Rahal Letterman Tabs Simmons
April 4, 2006 | 3:30 P.M. EST
Simmons joins the team from the Indy Pro Series, where he drove for Kenn Hardley Racing – the same team that Paul Dana drove for in his first of two seasons in the feeder series.
"We've obviously been through some real trials and tribulations already this year. We all know what happened at Homestead and what a terrible day that was for all of us and our team and racing and, in particular, Paul (Dana) and his family," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. "I think a great component for our team in order to bring that championship to us is that today I'm pleased to announce Jeff Simmons"'
The newest member of a "Great team" that includes Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice spent four seasons in the Indy Pro Series, where he has finished as runner-up in the championship twice – in 2003 and 2005.
"Well, you know, certainly, as we said, this is different circumstances and not the ones under which I would like this opportunity to come about," said the 29-year old rookie. "It has a deep and profound impact on me emotionally how this has come about. As I said before, I just want to do whatever I can to try to honor Paul's memory. You know, it's something I'll never forget, and I really want to express my condolences and deepest sympathies and everything to his family and friends and loved ones."
With the move up to IRL IndyCar, Simmons has decided to not run both series. In three races this season, Simmons had won once (at Homestead) and scored top-fives in all three, including a runner-up finish in the first of two races this past weekend in St. Petersburg.
While the team has not had too much time to decide on who would replace Dana, Rahal felt the right choice has been made and is looking forward to the future for his team.
"But (Simmons) performance has been a successful one throughout his career. And I think that's what, you know, when we were forced to look around, we wanted to make sure that if there was someone who was going to replace Paul, it was going to be someone who was going to be able to live up to the expectations. We thought that Jeff was that guy," said the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART Champion.
"Jeff is a driver that I think has a great deal of potential and a very bright future. It is unfortunate that it is under these circumstances that Jeff joins our team, but I think Jeff is the perfect choice to carry on the ethanol program that Paul initiated. Jeff has paid his dues and worked his way up through the ladder system. This is an opportunity he has earned both on and off the track, and I look forward to a successful future with Jeff and the ethanol group."
This will be the first time Simmons has a full time ride in the IRL, but not his first time in the series. In 2004, he ran in the Indianapolis 500 for Mo Nunn Racing – scoring a 16th place result -- and for Patrick Racing in the Kansas 300 – where he finished 19th.
"I was just remarking about that earlier, saying we know everything is going really quickly for you, and I said this is the only way I know how to do it," said Simmons. "Last time I was right into the car and right onto the racetrack, pretty much. With Mo Nunn it was very few laps to go out to qualify and with Patrick it was just a two-day weekend and I didn't know until that week that I was driving the car."
"It's going to be nice to have a little bit more time to try to prepare now. I'm really looking forward to getting in the car tomorrow and getting started."