Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. enters first race as points leader as CART visits Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. INDIANAPOLIS (June 5, 2002) - Michel Jourdain Jr. ( ...
Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. enters first race as points leader as CART visits Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.
INDIANAPOLIS (June 5, 2002) - Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is spending the first week in his seven-year CART FedEx Championship Series career as the points leader, but will only get a week to enjoy it as the series roars back into action this weekend with the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 at the demanding Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (SPEED Channel, 4:30 p.m. ET).
Jourdain took a seven-point lead away from last week's Miller Lite 250 at the Milwaukee Mile after earning his fourth top-five finish in as many races, becoming the only driver in the series to build such a string of finishes in the 2002 season. Jourdain became the first driver since two-time defending series champion Gil de Ferran to post four consecutive top-five finishes, something de Ferran accomplished in the four-race stretch from England to Australia last season. Another top-five this weekend's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 would make Jourdain the first driver since Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) to earn five straight top-fives (Rounds 8-12 in 2000).
Jourdain's chances will be bolstered as he may glean knowledge of Laguna Seca from the man who holds the all-time record for CART victories on the 2.238-mile road course, his team owner Bobby Rahal. Rahal won four consecutive times at the picturesque track from 1984-87 and took victory twice more as a team owner with Bryan Herta in '98 and '99.
Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is the defending race winner at the Monterey, Calif. track, having established a series record by coming from the 25th spot on the grid to win last year's event, the furthest starting position for a winner ever on a road or street circuit. Papis tied the overall CART record set in 1981 by Mike Mosley at the Milwaukee oval.
Papis will be looking to capitalize on the momentum built by his third-place finish last weekend at Milwaukee, the second podium finish of the season for Papis and his Sigma Autosport team. The finish also moved `Mad Max' into a tie for the third spot in the championship chase with Miller Lite 250 winner Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone). Both drivers are tied with 32 points.
Tracy may be the hottest driver in any form of racing at the moment after a strong performance at Indianapolis led to a dominant win last Sunday at Milwaukee. Tracy took the 19th win of his career last weekend, moving to within 10 points of the series lead, and will look to make further progress toward what he hopes will be his first CART championship. Of Tracy's 19 series wins, two have come at the twisty road course (1993-94) but he has not finished on the Laguna podium since taking second in the 1995 event.
His teammate Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) has been equally strong in the early part of the 2002 season, although a crash ended last week's event for the Scotsman. Franchitti currently holds down the second spot in the point standings and will be gunning for his first-ever Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca victory, although he has gotten the chance to spray champagne from the podium once before - having placed third in the 2000 event.
Franchitti's Team Green stablemates Tracy and Andretti are the only two active CART drivers to have two wins at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Papis and Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) also having mastered the fabled Corkscrew turn to earn the checkered flag. Vasser's 1997 victory came at an average speed of 109.647mph, establishing a race record that still stands. Tracy and Andretti are also the only two active drivers to have won poles at the track, although Andretti's top-qualifying spots came in 1991-92 when the track had a slightly different configuration and measured at a shorter 2.214-mile distance.
This weekend's event will see the return to provisional qualifying under CART's new rules, meaning that the leader in Friday's first round of qualifying will earn a championship point and a guaranteed spot in the front row for Sunday's 83-lap race. Saturday's qualifying runs will then further set the grid with another championship point up for grabs as well as the prized pole position.
The addition of the provisional qualifying point means that there are now 23 points available on road and street course weekends, which means that 12 drivers have a chance at leaving Monterey with the series points lead
The newest member of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott Dixon (#44 Target/Ganassi Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) is the last of those 12 drivers that could take the point in the title hunt if he swept the weekend. Dixon had a successful outing in his inaugural race in Monterey, having qualified third and finished fourth there in his rookie campaign of 2001. Dixon has the added bonus of driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which has won two previous races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and finished second last year with Memo Gidley at the wheel.
The weekend opens with Friday's practice followed by provisional qualifying at 5:10 p.m. Eastern Time. Saturday will see another practice with final qualifying slated for 4:45 Eastern, with the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 set to take the green flag at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. All of the qualifying sessions and the race will be shown live on SPEED Channel, which will also broadcast its CART Friday Night program at 10:30 p.m.