From Champ Car frontrunners to IRL newbies – nowhere will Newman/Haas/Lanigan’s new status be more obvious than this weekend’s Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at the Kansas Speedway, a circuit that only one member of the team has even set eyes on before.
That member is 19-year-old driver Graham Rahal, whose father is a veteran racer who now runs a team. “I don’t know too much about racing at Kansas Speedway,” he said. “I have actually been there once to watch my dad’s team race but that doesn’t translate much to actually driving there myself.”
Under the circumstances, the team isn’t expecting much from the race.
So far, since the merger of Champ Car and IndyCar, Newman/Haas/Lanigan has recorded a pole position for Justin Wilson and a victory for Rahal. But a run of several consecutive races on ovals may stall that momentum.
Wilson, who was welcomed back to the pits with a standing ovation after finishing 15th in the season opener on the oval at Homestead, said he hoped for a top 10 finish in Kansas as part of the team’s ongoing improvement.
He said: “I don’t know much about the track except what I learned from watching the DVD of last year’s race. It’s going to be a new track for us but from what I have been told it is similar to Homestead but not quite as difficult.
“We are going to try to build on what we learned at Homestead. I thought the McDonald’s car was good in the race but we are hoping to maybe qualify a fraction better. For the race, my aim is to finish in the top-10 with a view to getting stronger throughout the season.”
Wilson has qualified well but has not been able to translate grid positions into race results. In the last-ever Champ Car race, last weekend in Long Beach, he qualified on pole but lost the lead at the start and then retired with an engine failure. Rahal also struggled after his win in the previous race at St Petersburg.
Nevertheless, the Englishman sees forward progress: “I think we have made some gains already but the big gains are going to come once we get to Indianapolis and beyond. This process takes some time and we are only heading into our second IndyCar Series oval race so we have to be patient.
“Hopefully we will pick up some points in this race that we missed out on in Long Beach.”