DALLAS/FORT WORTH (June 10, 2011) – A strong showing at Indianapolis punched a ticket to Texas for Jay Howard (#88 Service Central Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan, but that ticket didn’t earn the #88 entry any free passes to the front of the grid on Friday’s qualifying.
The team ended up claiming a spot on the outside of the 14th row for Saturday night’s Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway, putting up a two-lap average qualifying time of 211.691 mph. The qualifying result will see Howard start alongside Justin Wilson and behind Sebastien Saavedra.
“We were obviously hoping to get more speed out of the car and we worked hard on the car after the morning practice, but came up just a bit short,” Howard said. “But this team has had good cars here before and we expect to have the ability to come through the field tomorrow.”
The team ran 57 laps in the 75-minute practice session that took place this morning on the 1.5-mile high-banked TMS oval, looking to find some of the balance that had Howard contending for top rookie honors at Indy before a mechanical problem ended his promising run. The team hung up its best time of the session just two laps from the end, with a best lap of 24.7398 seconds (211.724 mph).
“We’re disappointed to be sure, as we expect to come out and be competitive and to start this deep in the pack represents a challenge for our entire team,” said RLL Chief Operating Officer Scott Roembke. “But we will work through it, get Jay what he needs and work on making up positions at every opportunity.”
Tomorrow night’s event at the Texas Motor Speedway will feature a pair of races in the same evening, the first time that such a format has been used in Indy Car racing since 1981. Both races will cover 114 laps, but today’s qualifying just sets the starting grid for the first of the two races. The grid for the second race will be determined by a blind draw, which will be conducted in the intermission between the two events. Such a format could be detrimental to a team trying to come through the field, but the dual-race format and the unpredictability of racing at TMS means that anything can happen.
“From where we are, we will need to pick up some ground early but you don’t want to do anything stupid because you have a long night ahead of you — and you need to be around at the end,” Howard said. “If we can keep our nose clean and avoid any trouble at the start, we can pick our way toward the front. The old saying in racing is that you can’t win a race in the first corner but you can lose it there. Well tomorrow, you can lose TWO races in the first turn! The guys will give us great pit stops and I just need to take advantage of any opportunities I can in the race car to make up ground.”
Both of the Firestone Twin 275s will be televised live tomorrow from TMS, with full coverage beginning on Versus at 7 p.m.