Can Shell Ford, Team Rahal win Japan again? Jimmy Vasser believes it's his turn for victory lane. VASSER BRINGS STRONG MOUNT TO THE ORIENT THIS WEEK: After nearly pulling off the double two weeks ago in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with...
Can Shell Ford, Team Rahal win Japan again?
Jimmy Vasser believes it's his turn for victory lane.
VASSER BRINGS STRONG MOUNT TO THE ORIENT THIS WEEK: After nearly pulling off the double two weeks ago in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with a pole and win, Jimmy Vasser believes he can put the No. 8 Shell Ford Lola back in victory lane for this Saturday's Bridgestone 500 at the fast 1.549-mile Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. After an impressive victory by Shell driver Kenny Brack last year in Japan, the winning engine-chassis combination returns with former CART FedEx champion Vasser at the controls. And all indications show that the Shell machine will again be the car to beat on the oval tracks in 2002. Brack drove to four oval wins last year in the bright yellow and white missile and Vasser's pre-season testing showed the car was lightning quick again.
"Our oval testing was very impressive," said Vasser, a past winner on ovals at Michigan, Fontana, Milwaukee and Homestead. "The Ford power was outstanding on the ovals and the Lola chassis seemed to work well in a variety of conditions. After just missing at Long Beach, I'd like to get back to the top of the podium. Motegi is a very fast track with two different types of corners. There is a compromise on the setup of the car. But the new wing packages have been good with the Lola. And Ford hasn't lost at Motegi. I'd like to continue that trend this time." Vasser won the pole at Motegi in 1998 and placed fifth in last year's race.
LONG BEACH PROVED FRUSTRATING AND SATISFYING FOR VASSER: After winning his first CART pole position in 50 races at Long Beach, Vasser was ready to score his first win since 2000 in the streets at Houston. But catching Michael Andretti is one thing and passing him is another as Vasser found out at Long Beach. Vasser came from six seconds back to within .466 seconds to lose to CART's winningest driver in front a screaming Long Beach crowd.
"Man, I thought we had a chance to beat Michael that day," said Vasser. "But passing at Long Beach is always tough and to make a gutsy move and lose second wasn't the thing to do this early in the season. We entered Long Beach with no points and we couldn't afford another DNF. Gaining 17 points was good for the Shell team and we're only ten points out of the lead." Vasser's podium finish at Long Beach was his first since Australia in 2000.
VASSER WANTS TO CONTINUE THE SHELL CAR'S OVAL DOMINANCE: In 2001, Team Rahal's Shell Ford Lola posted some pretty loft numbers on the oval track with Kenny Brack driving. In eight oval events, Brack and the No. 8 Shell Ford Lola won four races, four poles, finished second twice and led the most laps. In addition, Brack was set for another win at Michigan when he and his teammate Max Papis collided.
"I know about that Shell car on the ovals," said Vasser. "I got sick of chasing it around all last year. When I got on an oval for the first time in the Shell car, I could see why Kenny was so fast. It's a great oval track car. I have been anxious to race on an oval with this car."
VASSER, TEAM RAHAL PREPARED FOR INDY 500 TOO: While Team Rahal competes at Twin Ring Motegi this Saturday in the CART Bridgestone 500 in Japan, with the Shell Ford Lola, several of the team's key personnel remain at the headquarters in Hilliard, Ohio preparing for the next big challenge the Indy 500. In his two successful tests at the famed "Brickyard," Vasser and the Miller Lite/Shell Chevrolet Dallara clocked speeds over 225 miles per hour with a CompTech-powered V-8 Chevy.
"It was good to get back to Indy and test the new smooth track," said Vasser. "We tested in cold conditions first (53 degrees) and then in hotter and windy conditions (86 degrees). The Miller Lite guys have been working hard on to learn the Dallara and the Chevy rev limits. I think we are well prepared to go to the Speedway and make a run for the win. I know Bobby (Rahal) and David (Letterman) have put together a very strong effort for Indy. For me, it's just as important to win Indy as it is to win the CART championship. It's every driver's dream to win the Indy 500."
RAHAL REMEMBERS MOTEGI VERY WELL: On Bobby Rahal's final racing season (1998), the three-time CART champion was spectacular in his only Twin Ring Motegi appearance. Coming from 17th starting spot, Rahal powered his Miller Lite/Shell machine to third with just 15 laps remaining. Rahal was closing in on Al Unser Jr. for second when the right front suspension broke in turn two. It caused Rahal's mount to hit the outside wall and flip down the back straightaway. It marked the only time in Rahal's 265-race champ car career that he got on his head.
"I remember that Motegi race pretty well," said Rahal, who interim CART CEO after his driving career. "We had to come from the back of the field and the car was very good. I was running third and it would have been a good start for my last season. Then, `boom!' The right front bar snapped and I think I hard the wall at about 200 (m.p.h.). Then I was along for the ride. The crash looked pretty scary. I remember I banged up my knee a little and scraped my helmet up sliding down the back straight. I kept thinking that I should have quit a year earlier when I was sliding down the track on my head."