Vasser primed for Long Beach. Shell driver is looking for strong finish to start his championship bid HILLIARD, OH . . . Shell Champ Car driver Jimmy Vasser heads to sunny California this week for the Grand Prix of Long Beach looking for his ...
Vasser primed for Long Beach.
Shell driver is looking for strong finish to start his championship bid
HILLIARD, OH . . . Shell Champ Car driver Jimmy Vasser heads to sunny California this week for the Grand Prix of Long Beach looking for his first points of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season. Vasser, the 1996 CART champion and widely considered to be frontrunner for the 2002 CART title, has been eagerly anticipating this weekend for the last month after a disappointing outing in the season opener at Monterrey.
Vasser's season opener lasted less than a lap when he got caught in a Turn 5 scrum with rookie Townsend Bell and former Team Rahal driver Kenny Brack. The damage to Vasser's Ford-Cosworth/Lola which features Bridgestone tires, was significant enough that Vasser's day ended before it barely began.
"Well, it was a big disappointment, for sure," said Vasser. "But I've been around long enough to know that you've got to roll with the punches and sometimes things happen that are beyond your control, but that's racing. On the positive side, the car ran great, the engine seems to have great power, and the team works well together, so we know that we have the tools necessary to win races and the championship. We've just got to not look too far down the road and just focus on one step at a time."
The first win of 2002 could well come this week at Long Beach, a track where Vasser has enjoyed tremendous success collecting seven top-ten results in ten career starts, including a win in 1996 and a third place result in 2000.
"I enjoy this race as much as any on the schedule," said Vasser. "Not only is there a great atmosphere that surrounds the race but this is truly one of the great street circuits in racing. I really don't care what track we are racing on as long as the car is good and we can run upfront. We have had a lot of success in our testing program which has focused on road and street courses. As a team we are coming to Long Beach with high expectations and we fully intend to win."
While Vasser has won before at Long Beach, Team Rahal has never captured a victory in the team's ten previous trips to the seaside city. Team owner and three-time CART champion Bobby Rahal captured a pair of second place results in 1992 and 1993 and Bryan Herta finished third in 1998 and 1999.
JOURDAIN RETURNS TO THE SITE OF HIS CHAMP CAR DEBUT
Sunday will mark the sixth anniversary (April 14, 1996) of the Champ Car debut of Michel Jourdain Jr. Jourdain, then just 19-years-old, holds the distinction of becoming the youngest driver in CART history (19 years, seven months 12 days) when he took the green flag for Team Scandia. Jourdain finished 23rd in his first Champ Car event and remembers how overwhelming the first race weekend was.
"First off I remember that my English wasn't very good back then so my Uncle [1989 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Bernard Jourdain] went with me everywhere, even to the drivers meeting to help translate," said Jourdain. "The opportunity to drive in CART came about very quickly. Just three weeks before Long Beach I was in Mexico preparing to run a Formula 3000 car for the season. Then I got a an opportunity presented to me and I took the chance. Looking back now I am not so sure I was really ready, but I made the best of it and now look at the opportunity I have with Team Rahal driving the Gigante/Office Depot car."
"There have been a lot of changes for me in the six years since I made my debut at Long Beach," reflected Jourdain. "Just the maturity of being 25 today and not the 19 year old kid I was back then has helped me a lot. To be coming to Long Beach as a driver for the winningest team in CART from last season shows just how far I have come. I have been given a wonderful opportunity with Team Rahal and I plan to make the most of it."
There were a lot of happy faces at Team Rahal when the agreement with Gigante and Michel Jourdain Jr. was finalized in late January, but one of the most vocal was Jimmy Vasser, the driver of the Shell car. Vasser, who has gained the reputation of being a mentor to his younger teammates, was psyched about the opportunity to work with Jourdain.
"He's a great kid," said Vasser. "He's so young, but you have to remember he's been around a long time. I think he's got over 100 starts, so he's not really a rookie or inexperienced but a veteran in my mind. So far he's been a great teammate to be with and I think everybody's going to see great things out of him. He's going to have a breakout year, I think he's going to win races and I'm not surprised at all. I think some people are going to be surprised, but I'm not because he's never been in a situation like Team Rahal before. It's a good opportunity for him and I think you're going to see great things out of him."
Likewise Jourdain sings the praises of Vasser. "For the first time in my career I have a teammate who I can get consistent feed back from week in and week out. Jimmy doesn't hold back he tells me exactly what I need to hear and that has really helped me. Jimmy did the bulk of the testing for the team and he has developed a pretty good set-up for the 2002 Lola. All those hours of testing and development have just made my transition to Team Rahal that much easier. Jimmy and I have been great friends for a long time and now I think we are becoming great teammates. Our driving styles are very similar and so it seems I learn something from him just about everyday and sometimes he learns something from me."