE TEST: Drove a Formula One car for the first time when BMW contracted him to drive their BMW Sauber race car at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show for four days in January ’08 on a purpose-made Pit Lane Park track.
- FIFTH PLACE RANK IN ’07 ROOKIE CHAMP CAR SEASON: Earned four podium finishes -- including becoming the youngest podium finisher in series history with second place in Houston -- to finish fifth in season-ending standings…Finished second in the Rookie of the Year standings to former Formula One test and race driver Robert Doornbos…Led three races (Cleveland, Mont Tremblant, Belgium) for a total of 18 laps led during the season and set the Fastest Race Lap in Australia for a season-ending total of 243 points…Nominated for Rookie of the Year by esteemed racing magazine Autosport along with fellow drivers Robert Doornbos and ultimate winner and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
- MADE CHAMP CAR HISTORY: Became the youngest driver to earn a Champ Car podium at the age of 18 years, 3 months and 18 days. Rahal dethroned Andrew Ranger who earned the honor in ‘05 at Monterrey, Mexico. The youngest race winner is Nelson Philippe who won the ’06 Australia race at 20 years, two months and 16 days.
- RUNNER-UP TO 2006 ATLANTIC CHAMPION: Rahal finished second in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic championship after a title hunt that concluded in the season finale. Led 129 laps to champion Pagenaud’s 31. He earned a series-high five wins (42 percent), four poles (33 percent) and six podium finishes (50 percent) in the 12 events and at 17 years old was the youngest race winner in series history (Monterrey, Mexico on 5-21-06)…He led the most laps (129, 32 percent) and set a series-high five fastest race laps …He was awarded the BBS of America Rising Star Award.
- PERSONAL: Graham Robert Rahal, 19, was born in Columbus, Ohio on 1-4-1989 and resides in New Albany, Ohio…The 6’2” driver is one of four children of Bobby Rahal, three-time open wheel champion, Indy 500 winner and Hall of Fame race car driver…Has two sisters (Michaela and Samantha) and one brother (Jarrad)…Graduated from New Albany High School with a 3.8 GPA on 6-3-07 despite missing over 80 days of school that year due to racing. ESPN The Magazine covered his graduation… When not racing he likes to work on cars, hang out with friends and family or play other sports for fun…Is a self-proclaimed “Car Guy” and still has the first car he received when he was 16 – a Suburu WRX sti – and is in the process of turning it into a race car with a Cosworth race engine. He purchased an ’07 Atomic Orange Corvette Z06 with his prize money but later sold it and now has an ’07 Ron Fellows limited edition Corvette Z06 as well as an ’08 Chevy Trailblazer SS. In addition he has a 1964 Mini Cooper that he restored for his high school senior project. He also temporarily owned a Porsche GT3 and an Audi he earned by graduating high school with a GPA of 3.5 or above…To prepare for the physicality of racing he spends many hours doing cardiovascular training and weightlifting, skiing, running or bicycling…His favorite type of clothing is anything made by Puma… His favorite food is sushi and his weaknesses are ice cream and white chocolate mocha drinks at Starbucks…His favorite books are those written by Lance Armstrong (and anything he read other than for school)…His favorite thing to watch on TV is any Ohio State Buckeye game, his favorite actor/actress are Owen Wilson and Eva Longoria and favorite movie is “Wedding Crashers.”
What They’re Saying About…
JUSTIN WILSON, #02 McDonald’s Dallara/Honda/Firestone: WHAT IS THE APPROACH TO THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGING SERIES? “It's going to be tough. We've got a long road ahead of us to try to work everything out. The guys are working very hard right now. So it's hard to understand what kind of goal to put on it. But our aim is, or my personal aim is, to do the best we can, whether that is trying to get a podium or pick up race wins. I don't want to overestimate and I don't want to underestimate. We've got to judge the competition when we get there and be realistic. And not get carried away. These first few races will be very difficult. The short time we've had to get the cars prepared and the lack of information we have as far as set up wise, we don't have years of experience setting these cars up. So that takes time. And I'm pretty confident that I'm in the right place being with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, that we can work it out.”
ON A POSSIBLE MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO FIGHT FOR THE TITLE THIS SEASON: “I wouldn't say the season is lost. I would say it will be very valuable experience. But, yeah, we're not going to be in a position to try and chase victories each weekend, which is a shame. But that's the circumstance we're in and I think we're all pretty happy that there's one unified series now and it gives a lot of opportunity for the future. So we're just going to do the best we can, keep working hard and try to improve. And hopefully, if we work methodically, we can understand what it takes to be successful and you'll see the number one car up at the top of the podium again.”
WILL THE TEAM BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN THE COMPETITIVENESS OF RECENT SEASONS? “I don't think it would be fair to judge NHLR on 2008, because we're starting so late in the season. I think what I've heard there's a new car coming out in 2010. So if that is the case, I think that would be the best time to really judge Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. And the same with all the Champ Car teams. Everyone's in the same boat, where we're starting very late in the year with a car we don't know compared to some excellent teams that have had them for four or five years. So it's going to take a little bit of time to catch up. Once we all get the same equipment at the same time I think you'll see a lot closer racing and most of all competition.”
WHAT IS YOUR METHODICAL APPROACH TO GETTING UP TO SPEED ON AN OVAL? “I will start off slowly and get used to the car first. Then it’s a case of building it up slowly. From my limited experience on ovals, it’s all about which of your body’s senses to listen to and which to ignore as some are holding you back and some are keeping you on the right side of the limit. The key is knowing which does what.”
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO APPROACH YOUR FIRST RACE WEEKEND IN HOMESTEAD? ARE THERE ANY PROS / CONS TO A 2-DAY WEEKEND IN THIS CASE? “To have plenty of patience! With the two-day weekend it will be easy to feel pressured into going quick but I think that’s when you end up in trouble. The plan is to stay calm and make small, positive steps.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT BEING ABLE TO NOT ONLY DRIVE FOR NHLR FOR THE FIRST TIME BUT ALSO COMPETE AGAINST MANY OF THE TEAMS NHLR RAN SUCCESSFULLY AGAINST IN THE PAST? “I am extremely happy to be driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. I could not hope to be with a better team, especially while the teams are making this transition. We are going to be racing against some of the top teams in the business so we are not kidding ourselves about how steep of a learning curve we are facing. I believe Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has what it takes to win.”
GRAHAM RAHAL, #06 Hole in the Wall Camps Dallara/Honda/Firestone: WILL THE TEAM BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN THE COMPETITIVENESS OF RECENT SEASONS? “It's going to be very tough for us to contend with the Penskes, Ganassis and AGR’s of the world but as time goes on it will get closer and closer. Especially on the ovals for myself, because I've only ever done one before and that was in a Star Mazda car and that's obviously significantly slower than this. And it's going to be quite an eye opener the first time we race. At the end of the day, with the lack of time to properly prepare, we certainly don't expect to be the quickest. Hopefully we can fight for the rookie of the year award and I think that's the most we can do at this point. Obviously on road courses we feel more confident that we can be close and hopefully contend for wins there. It's obviously a great thing that the two series have come together. I feel that if we had been running in Champ Car this season, obviously there maybe would have been a shot for me to win some races and challenge for the title. But now we look at it in a different light and we need to go out there and learn and do our best. I would like to say the past history of the team here will help us a ton but don’t get the feeling it will. Historically the team has always been competitive and there is a reason for that. They are the best at what they do and although we are at a disadvantage to the established teams they will figure it out sooner rather than later.”
WHAT IS YOUR METHODICAL APPROACH TO GETTING UP TO SPEED ON AN OVAL? “Everybody has been giving me their opinion on how to approach it but I think Brian Lisles said it best. You go out and try to go a little bit quicker each lap. It’s definitely a learning experience and will be all about building up your confidence and speed at the same time. Brian told me some good stories about this process with other drivers. For me, racing on an oval is going to be difficult. I am going into it completely blind as to how it will feel to drive on an oval. But people tell me all the time that road course racers often make the best oval drivers. I hope they are right.”
THERE ARE MANY TEAMS YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH IN THE ICS BUT THIS WILL BE YOUR FIRST TIME TO COMPETE ON THE SAME TRACK AS THEM. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS? “I am excited to get out there and race with everyone in the IndyCar Series but I think everybody is just excited it is one series. It will be great to compete against Penske, Ganassi, AGR and Rahal Letterman, who has had their success. You’re seeing teams like Vision pick up some steam now and look pretty strong. It’s definitely an exciting time for the sport. To be on the grid with 26 cars will be pretty exciting. I haven’t done that since my Star Mazda days. NHLR PR