Newman/Haas Racing returns to two-car strength this weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, as Graham Rahal rejoins the team to drive the No. 02 Quick Trim entry alongside Hideki Mutoh's No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic car. Last year, in its return to the track after a six-year hiatus, the team finished third and fourth with Rahal and Oriol Servia, respectively. Rahal, whose car is engineered by Martin Pare, who engineered Danica Patrick's history-making first Indy car victory for a female at this track in 2008 with Andretti Green Racing, is hoping for more this time.
"Last year we finished on the podium. We had one of the best cars out there and had a lot of fun," Rahal said. "I will be disappointed if we are not on the podium again this year. A lot of guys struggled in the race and we were extremely good. We ought to be able to run right up there.
"The Ganassi guys finished 1-2 and maybe they were a little bit better than us but I would expect that we can improve it and be right there again this year. I think that, a year later we can be a little bit quicker in qualifying and start a little higher up and be able to stay right with the Ganassi guys. Last year we got caught out on the last restart. We had a lapped car between us and that gave them a little bit of a gap. Otherwise I think we would have been able to challenge them a little bit more."
As well as the opportunity to race in front of his countrymen, Mutoh enjoys the unique challenge of the egg-shaped Motegi.
"The track is slightly different compared to other 1.5-mile ovals," said Mutoh. "It has less banking on the track and also because Turns 1 and 2 and Turns 3 and 4 are different. I like the fact that the turns are different. It is a very smooth course with a big bump between Turns 1 and 2. You need a ride height adjustment, because the bump is quite big."
"Twin Ring Motegi is a great track," agreed Rahal. "While it is an oval, it is a mix because one end is a superspeedway that is extremely wide open but the other end is much, much tighter; kind of like a short oval. You have to set up the racecar to be able to balance both of those things. It's the only track like it of the season. It's a lot of fun."