CHAMPCAR/CART: ASCAR: Nicolas Minassian signs with Ray Mallock ASCAR team

Former Champ Car star Nicolas Minassian has confirmed he is to drive for the ASCAR superteam of Ray Mallock Ltd this year alongside Kelvin Burt. Ray Mallock Ltd (RML) now has an impressive two-car ASCAR team ready to make its championship ...

Former Champ Car star Nicolas Minassian has confirmed he is to drive for the ASCAR superteam of Ray Mallock Ltd this year alongside Kelvin Burt.

Ray Mallock Ltd (RML) now has an impressive two-car ASCAR team ready to make its championship challenge in the 170mph, 'Days of Thunder' oval racing series. "We're delighted to confirm our ASCAR driver line-up with Nicolas joining us to drive alongside Kelvin Burt," said Ray Mallock, boss of RML. "With the depth of talent taking part, it's a further demonstration of the status the ASCAR series."

The signing of Minassian by RML emphasises the importance of the 18-race ASCAR championship as an international series and adds to an already impressive driver line-up in the 500 bhp, V8-powered cars in 2002. Minassian will be up against some stiff opposition, including reigning British Touring Car champion, Jason Plato.

Minassian, who has plenty of oval experience after racing for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in Champ Cars and the Indianapolis 500 last season, joins the team who became the most successful BTCC team in the history of the Super Touring Car era of the 1990s.

"It was important for me to be involved at the beginning of a championship like ASCAR and drive for a good team," Minassian said. "RML have proved themselves to be a top-class and professional organisation who have won in many different series. They have proved they are extremely competitive in everything they do - not only in Touring Cars, but also in events like Le Mans - I'm sure it will be the same in ASCAR."

Minassian is impressed by the ASCAR package and can't wait to get on track. "The cars are good and fast and really look like NASCAR and I know I'll love doing it. It will be great racing and extremely close and I'm sure the fans are going to love it.

"With ASCAR you have a very close relationship with the fans, which is important. Also I like the fact that it has been well promoted and it has strong technical support. With guys like Colin Bennett in charge of the technical side of the sport -- he has such a wealth of experience - I know ASCAR will do a professional job."

Minassian, from Marseille, has a fine racing pedigree. He became the first Frenchman to race for a top Champ Car team when he replaced F1-bound Juan Pablo Montoya at Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2001. He repaid the compliment by finishing in the points in his first two Champ Car races in Mexico and Long Beach, California.

Prior to racing in America, Minassian cut his teeth competing in all the leading European single-seater championships. He finished runner-up the British Formula 3 Championship in 1997, starting on pole position six times and scoring seven victories, before joining McLaren's F3000 Junior team in 1998.

In his second season in F3000 Minassian, driving for Kid Jensen Racing, won the British Grand Prix round of the series at Silverstone and finished fourth overall in the championship to Nick Heidfeld.

After such a good season, Minassian earned the opportunity to try his hand at Formula One, Honda offering him a three day testing session at Pembrey. He proved that he deserved a place on the F1 grid, showing pace and professionalism.

The following year Minassian was recruited by the famous Supernova F3000 team and in 2000 scored three wins and just failed to win the championship by three points, taking the gripping title battle down to the final race with Bruno Junqueira. Minassian joined up with Junqueira at Team Chip Ganassi Racing in 2001.

This year marks the beginning of a new venture for the Frenchman. "This year I am an ASCAR driver, which is great. I'm really looking forward to it."

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Series F3000 , INDYCAR , STOCKCAR