NHLR team has made gains on ovals, but not enough It was apparent to Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing senior engineer Craig Hampson - among others - that the team needed to build a superspeedway baseline to be more competitive on ovals in the '09 season.
Texas Motor Speedway fit the profile for testing in October with Graham Rahal and in early April with Robert Doornbos. Data from both sessions was compared to last June's Bombardier Learjet 550k, when Rahal and Justin Wilson competed for the first-year IndyCar Series team.
In the first oval event of this season -- on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway - Rahal won the pole and Doornbos joined him on the front row. He qualified fourth at Indianapolis. Last week at Milwaukee, Rahal started second and finished fourth.
It's not a coincidence.
"The Texas track is bumpy so you need a good setup of springs and dampers for mechanical grip," Hampson said. "However, at the big speedways in the IndyCar Series, your car speed is mainly dictated by aerodynamics so these tests have been invaluable to try and evaluate various items on the cars. At each of these tests we've been running alone, so the results were not clouded by traffic or tows. The information gathered has been very useful."
Last year, Rahal's best finish on an oval was 10th at Iowa Speedway (a race that 18 of the 26 cars entered running at the finish). Doornbos' first experience on an oval in an IndyCar Series machine was in the April test.
"I think the McDonald's boys have done a great job in the off-season," Rahal said. "We made quite a lot of progress. We have two poles in five races and started on the front row a total of three times and was fourth at Indianapolis, which is the inside of the second row. We've been extremely competitive.
"We're coming off a high in Milwaukee. We finished fourth, which is our best oval finish. I think we proved we have the pace on the 1.5-mile ovals. We should be right up front here. Robert (Doornbos) tested here earlier in the season and I tested here at the end of last season and the cars are really competitive. We were really pleased with the progress we made."