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Team E's Mitchell Wants to Learn the Baltimore Grand Prix Track Quickly
August 31, 2011

When Team E Racing's Rusty Mitchell takes his first stroll around Baltimore's Inner Harbor tomorrow afternoon, people watching will be the furthest thing from his mind.

He won't be shopping, watching street performers, visiting a museum, touring an old ship, enjoying the aquarium, eating crab cakes or taking a cruise or a speed boat ride either.

All that will have to come another time. On Thursday Mitchell and his fellow Firestone Indy Lights drivers will be walking Baltimore's new 2.1-mile street circuit for the first time, and they'll all be focused on learning the fastest way around the track as quickly as possible.

Mitchell will be looking for spots that might prove troublesome, the best lines to take into and out of the turns and for the best places that he can pass someone else with his bright blue Team E Racing No. 17, which is sponsored by Motorola and Petro Communications.

Mitchell and his Tampa Bay, Fla.-based team want to get a handle on the track's key features as quickly as possible in order to arrive at a set-up that makes their car fast, well balanced and comfortable for Mitchell to drive. They only have two practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, qualifying on Saturday at 11:05 a.m. and a warm-up session on Sunday morning before the green flag drops on Baltimore's inaugural 35-lap Firestone Indy Lights race shortly after noon on Sunday. It will be televised live on Versus starting at 12 p.m. Eastern time.

Mitchell is a rookie in Firestone Indy Lights and he has only competed in three previous races this year in the series, which is part of the Mazda Road to Indy. Although most of his rivals have more experience in the series than he has, Baltimore makes the playing field more equal because it is an unknown for all of them.

"I can't wait to get to Baltimore!" Mitchell said on Monday from his home in Midland, Texas. "I don't really know much about the course except it's a street course, and they all require high concentration and skills because one mistake can cost you dearly.

"With it being a brand-new course, it will be imperative to figure it out quickly," he added. "I'll try to gain as much knowledge as possible about the circuit during the track walk on Thursday, which will hopefully help the learning curve.

"I haven't been on a street circuit since the Long Beach race in April, so the first session will be very important in getting back up to speed," he added.

He is looking forward to the whole experience.

"I've never been to Baltimore or the Washington, D.C. area, so I'm excited to see a part of the country that I've never seen before," he said. "I wouldn't be able to do this without the support of Team E and my sponsors, Motorola and Petro Communications. They have all helped me out tremendously this year, and I can't thank them enough."

Florida businessman Neil Enerson owns Team E Racing, which is widely regarded as one of the most professional teams in Firestone Indy Lights. He has assembled a very experienced crew, including engineer Daryl Bear, chief mechanic David Metcalf and mechanic Harv Sweezie, who will be trying their best to make Mitchell's car the fastest.

Metcalf, a very respected chief mechanic who was the series' Chief Mechanic of the Year in 1997 and 2005, has already been doing his homework.

"Luckily we have computers these days," he said on Tuesday. "I've been studying the map the track supplied, and with Google Maps we have learned a few other things about the layout. IndyCar and Dallara also put out some data on the projected speed of the straights and the radius of the corners. We'll look back through our notes and compare the new circuit at Baltimore to places we've already raced, and try to figure out how much downforce we should run. The data gives you an idea of the speeds we'll be doing, which helps you choose your gears.

"We've assembled the car just like we normally do approaching a street course," he added. "The brakes we're using are the typical brakes we use for street circuits like Long Beach or Toronto or some place like that."

Naturally many team members have been comparing notes as they search for insights, since previous challenges at other new street courses included unforeseen problems with things like protruding manhole covers and unusual crowns in the road.

One of the pre-race rumors at Baltimore involved train tracks.

"There's some sort of light rail system that goes through the track in a couple of spots, but from what I've heard they've leveled everything out and that shouldn't be an issue," Metcalf said. "IndyCar is always very concerned about safety, so I'm confident they're on top of things."

One thing he can't really discern from the maps he's seen so far are the amount of run-off areas, but as a veteran chief mechanic he's not too concerned about that either. "Streets usually continue on after a corner, so usually there's enough run-off areas on a street course," he said. "If a driver can go straight off when he makes a mistake going into a turn he's usually OK, but if he makes a mistake after he's already fully committed to a corner, he's destined to hit something," he noted.

"Being at a new street circuit is a different challenge," he summarized. "The better prepared you are the better. You don't want to lose any practice time, and to get up to speed quickly is an advantage. If you can do that, once you get out in front of everybody you're fine, and it's a game of catch-up for everybody else. That's the main key. But if you have an accident or a mechanical problem at a place where you have no data, it's very hard to recover."

When asked if a new street circuit ever surprised him, Metcalf had an interesting answer.

"A lot of them end up being faster than you expected looking at them on paper," he said. "When you get there the drivers seem to figure it out and they tend to find lines that you didn't think of that can cut a little bit of time off."

Mitchell hopes he can do just that when he walks the track for the first time on Thursday afternoon.

He'll drive the Team E No. 17 on the track for the first time in an hour-long practice session at 10:45 a.m. Friday morning. An autograph session at 2 p.m. follows that afternoon.

A 45-minute practice session at 8 a.m. Saturday will precede Sunoco Qualifying on Saturday at 11:05 a.m.

Sunday's schedule shows a systems check at 8 a.m. followed by the pre-race festivities at noon and the green flag at 12:15 p.m.

The complete schedule, more series news and live timing and scoring of all the sessions can be found on indycar.com/fil.

Additional information can be found on the team's Web site at TeamERacing.com and Mitchell's Web site at RustyMitchellRacing.com. Updates and a special giveaway from the team for two lucky fans planning to attend this weekend's Baltimore Grand Prix can also be found on Team E Racing's Facebook page.