HOUSTON, TEXAS - MONDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2001 -- Round ...
HOUSTON, TEXAS - MONDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2001 -- Round #18 of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series - Visteon/Patrick Racing driver Jimmy Vasser drove a strong race to finish 11th yesterday at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston on the temporary street circuit in Houston, Texas. Teammate Roberto Moreno finished 22nd, after being in contention for a podium finish, and possibly a victory, when a broken gearbox ended his day.
Vasser, in the #40 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, started 24th. He played a strategy game throughout the race starting by conserving fuel during the first stint in an attempt to stay out longer than the other competitors. However, when the first yellow flag of the race was thrown on lap 39, the Visteon/Patrick Racing team decided to pit along with the rest of the field. After the dust from the accident and the first round of pit stops cleared, Vasser found himself in 20th position. When the race resumed on lap 44 another incident immediately occurred at which point the team decided to make another strategic move. Pitting on lap 45 Vasser took on additional fuel and, after rejoining the contest in 20th place, began an economy run in an attempt to make it to the end of the race. Vasser moved into 18th place on lap 48 when two cars pitted, then gained two more places when Paul Tracy and Shinji Nakano were forced to pit after they got into a bumping incident. He jumped into 15th place on lap 51 when Scott Dixon pitted for fuel, and one lap later the track went yellow for the third time because of debris on the circuit. At that point, nine of the cars ahead of him came in for fuel including four of the top-five. Now in sixth place and still conserving fuel, Vasser was looking at a possible podium finish as four of the five cars ahead of him were going to have to make one more stop for a splash of methanol to finish the race (his teammate Moreno, who was in fifth was the only car in the same situation as Vasser). However, Vasser's luck ran out when the pace required too stay within sight of the leaders became to quick forcing him to burn more fuel then he could afford. When the fourth and final yellow flag flew on lap 79, the #40 Visteon/Patrick Racing team checked the numbers and made the decision to pit for a final splash of fuel on lap 80 of the 100-lap competition instead of risking running out in the final laps. The stop dropped Vasser back to 15th position, but he managed to battled his way up to 11th earning two points. The native of California, who remains in 14th place in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series standings with 58 points, did gain some ground in the in the standings as he moved to within 18 points of 10th place.
"It was a difficult race for the #40 Visteon/Patrick Racing team," Vasser said. "We started in the back of the field, so we decided to try and save fuel, stay out a few extra laps and try and pick up some track position on the first pit stop. When the first yellow came out as late as it did it changed that strategy, so we pitted. Then when the second yellow was thrown a few laps later we made the decision to stop again. We pitted, refueled and tried to stretch it to the end. Unfortunately, things didn't work out for us and we had to pit for a final splash of fuel," he explained. "On the positive side we went from 24th to 11th place and picked up a couple of points," Vasser concluded.
This was the third time in four races at Houston that Vasser has finished in the points. He won the race in 2000 and placed fourth in the inaugural event in 1998 to go with this year's 11th place showing. This is the first time since the start of the season that Vasser has scored points in consecutive races. The Las Vegas, Nevada resident started the season finishing in the top-six in the first four events then was plagued by misfortune scoring points in just three of his last 13 races including today. Vasser has scored points in seven of 17 races this year placing in the top-10 six times, the top-six five times and the top-five four times. He has finished in the points in four of the of ten nine road/street races, with three top-six performances.
Now in his 10th CART season and first with Patrick Racing, Vasser has finished in the top-10 in the point's race for six consecutive years including taking the championship in 1996. In 164 CART career starts he has 92 top-10 finishes including 26 podium showings. He has finished 95 of his last 120 races placing in the points 88 times (from Milwaukee '95). Vasser's record on road/street circuits is equally impressive. In 99 CART career road/street races, he has finished in the points 57 times with 49 top-10 finishes, 25 top-five showings, 14 podiums and four wins.
Moreno, piloting the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, had an equally interesting, if decidedly different race. Starting 11th he quickly moved into 10th place where he remained until lap 38. Challenging Mauricio Gugelmin for ninth place he had a problem with his gearbox. When he shifted the rear wheels locked up causing the car to spin. The mishap dropped Moreno all the way back to 20th place. He pitted on lap 39 for fuel and reentered the race in the #21 position. Following the same race strategy as his teammate, Moreno pitted again on lap 45 and passed Vasser in the pits. He moved into 19th place a lap later then up to 17th when two cars pitted for fuel. Moreno took over the 15th spot during the Tracy/Nakano bump and up to 14th when Dixon stopped. When the third yellow came out and cars began pitting for fuel, Moreno suddenly found himself in fifth place. With a car that was working extremely well and getting better then the fuel mileage needed the possibility of a podium finish and even a victory was firmly within Moreno's grasp. That is when things fell apart. On lap 65 the gearbox problems he had experienced earlier became unmanageable forcing him from the competition. The Weston, Florida resident remains in 11th place in the championship standings with 74 points, just two points out of 10th place and 12 out of seventh.
"The #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing team did a great job today," Moreno said. "We had a very quick car and played the strategy game well. We put ourselves in a position to finish on the podium or possibly win the race. Unfortunately we had a problem with the gearbox that put an end to our day. I lost fifth and third gear and it was impossible to drive the car without those two gears. It's a shame because I think we had enough fuel to make it to the end. They told me to get 2.2 mpg and at the end I was getting better than that. We were looking good, but it is just one of those things. Today was just not our day, but the Visteon/Patrick Racing team will come back and be strong next time," Moreno concluded.
The native of Brazil has now finished 14 of 17 races this year placing in the points 11 of 17. He has finished in the top-10 six times with three podiums and one win. Moreno has points paying finishes in five of the six street races this year with three top-10 showings, two podium appearances and a win. He has finished in the points in eight of ten road/street events this year with five top-10 showings including three podiums and the win. Moreno has finished in the top-10 in 24 of his last 50 starts and in the points 33 times. The eight-year CART veteran, who is in his second season with Visteon/Patrick Racing, has finished in the points in 21 of his last 33 road/street course races with 16 top-10 placements, nine top-five showings, six podiums and two wins.
Visteon/Patrick Racing has had their best performances of the season on the street circuits in 2001. In six street races, 12 starts, the team has produced eight finishes in the points with five top-10 performances, four top-five showings and two podium appearances including a win. In ten road/street races, 20 starts, Visteon/Patrick Racing has finished in the points 12 times, with eight top-10 showings, five top-five, three podiums and the win. Patrick Racing drivers have now finished in the points six times in eight starts at Houston.
Next up for Patrick Racing is the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300, October 12-14, at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California.