CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Team Rahal preview

MEXICO CITY - Team Rahal's Gigante Champ Car driver Michel Jourdain is in the midst of his finest season in the Champ Car World Series having won twice (Milwaukee and Montreal) and finished on the podium six times, but Jourdain still has...

MEXICO CITY - Team Rahal's Gigante Champ Car driver Michel Jourdain is in the midst of his finest season in the Champ Car World Series having won twice (Milwaukee and Montreal) and finished on the podium six times, but Jourdain still has unfinished business for the 2003 season. The popular 27-year-old native of Mexico enters Round 17 third in the Champ Car championship trailing points leader Paul Tracy by 33 points and second place Bruno Junqueira by 20 points with just three races remaining.

"We gained a few points at Miami, but not enough," said Jourdain after his seventh place finish in a race in which he was penalized by the stewards and sent from the lead to the back of the field for a disputed pit lane violation. "We can't dwell on what happened in Miami we can only focus on the last three races. We have no room for error. We have to win and we need Paul and Bruno to make mistakes. Early in the year after Long Beach I was 30 points behind Paul, but three races later after Milwaukee I was leading the championship. There is still a lot of laps to be run and who knows what can happen."

This week Jourdain will not only chase the dream of his first Champ Car championship, but he can pursue the dream of winning his home race in front of his fellow countrymen. "I finished second at Toronto and I saw firsthand how happy Paul was at winning his hometown race," said Jourdain. "I want to experience that same feeling here in Mexico." Jourdain is one of six Mexican drivers who will race at the famed Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez this weekend. Each of the six carry the same goal as Jourdain, to be the first Mexican driver to win a Mexican Champ Car race. Jourdain came close at Monterrey earlier this season when he finished second behind Tracy and became the first Mexican driver to finish on the podium in a Mexican race.

"The reaction of the crowd was fantastic, better than I could ever imagine," said Jourdain. "I know the fans would go crazy if a Mexican driver won here in Mexico City. To me it is an honor to know that you are representing your country and when we are successful they play the Mexican national anthem because of something we have done. I had the honor of winning at Milwaukee and Montreal, but I want to be the one they play the anthem for in Mexico City." Last season Jourdain started 17th at Mexico City and finished 13th, one of only two non-points paying results for Jourdain in 2002. He did however lead nine laps around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to the delight of the 150,000 race day fans.

MISTER CONSISTENT ROLLS ON

Michel Jourdain Jr. has made consistency his calling card since he joined Team Rahal prior to the 2002 season. Last season Jourdain posted points paying results in his first 17 events with Team Rahal, establishing a team record for consecutive points paying finishes. This year he ran his point streak to 11 straight, matching Bobby Rahal for the second longest streak in team history, before posting a pointless DNF at Elkhart Lake. Prior to joining Team Rahal in 2002, Jourdain had never posted points in more than two consecutive races. In 35 races with Team Rahal, Jourdain has posted points 32 times (91.1%). He has collected two wins, six podium, 14 top-five results and 27 top-ten finishes. A year ago Jourdain led the series in laps completed (2,368) and miles logged (4,238). Jourdain enters the race at Mexico City once again as the series leader in laps completed (1,773) and miles logged (3,084). Since joining Team Rahal in 2002 Jourdain has completed 99% of the laps in the series.

JOURDAIN CREDITS QUALIFYING SUCCESS

One of the keys for Jourdain in '03 has been his qualifying success. Through the first 16 races of 2003 Jourdain's average starting position was fifth, as opposed to an average starting slot of 14th in 2002. Having started in the top-five in ten of the 16 races allowed the steady Jourdain move to the front of the points chase, and has made the Gigante pit crew, the defending Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge champions, a significant weapon in the success of the #9 car. At Miami Jourdain started sixth, and finished seventh. It marked just the fifth time this season that he has failed to improve on his starting position in a race. Jourdain has three front-row starts in 2003, including his first Champ Car career pole position at Long Beach in April. At Laguna Seca he won the pole position on track, but was stripped of the pole winning time when his car failed technical inspection. He started 13th and finished fourth. Jourdain started 17th at Mexico City in 2002 and brought the Gigante car home in 13th after leading nine laps.

TEAM RAHAL'S SINGLE CAR TITLE QUEST

Jourdain and the Gigante team are vying to become the first single car entry to win the Champ Car World Series championship since Jacques Villeneuve with Players in 1995. Only three have won the title with a single entry, including Bobby Rahal in Team Rahal's first year of operation 1992. Jourdain enters Mexico City trailing points leader Paul Tracy by 33 points.

JOURDAIN 2003 vs. 2002 vs. Career

Michel Jourdain Jr. enters this weeks Grand Prix Americas with a career high 171 points this season. Jourdain surpassed his 2002 point total (105) in just ten races. Last season Jourdain averaged 5.5 points per race. In 2003 Jourdain and the Gigante team are currently averaging 10.7 points per race. Jourdain had just 61 points in his first six Champ Car seasons. In his first seven seasons in Champ Car Jourdain posted 166 points in 121 races. With his points paying result at Miami Jourdain surpassed his combined point total for his first seven seasons in 2003 alone. Since the start of the 2002 season when he joined Team Rahal, Jourdian has amassed 276 points in the Champ Car World Series. Jourdain is on pace to post 204 points this season. In the last ten years only five Champ Car drivers have posted 200 points in a season and four of the five have won the championship. This season three drivers (Jourdain, Junqueira and Tracy) are all on pace to post 200 points.

TEAM RAHAL MILESTONES WITHIN JOURDAIN'S REACH

Jourdain is enjoying one of the finest driver seasons in Team Rahal history. With four races remaining Jourdain has several Team Rahal records within his reach including points in a season and wins. The 27-year-old native of Mexico City is also attempting to maintain the highest career points per race average (7.88) in Team Rahal's Champ Car program. Jourdain is fifth all-time in Team Rahal's Champ Car career points (276), and he will most likely become just the fourth driver in team history to surpass the 300 point plateau and only the second to do so in two seasons (Bobby Rahal 1992-1993). Jourdain is vying to win Team Rahal's second championship and the first since Bobby Rahal won the championship in 1992. He enters Mexico City 33 points behind championship leader Paul Tracy.

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Series INDYCAR