After one year away, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing is looking forward to the return to Canada for this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto, a race where it has enjoyed great success in the past.
Sunday will see the team's 23rd race on the streets of Toronto, but the first since the 2007 Champ Car World Series event following an enforced year off the schedule following the unification of US open-wheel racing last season. Last time out, NHLR started from its fifth Toronto pole and, although Team Australia's Will Power won on that occasion, has enjoyed seven victories around Exhibition Place.
“Any understanding of the circuit that we can have will help us, and Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has competed in Toronto since before I was even born,” revealed Graham Rahal, “That should really play very well into our strengths.”
On his two previous appearances on the temporary street course, Rahal has been denied victory, but led both qualifying sessions to take pole in the 2006 Atlantic Series race. In his Champ Car rookie season in 2007, he started 15th but contact on the opening lap hindered his finish, and he is looking forward to turning his luck around this time.
“Toronto has always been okay to me finish-wise, but I hope to change that this weekend,” he said, “In my Atlantic race, we were dominant. There was nobody even close to us, we had the field covered - or at least we thought. Then Raphael Matos hit me square in the rear to take me out, and that was the end. We got back out running to get fastest lap, but that was little consolation for us.
"Then, in Champ Car, we struggled in a major way. We never felt competitive or comfortable until the rain came on race day. When it did, we started quickly moving up through the field and I caught Sebastien [Bourdais]. He was holding me up and I made a stupid rookie mistake by forcing the issue and it ended my day. I think if we had kept running, we would have been very strong in the race due to the weather.”
The Toronto race will mark the first IndyCar race on a street course since the opening rounds at St Pete and Long Beach. Having won the 2008 event, Rahal became the youngest pole winner in St Pete this time around, but was hit at the start and dropped to 21st before rebounding to finish seventh. In Long Beach, he started seventh, before a pit miscue led to two penalties and a twelfth-place finish, but he feels the potential for success in both qualifying and the race is high this weekend.
“A pole or win is very possible for the McDonald's team in Toronto - and also in Edmonton,” he insisted, “We started on pole in St Pete and it would be great to start up front in Toronto. We ought to be very strong and I cannot wait to get started. It's a very tight street course and that makes it tough to really feel comfortable getting everything out of the car. It's a difficult circuit to learn so, hopefully, we should have a nice advantage over others.”
Former champions Michael Andretti, Cristiano da Matta and Bourdais have all emerged victorious for NHLR in Toronto and, while none is active in Canada this weekend, eleven drivers in the field have made Champ Car starts at the track. Despite the event missing a year, Rahal is expecting the atmosphere to benefit from the absence.
“The races have always been popular because the crowd support is incredible,” the American, who will wear a specially-liveried helmet to commemorate father Bobby's win in the inaugural Toronto race in 1986, said, “I think, with a year removed from the Toronto race, the crowd should be absolutely thrilled we are back and I cannot wait to see how they support it. There are very few places we go in the world that people get as enthusiastic as in Canada.”