CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Team Rahal preview

Vasser brings momentum to Shell Grand Prix of Denver HILLIARD, OH . . . A month ago Jimmy Vasser was as frustrated as he had been at anytime in his eleven year Champ Car career. His Molson Indy Vancouver had just ended in the first turn when his...

Vasser brings momentum to Shell Grand Prix of Denver

HILLIARD, OH . . . A month ago Jimmy Vasser was as frustrated as he had been at anytime in his eleven year Champ Car career. His Molson Indy Vancouver had just ended in the first turn when his car got loose and clipped Kenny Brack. Through the first ten events of the 2002 season Vasser had picked up five DNF's and had amassed just 42 points. The Shell driver was wondering if he would ever catch the proverbial break that could get his season on track.

One month after the self described 'low point' of his season, Vasser has posted three straight points paying results including a pair of top-five finishes in the last two races. Vasser still shares his frustration at having only a single podium this season, but at least he has a feeling that his luck is changing and his season is heading in the right direction.

"We are getting better and better with our Shell car," said Vasser. "We aren't there yet with the Long Beach kind of car but it is much closer. I think we had a car that was capable of making the podium at Montreal. It's been a tough year for us and I think we are getting back to the way our testing went in the winter."

This week additional attention will be focused on Vasser as he will drive the Shell car in the inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver. "The Shell Grand Prix of Denver is a big race for us obviously with Shell as our major sponsor. I didn't race in the Denver event back in the early 1990s but I have driven the new circuit and it should be pretty good. There are two or three really good passing zones and the racing surface seems to be smooth. Coming to the high altitude in Denver poses many problems for the engineers and crew. The engines run much different and braking problems do occur with the lighter air. I think you'll see a lot of different brake ducts and radiator openings for this race on all of the cars. It will be a new experience for a lot of people including me. But I think the Denver fans will be into the race and, with the Long Beach people running the event, you know it will be successful."

"All season long the Shell team has been trying to piece together a few results to build momentum," said Vasser. "Right now we have our best streak of the season so we have got to keep it going. Cristiano is so far ahead it isn't realistic for me to talk about the championship anymore, but what is realistic is to talk about winning races. I have said it before and I will say it again that we have everything at our disposal that we need to win. Ford has won races this year and the Lola chassis is used by most of the teams in this series and they have won 11 races this season. Our misfortune early in the year train wrecked our title hopes. What we can still do is win races and maximize our points. There are still six races left and there are a lot of laps still to be run in 2002."

"MISTER CONSISTENCY" JOURDAIN EYES SUCCESS IN DENVER

The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season has been a breakout year for Michel Jourdain Jr. as the 25-year-old native of Mexico City has posted a points paying result in every race this season. The 13 straight races scoring points has established a new Team Rahal record surpassing the 11 race mark that Bobby Rahal tallied in his final Champ Car season. As a result of his consistency Jourdain in his first season with Team Rahal has found himself amongst the championship leaders (currently tied for fifth) and at the top of the series charts for laps completed and miles logged.

Jourdain comes to Denver fresh off a sixth place finish at Montreal, his 11th top-ten result of 2002. Since joining Team Rahal in late January Jourdain has scored points in every race and has established career highs this year in single season points (88), top-five results (5), top-ten results (11). In fact it took Jourdain only nine races to surpass his point total from his first six CART seasons.

Missing from Jourdain's list of accomplishments are the two he listed at the top of his list at the start of the 2002 season. Jourdain is still searching for his first CART victory and he is looking to return to the podium for the first time since Michigan in 2001.

"I am very proud of the success that the Gigante team has had this season, but we are far from satisfied with what we have accomplished.," said Jourdain. "It is a nice to say that we have finished every race and that we have run 99% of the laps but the reason every driver is here is to win. I entered this season with my stated goal of winning my first race and that remains my goal."

Three-time CART champion and Team Rahal co-owner Bobby Rahal has seen the growing process for his young driver and feels big things are ahead for Jourdain. "It has been easy to forget how young Michel is because he has been around so long [sixth in active starts 114] but he is only 25-years-old [3rd youngest driver in the series] and young drivers are prone to mistakes," said Rahal. "That has been one of the great thing about Michel this season is his patience. He hasn't made many mistakes on race day and that is why he is finishing races. This season has been a learning season for Michel and he has had a solid season. I think it is only a matter of time until he is on the podium and winning races."

This week Jourdain comes to Denver where he will race for the first time. Much has been made about the altitude in the 'Mile High City' and the effect it will have on the cars and on the drivers. Jourdain is a resident of another high altitude local, Mexico City, and he for one isn't worried about the altitude. "When I get in the car it doesn't matter if the track is in Mexico City, Australia, Long Beach or Montreal," said Jourdain. "I am focused on the job at hand and what it takes to be successful. That is the case with every driver in this series. We are all in peak physical shape and we drive under some extreme conditions so I don't expect anyone will have any trouble and if they do maybe that will be an advantage for me."

Jourdain had a chance to tour the Shell Grand Prix of Denver track when he came to town for a media day in late July. "One feature I think the fans will really like is the long backstretch which I think will give us a chance at some overtaking. Passing is always at a premium on the street courses so it is crucial that we qualify well. The Gigante team has done very well on the street courses this season, especially at Long Beach and Vancouver, and I think we can continue that success this weekend."

BOTH RAHAL PIT CREWS AMONG CRAFTSMAN PIT CREW LEADERS

The updated Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge (CPCC) standings find both Team Rahal pit crews among the top-four heading into Round 14 of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series. The Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge is a weekly competition which awards points to the pit crews of the teams which finish the race and compile the least time in the pits.

Points are awarded in the same manner of CART championship points with 20 points being awarded to the crew which wins the round. The four crews with the highest point totals from the first 18 races and the pit crew of Cristiano da Matta, which won a wild card spot at Chicago, will compete in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge Shootout at Fontana for the $50,000 first prize.

No team has been hotter in the pits than the Shell crew which has amassed 50 out of a possible 60 points over the last three weeks. The Shell crew won the pit competition at Montreal and has pulled within a single point of the top spot in the competition. It was the second time the Shell crew had won a week in the competition this season as they also topped the charts at Toronto.

Like their driver Michel Jourdain Jr., the Gigante crew has crafted their season off of consistency. The Gigante team has scored points in 12 of 13 events. Although they turned in the second fastest pit stop average at Montreal, the Gigante team finished tenth in total time spent in the pits because the team pitted an extra two times in the opening laps for strategic purposes.

Team Rahal's Shell pit crew captured the 2001 Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge. In 1999 Max Papis' Miller Lite crew captured the regular season points title and finished second in the "Pit Crew Challenge Shootout."

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