CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago: Team Rahal Track Talk

Vasser faces "important stretch". HILLIARD, OH . . . Shell Champ Car driver Jimmy Vasser joined Team Rahal for the 2002 CART season with one goal in mind, winning the Vanderbilt Cup and the CART championship. Six races into the 2002 season...

Vasser faces "important stretch".

HILLIARD, OH . . . Shell Champ Car driver Jimmy Vasser joined Team Rahal for the 2002 CART season with one goal in mind, winning the Vanderbilt Cup and the CART championship. Six races into the 2002 season Vasser knows he faces a critical stretch of races to his title dreams. Three top-ten results, including a second place effort at Long Beach, have been offset by three DNF's and Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, finds himself in 14th place in the points after six rounds.

Although Vasser trails points leader Cristiano da Matta by 48 points, he finds himself just eight points out of the top-seven in the tightly packed points battle.

Every race is just as important as the next because all the points are the same, but for myself and Team Rahal with the Shell car, I am looking at it [Chicago] as extremely important," said Vasser. "This next stretch of three races that we have back-to-back is of the utmost importance for us to get back in the fight. I am down nearly 50 points to [Cristiano] da Matta, and it's imperative that we win races and get podiums in this next stretch of races."

Vasser heads to Chicago for this weekend's CART Grand Prix of Chicago knowing that both he and Team Rahal has had significant success on the one-mile oval of the Chicago Motor Speedway. In 1999 in the inaugural CART race in Chicago, Vasser claimed a third place finish which he followed with an eighth place finish in 2000. Team Rahal won the Grand Prix of Chicago in 2001 with Kenny Brack piloting the Shell car to victory and drivers Max Papis and Brack finish fourth respectively in 1999 and 2000.

Vasser knows the oval at Chicago is unique and the two-day format, which CART has adopted for this event, means that drivers and teams have very little margin of error. "Chicago is a little bit different than most of the ovals we run on," said Vasser. "With the track's corners being so tight it is one of the few ovals where we actually are going to downshift into the corner and then go back up two gears into the straightaway. With the shortened format we will obviously have to make the right decisions in the first practice session before qualification. We have to make it happen, and I have been on the phone with our engineers and we're making some changes to our basic setup from the Milwaukee weekend. We had a decent car but it wasn't fantastic, and so we're going to be forced to unload with a really good car."

Having a good car hasn't been a problem for Vasser on many occasions this season. At the season opener in Monterrey the Shell team had the car dialed in, but before Vasser could make his move he was caught in an opening lap accident that left him with a DNF. He captured the pole position at Long Beach and appeared to have the best car on the track at the end of the race; he just simply couldn't find an opportunity to pass on Michael Andretti. At Motegi he was moving through the field when a freak fire with the fueling system ended his day. Consecutive points paying results at Milwaukee and Laguna Seca were then negated by a gearbox failure at Portland.

"We have been a bit disappointed I think over the last month and a half with things the way things have been going with myself and in these last three races we really haven't been in contention like we should be," said Vasser. "So we need to get on the stick and make it happen in these next three races. We need to get back into the points fight and we just got to keep our heads down and keep working. I think that we have all the tools that we need to win races in the trailer, and Bobby Rahal and the team has given us all the things we need. We just need to put it together and find our form again."

MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. CONTINUES TO COMPILE A BREAKOUT SEASON

It is a cliché but it is also true. "Consistency wins championships." While he is yet to stand atop the podium this season Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. continues to be one of the most consistent drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series. In six races Jourdain has collected six top-ten results including four top-five results. He has also logged 820 laps out of a possible 823 laps (99.6%) and leads the series in laps completed.

For Jourdain the result has been a lofty position in the CART points standings. The 25-year-old native of Mexico City has been amongst the top five in points all season and since Motegi has not been lower than third.

"The Gigante team has built some momentum at the start of the season but we are yet to have a really big weekend. My crew and engineers have given me a very good race car each week and the guys have really done a great job in the pits. Although we have had some success this season I still don't think we are close to being as good as what we can be. The crew and I are still learning about each other and I think we will just get stronger as the season progresses. The more laps we run the better we will get."

If there has been an Achilles heel for Jourdain and the Gigante team it has been qualifying. After posting a career best road qualifying effort of sixth at Monterrey, the Gigante car has started no better than tenth in the last five races. "A key for the Gigante team is to qualify better," said Jourdain "We have struggled the last few races in qualifying but have bounced back with a strong car in the race. If we can get the car in better position on the starting grid and still come to the race with a strong car then we will be chasing the podium and victories and not just looking to break into the top five."

JOURDAIN AND VASSER TAKE IN BASEBALL CHICAGO STYLE

Michel Jourdain Jr. and Jimmy Vasser will cover the Chicago baseball scene this weekend by each throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park.

Jourdain will be making his third trip to the major league mound having previously tossed out the opening ball at a White Sox game and at an Astros game both during the 2000 season. Thursday's Cubs and Reds game will be Jourdain's first trip to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. "I have certainly heard a lot about Wrigley Field and I have seen it on TV a number of times so it will be a real thrill to throw out the first pitch there. It is an unbelievable feeling to walk out to that mound and to throw in front of thousands of fans. When we are driving our Champ Cars in front of a big crowd it is no big deal, but when you take that mound it is just you and the catcher and you have got to get that pitch to him. I've done this twice and both times I've thrown a strike. I guess we will find out Thursday if I still have my good stuff."

Jimmy Vasser will take the mound at Comiskey Park on Friday for the first pitch prior to "The Cross Town Classic" between the Cubs and White Sox. One of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year, the annual three game series between the Cubs and Sox draws sellout crowds and a large media following. "I will have to loosen up m arm before that game," said Vasser. "That is an awful big crowd to bounce the ball in front of the plate. But it should be fun to part of the game."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams ART Grand Prix