Simmons Ready To Start Season
April 18, 2006 | 9:16 A.M. EST
But the Boston College graduate who has lit up the Indy Pro Series ranks with five wins in the last ten starts hopes to continue a legacy set by his predecessor, the late Paul Dana.
"These are not the circumstances that I would like this opportunity to come about, but Paul had the same dreams as me," said Simmons, who takes over the wheel of the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda Panoz Firestone car for the first time on April 22 in the IRL IndyCar Series at Motegi, Japan. "Like him, this is what I’ve worked so long for. I just want to do my very best to promote the cause that Paul worked so hard for and do the best job I can in the car for Team Ethanol."
Simmons comes to the Hilliard, Ohio-based organization with strong credentials and some IndyCar Series background. So everything is not new to the East Granby, Conn., driver. But the fast 1.5-mile oval north of Tokyo will be a fresh experience.
"I have never been to Japan and the Motegi track," said Simmons, who’ll make his third IndyCar Series start. "But the Rahal Letterman Racing has a lot of experience and success at the track. Kenny Brack won there (in 2001) and finished second a couple of times and Danica (Patrick) nearly won the pole last year in her first appearance. I know Buddy (Rice) is very fast there so I am hoping to use their knowledge of the track in my first appearance."
Simmons is joining a team with a strong and success history in open-wheel competition and he believes he couldn’t have come to a better place to gain a solid IndyCar Series ride.
"Driving for a team like Rahal Letterman is every young driver’s dream," said Simmons, who drove to victory for Kenn Hardley Racing in the season-opening IPS race last month in Homestead. "I know Paul was thrilled to get the chance to race for this team. He had worked so hard to make it to a first class operation and his dream was cut short. I am elated to receive this opportunity to drive on this team and also continue the program that Paul started. I am honored to have the opportunity to promote the message and need for the clean, renewable fuel ethanol and to become a member of Rahal Letterman Racing."
Team co-owner Bobby Rahal believes Simmons has the talent to succeed on the IndyCar Series as well as promoting the ethanol cause.
"Jeff is a driver I think has a great deal of potential and a very bright future," said the three-time Indy car champion and the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner. "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."
Simmons knows this opportunity is much different that his first two races in the IndyCar Series back in 2004.
"The last two times (with Mo Nunn at Indy and Patrick at Kansas in 2004) I was just right into the car and right onto the racetrack," he explained. "It was nice to have some time to prepare for Motegi, and we had a good test at Indy (April 5). It is one of the most professional teams I could ever hope to be associated with and I truly appreciate the faith that Bobby and the Team Ethanol sponsors have placed in me."
The ethanol industry, who worked so closely with Dana for the past four years, is pleased to have another young driver entered its IndyCar Series program.
"Through Paul Dana’s determination, ethanol became the performance fuel of choice for the Indy Racing League," said David Vander Griend, president and CEO of ICM, one of the team’s primary sponsors. "The best tribute to his legacy is to continue promoting ethanol through racing. We are excited about the future of our new partnership with Jeff Simmons and Rahal Letterman Racing."