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Simmons close to ride with Rahal Letterman

By BRIAN SUMERS
Published April 2, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Since age 5, Jeff Simmons has dreamed of driving an IndyCar.

Now, he might finally get his chance.

Simmons, 29, said Saturday he has spoken to Rahal Letterman officials about replacing Paul Dana in the company's No. 17 car.

Dana died Sunday when he crashed into Ed Carpenter at Homestead Miami Speedway. Rahal Letterman did not enter the car in today's Grand Prix.

ESPN.com reported the move could be announced as soon as this week. But Simmons said nothing is official.

"It's all kind of premature," said Simmons, who is in his fourth season on the Indy Pro Series, IndyCar's developmental circuit. "I've spoken to people at Rahal and I'm certainly interested in continuing on, but there is no deal."

Simmons won the Pro Series race at Homestead to earn his seventh career victory, tying him for most ever on the circuit, which began in 2002.

He finished second in Saturday's Pro Series Grand Prix, just behind Raphael Matos.

Despite success on the track - he has 10 consecutive top-five finishes dating to last season - Simmons has watched some less experienced drivers continue to IndyCar.

Marco Andretti, driving for his family's Andretti Green racing team, moved up after six Indy Pro races last season. And P.J. Chesson made three starts in the Pro Series last year before getting a full-time IndyCar ride.

Though the No. 17 opening came through undesirable circumstances, Simmons said he hopes this will be his chance.

"I'd love to do it as soon as possible," he said.

ACHES AND PAINS: Arie Luyendyk Jr. awoke sore Saturday morning, still feeling dull pain from his crash nearly 24 hours earlier.

On the first day of practice, Luyendyk hit the wall in Turn 3 at about 130 mph. He said the contact unleashed the force of 100 Gs on his body, and the car was so damaged Luyendyk cannot race it this weekend.

"That's probably the biggest crash I've ever had on a street course," Luyendyk said. "It doesn't feel very good."

After the crash, Luyendyk spoke by telephone with his father, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk Sr. His dad, in Indianapolis giving tandem rides at the racetrack, told his son it was just part of racing.

But Luyendyk Jr., who finished fifth in last year's Grand Prix, was disappointed.

"It's a shame," he said.

GO 'NOLES: Though he finished sixth, Chris Festa turned heads with his helmet, not his racing.

Festa, a sophomore at Florida State, wore the Seminoles logo atop his head, earning cheers - and jeers - from the crowd.

"It depends on what school they like," said Festa, 20. "If they like Florida State, they're like, "Yeah, all right.' If it's somewhere else, it's, "Boo.' "

FIRST TIME WINNER: The Sports Car Club of America held its second GT race of the season, with Lawson Aschenbach winning in the No. 66 Porsche 911.

It was the rookie's first win in four career starts.