Each time Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has competed on the streets of Surfers Paradise, it has had to consider the effect of the outcome on season-ending standings, the fight for a title and run a semi-conservative strategy - until now.

The goal of the team's 18th appearance on the Gold Coast, now in the IndyCar Series as opposed to Champ Car, will still be to win but, since this event is running as a non-points race for the first time, there will be no secondary considerations.

NHLR has provided the only repeat winner in 17 races at Surfers - although Sebastien Bourdais only achieved that feat in 2007 - and established a strong street-fighting pedigree in its first year in the unified IndyCar Series, with Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson both winning on temporary circuits in 2008, putting it firmly among the favourites for success this weekend.

"There's not a championship on the line this year, but that doesn't mean that the drivers don't still want to win really bad," said Wilson, the IRL's most recent street course winner after taking the laurels in Detroit in late August, "There is certainly no added pressure from a championship standpoint, but it means so much to win at this track, so it's a very important race for the drivers. To have a win here on your resume means you've overcome a lot of odds."

The Queensland seaside venue is the site of many fond memories for NHLR, as Bourdais and the team clinched the last three of their eight CCWS titles there in recent years. It has also won three of the past four races on the Gold Coast, dating back to Bruno Junqueira's win in 2004 and including Bourdais' title clinching victories in 2005 and 2007.

Wilson is no stranger to those results as he was the team's biggest challenger, and went on to finish third in the season-ending standings to the two NHR drivers in 2005 and second to Bourdais in both 2006 and 2007, before being hired to replace the F1-bound Frenchman. The Briton is the highest finisher from last year's race to return this year and is hoping to continue the momentum.

"Last year, I finished second after a good race with Sebastien," Wilson, who has been entered at Surfers every year since 2003, noted, "We were trading positions on the pit-stops, before I passed him on track and he passed me back on the last pit-stop. The two of us got out front and, once Oriol [Servia] crashed, it was just myself and Sebastien that were pushing hard for the race win. It was a good, fun battle.

"This time, we'll be riding high after winning the previous two street races this year, in Detroit and St Petersburg, and that will give us a lot of confidence, but the track is so different that it doesn't guarantee that our set-up is going to work."

NHLR is the only team competing in this year's event to have raced in every event at Surfers, and Wilson and Rahal will be looking to add their names to a pantheon of NHLR victors comprising Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy, Cristiano da Matta, Junqueira and Bourdais.

"The event is rated highly in my opinion because it is a very demanding track," said the Briton, who missed the 2006 race after breaking his wrist in practice, "It's very physical and very demanding on the drivers. There are a lot of kerbs that you have to jump, and a lot of cambered and crowned corners which are very tricky - and I'm sure they will be even trickier in the Indy car.

"Your concentration level needs to be at its highest point because you have to be able to commit to all of the high-speed corners on a street circuit where you don't have any run-off or leeway. I didn't get to drive in 2006 because I broke my wrist clipping the tyre bundle at turn twelve, which ripped the steering wheel through my hands. The smallest mistake can lead to a big accident, so it is very psychological."

Rahal is also looking forward to his return to Surfers after racing there for the first time in 2007, nine years on from watching father Bobby compete on the same streets in 1998.

"As far as the enthusiasm and excitement of the fans and community around the circuit, Surfers Paradise is one of the best events I have been to and been a part of," the 19-year old said, "Last year, my expectations for how good the event would be were high based on what I had heard and seen as a kid - but the experience completely surpassed my expectations.

"It was an amazing event last year and it's really exciting for me to go back this year. It's probably the best race on the schedule other than the Indy 500 - in terms of fan attendance and the enthusiasm that the fans have toward the race, it may be unmatched. My dad finished second twice but he didn't win there, so it's up to me to get a win for the Rahals in Australia."

The 2007 event saw Rahal prove his competitiveness by setting the fastest lap of the race, but he only finished eleventh after being hit by Nelson Philippe on lap 26, while running fifth. He will be one of twelve drivers in the 24-car field to have competed there before this year.

"I think we ran a really good race last year but, unfortunately, we didn't have the best of finishes because of the fact that Nelson hit me and spun me out, but that's how things go," he reflected, "I was still able to set the fastest lap of the race for the first time - and I don't think the lap time will be beaten any time soon because the Champ Car's had more horsepower [than the current IndyCars]."

The race has always been renowned for its ability to produce surprises beyond the run of new winners, with Mother Nature not averse to throwing her oar in with torrential rain and, on one occasion, a hailstorm. Rahal, however, expects the excitement to remain on track this year.

"I do think you will see more banzai moves because there isn't a championship on the line," he said, "There are going to be people with the mindset that they are just trying to prove themselves and that it doesn't really matter what happens at the end of it all. Since it's not for points, I think everyone is just going to go all out and see what happens.

"That's the mentality that a lot of these guys have and, unfortunately, any one of us could pay the price for it. The race is known for surprises and I definitely think that will be the case again this year."

NHLR made visible gains with its new Dallara-Honda combination throughout the 2008 season and, armed with a better understanding of Surfers than many of their rivals, Rahal figures he and his team-mate should provide strong competition for the rest of the field this weekend.

"Surfers will be the only street course we run on this season that we ran on last year in a Champ Car, but we should be able to adapt pretty quickly," he reckoned, "We ran strong in the last street race in Detroit, so we are learning more and more about the Indy car.

"We were pretty quick last year, so I hope we can contend for a win this year. I think Justin will be very tough to beat, but I really enjoyed the circuit last year and, for rookies coming in that haven't been there before, it's a tough track. [Scott] Dixon and all of those guys have seen the place before though, so it's not going to be too different for them."

While the team is excited to get back to racing after a six-week break, they will do so with heavy hearts after the passing of co-owner Paul Newman in September, adding extra poignancy to any success that may come its way.

"It will be the first race without Paul, which is obviously going to be difficult," Wilson admitted, "We all miss Paul and it will mean a lot for either myself or Graham to go out there and try and get a win for him. We'll just do our best and give it everything we can and try to come out on top."