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.