Rahal expected to sign with Newman/Haas Racing


MONTEREY, Calif. -- On the eve of its two-day spring training at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the driver lineup for the Champ Car World Series still doesn't include top U.S. racing prospect Graham Rahal -- officially.

The 18-year-old son of three-time CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal has been testing throughout the offseason with Newman/Haas Racing, but a formal announcement that he has signed with the team for the 2007 Champ Car season was delayed again Thursday.

As far as team co-owner Paul Newman is concerned, however, it's a done deal.

"Lawyers have to eat," quipped the Academy Award winning actor and racer when asked what remained to be done to bring the gifted teenager officially into the NHR fold. "As far as I am concerned, it was done a couple of weeks ago."

Champ Car's lone marquee U.S. driver, A.J. Allmendinger, left just before the end of last season to race in NASCAR. Replacing the rising open-wheel star with Rahal is something that Champ Car needs to help its image.

Rahal is expected to join three-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais at Newman/Haas once his sponsorship deal is finalized. He would replace veteran Bruno Junqueira, a three-time series runner-up.

"I'm ready," Rahal said. "We're awfully close [on the agreement]; we're just not quite there."

Apprised of what Newman said, Rahal said, "To be completely honest, Paul knows more than I do. To be a part of this team, I'm really happy."

PKV Racing principals Kevin Kalkhoven -- also co-owner of the series -- and former CART champion Jimmy Vasser named European racers Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy as the team's drivers for 2007.

Also Thursday, Champ Car president Steve Johnson announced a partnership agreement with Mazda North American Operations. Mazda will become the official vehicle of the series, providing pace and safety cars.

Champ Car also announced its television package with veteran broadcasters Rick Benjamin and Jan Beekhuis in the booth for TV coverage of the series on ABC/ESPN, which will carry all but three of the events. Two races will be seen on NBC and one on CBS.

Frantz Cayo, director of motorsports for ESPN, said the entire series would be carried on ESPN in 2008.