CHAMPCAR/CART: Michel Jourdain Jr. interview

CART FedEx Championship Series Michel Jourdain, Jr., is one of the most experienced drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series with 101 Champ Car starts despite being just 25 years of age. After two seasons driving for Herdez Bettenhausen, ...

CART FedEx Championship Series

Michel Jourdain, Jr., is one of the most experienced drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series with 101 Champ Car starts despite being just 25 years of age. After two seasons driving for Herdez Bettenhausen, Jourdain joins Team Rahal where he and teammate Jimmy Vasser will campaign the 2002 season. Following a career-best season a year ago which included his first CART podium appearance (third at Michigan), Jourdain shares his thoughts on joining Team Rahal, the idea of having a full-time teammate for the first time in his career and what his expectations are for 2002.

MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR. - #9 Team Rahal Ford-Cosworth

YOU ENJOYED THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SEASON OF YOUR CAREER IN 2001. HOW WAS LAST SEASON DIFFERENT FROM YOUR PREVIOUS SEASONS? "I think last year a lot of things were much better. I had a great technical package in the Lola chassis and the Ford engine, I did a little more testing than in the past, and the team had better people. There were just a lot of things that were much better than in years past."

YOU ARE NOW ONE OF THE MOST EXPERIENCED DRIVERS IN CART WITH 101 CAREER STARTS. DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR EXPERIENCE BEGAN TO PAY OFF FOR YOU LAST SEASON? "Well, you never stop learning, you know. But last year was probably the first time I felt like I was one of the more experienced guys out there on the track. Obviously you get to know more people the longer you are around the series, you get to learn the tracks and how the cars react the more time you spend racing on them, and that definitely helps."

THIS IS YOUR SIXTH YEAR IN CART, AND I THINK YOU'LL AGREE THAT YOU PROBABLY HAVEN'T ACCOMPLISHED EVERYTHING YOU WOULD'VE LIKED TO IN YOUR CHAMP CAR CAREER. WITH YOU LEAVING THE HERDEZ BETTENHAUSEN TEAM DURING THE OFFSEASON, WAS IT TIME FOR YOU TO MAKE A FRESH START? "Well, it was a difficult situation. There were many people at Herdez, especially the sponsors that I spent several years with, and they became like family to me. We got very close; I like them very much and I'll always be very thankful to them for all the help and support they gave me. It was very hard to leave the team, but I'm very excited to join Team Rahal and I think the move was very good for me. Sometimes changes are good and perhaps I needed a change of scenery, so right now I don't think things could be any better."

WHAT WAS THE OFFSEASON LIKE FOR YOU, ESPECIALLY WITH THE UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING WHAT YOUR PLANS FOR 2002? "It was very difficult. There were some bad days, some very tough days, but there were also some good days. There were days when I thought we had something put together, and there were days when I thought I wouldn't be racing this year. It was a difficult time, but I wanted to be in the situation like the one that I'm in now and I wasn't going to stop working on getting a ride until the first day of the 2002 season. My deal with Gigante and Team Rahal came together a little bit later than I would've liked, but it's great to be in the situation I'm in right now."

HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GIGANTE BEGIN? "My father and I have known the people from Gigante for some time. They are involved with Herdez, so we actually met them at some CART races that they attended. We went to visit them at the end of December and they were very excited and were looking to get involved in racing. Gigante is growing in Mexico and California, so I think this is a good opportunity for them. Many companies in Mexico have been involved in other forms of motorsports before getting into CART, but Gigante has never been involved in auto racing before, so they are very excited and are working very hard on some giant promotions in Monterrey with Office Depot. I think it's very good for CART to have partners like Gigante and Office Depot involved in the series, and I look forward to working together with them and Team Rahal this season."

AND YOU MUST EXCITED ABOUT JOINING TEAM RAHAL WITH ALL OF ITS HISTORY AND THE SUCCESS IT HAS ENJOYED. "Since I came into the series in 1996 I've always been wanted to be part of one of the elite teams in CART, and Team Rahal is one of those teams. They have been around a long time and are always at the front of the grid and I think it's something that I really needed. I was a big fan of Bobby's when I was growing up, and racing against him earlier in my career was a great experience. Everybody on the team has a lot of experience, and the resources and engineering they have should help me a lot this year. Although I have a good amount of experience in CART, I still think I can learn from the people on the team and my teammate, Jimmy [Vasser], as well."

WITH THE DEPARTURE OF KENNY BRACK, WHO FINISHED SECOND IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST YEAR, AND MAX PAPIS, WHO WON TWO RACES A YEAR AGO, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE SOME BIG SHOES TO FILL? "No, not really. Right now I feel like I'm doing my own thing. I think I'm capable of winning races with Team Rahal this year and that's my goal. Once [success] starts coming it's going to be easier, but if it doesn't that will bring pressure to perform. But right now I feel very relaxed about the season."

THIS SEASON WILL BE YOUR FIRST WITH A 'FULL-TIME' TEAMMATE, SOMEONE THAT YOU'LL BE WORKING WITH THROUGHOUT THE SEASON. DO YOU THINK HAVING A TEAMMATE WILL HELP OR HURT YOUR PERFORMANCE? SOME PEOPLE DON'T RESPOND WELL TO BEING CHALLENGED BY A TEAMMATE, WHILE OTHERS THRIVE ON THE RELATIONSHIP. "I think it's going to help me out a lot and I'm really looking forward to it. Jimmy and I are great friends off the track, which I think is important, we have very similar driving styles, which I think is going to help both of us, and obviously I'm going to learn a lot from his experience. He's driven for some of the top teams in CART over the last several years, he's been a champion, he's won races and he's been teammate with [Alex] Zanardi, [Juan] Montoya and [Roberto] Moreno. He has so much experience and accomplished so many things and I really think we both are really willing to work together to make this a successful season for both of us. If this is not the best thing that has ever happened to me, it's certainly one of the best."

HOW DID PRESEASON TESTING GO FOR YOU? YOU GOT INTO THE CAR A LITTLE LATE BUT HAVE NEVERTHELESS BEEN POSTING SOME STRONG LAP TIMES. "I wish I would've been able to put the deal with Gigante and Team Rahal together a little earlier so I could get some more testing, but that's the way it is. We didn't have as a good a car as we would've liked at Laguna Seca, but the Homestead test was better and I think we're improving all the time. Jimmy was very fast in all the testing he did before I joined the team, so I feel very comfortable about heading to the first race in Monterrey."

YOU'RE RUNNING THE LOLA CHASSIS AND THE FORD ENGINE FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE SEASON. HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THAT WILL HELP YOU? "It definitely helps, you know, understanding how the car was last year. I think Lola has made some big improvements over last year's car and the same goes for Ford and Cosworth, so I think it will help for sure. Had I had to drive a different chassis and engine package for this season I think it would've been a little bit harder to adjust as fast I have. If I would've had 10 days of testing I don't think it would've been a big deal going to a new package, but with the little amount of testing I've had it has helped driving the Ford/Lola again for sure."

TEAM RAHAL HAS MANY EXPERIENCED ENGINEERS AND MECHANICS WHO KNOW HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN CART. HOW MUCH ARE YOU GOING TO RELY ON THEM THIS SEASON? "Oh, a lot. We are a team and everybody has to work with each other. All the engineers and mechanics are great guys and they have so much experience, so I'm definitely going to utilize their expertise."

WHAT GOALS HAVE YOU SET FOR THIS SEASON? "I'd like to get my first win, I'd definitely like to do that this year, and to be right up at the front all the time."

CART ADDED A SECOND RACE IN MEXICO THIS SEASON, THIS TIME IN YOUR HOMETOWN OF MEXICO CITY. WE ALREADY KNOW THAT THE RACE IN MONTERREY IS VERY POPULAR, BUT WHAT WILL THE RACE IN MEXICO CITY BE LIKE? "Monterrey was huge last year, but Mexico City could be the biggest race in CART this season. I can't wait for it to happen."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Michel Jourdain