CHAMPCAR/CART: St. Pete: Team Rahal Track Talk

Jourdain looking to build on 2002 success. HILLIARD, OH . . . What a difference a year makes. In 2002 Michel Jourdain Jr. was just trying to get acquainted with his new teammates and his new surroundings at Team Rahal. In 2003 Jourdian is well...

Jourdain looking to build on 2002 success.

HILLIARD, OH . . . What a difference a year makes. In 2002 Michel Jourdain Jr. was just trying to get acquainted with his new teammates and his new surroundings at Team Rahal. In 2003 Jourdian is well versed in the workings of Team Rahal, and as the lone driver in Team Rahal's Champ Car program, he is looking to build on the foundation of success that was crafted in 2002.

Having made his Champ Car debut at age 18, Jourdain has long held the title of 'the kid' on the circuit, but as he prepares for the 2003 Bridgestone presents the Champ Car World Series powered by Ford, he finds himself fourth among active drivers in career starts even though he is all of 26 years old (fifth youngest driver in series). For Jourdain and the Gigante team, 2003 is an opportunity to take the next step in the quest for a championship.

"I am elated that the start of the Champ Car season is finally here," said Jourdain. "Even though it has only been a couple of months since we finished the last season, it has seemed like forever. We had a strong spring training [third quick overall] and I think we as a team are anxious to take that momentum and start the season. We had some success last year, but we didn't win and that is the first challenge for us this year."

The 2002 season was a breakout year for Jourdain who affirmed Bobby Rahal's faith in hiring the native of Mexico City to drive a Team Rahal entry. Jourdain established a team record by posting a points paying result in his first 17 races. He collected five top-five results, 14 top-ten results and held the distinction of being the last driver besides Cristiano da Matta to lead the series in points, all while posting a career best 105 points and finishing a career best tenth in the championship.

"We showed we could run very consistently in the races, but our problems stemmed from qualifying," said Jourdain. "We have focused a lot of attention on being successful in qualifying. If we improve in that area then we will be racing for top-five's, podiums and wins not just top-ten results."

To say qualifying was Jourdain's Achilles Heel in 2002, is to take the art of understatement to a new level. In 19 races his average starting position was 14th on the grid, however in 18 of the 19 races his finishing position was higher than his starting position, with the lone exception being his DNF at Fontana.

"Michel's problems all came in qualifying last season," said Ray Leto, Team Manager for Team Rahal's Champ Car program. "Last season it was well documented about Jimmy's [Vasser] run of bad luck and problems in races but it wasn't as detailed about the troubles Michel faced in qualifying. There were a couple of weeks where we missed on the set-up but most of the problems were outside his control."

Three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal was impressed with Jourdain and feels his young charge is ready to take the next step. "Michel showed a lot of maturity last season and he has really started to come into his own as a driver," said Rahal. "The thing that most impressed me about Michel was how patient he was and how he limited his mistakes during races. That contributed to the consistent finishes and the points that came with finishing each week. The challenge for both the Gigante team and Michel is to take the next step and to turn those top-ten results into top-five finishes and podiums."

GIGANTE PIT CREW LOOKS FOR CONTINUED SUCCESS

For two straight seasons Team Rahal has captured the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge (CPCC) championship utilizing two different crews to win the championship. In 2001 it was Kenny Brack's Shell crew which captured the title and in 2002 it was Jimmy Vasser's revamped Shell crew which captured the honors. Now on the eve of the 2003 Champ Car World Series, Michel Jourdain's Gigante pit crew is ready to defend the Team Rahal title as Champ Car's best crew Comprised primarily of the crew that was Vasser's Shell crew in '02, the Gigante crew is a veteran crew that looks to continue Team Rahal's tradition of great pit crews.

"I think if you look back at Team Rahal over the years they have always had some of the best pit crews in the series," said Jourdain. "As a driver that allows you to focus entirely on the on track issues. I know that my car will be ready each weekend and I know when I come in for a stop that they will give me a chance to gain positions. A lot of teams play lip service to their dedication about excelling with the pit crews, but at Team Rahal we really feel our crews gives us an advantage week after week and we work hard to maintain that advantage."

The 2003 Gigante pit crew will feature Bharat Naran (crew chief) on the outside front, Greg Cates (chief mechanic) on outside rear, Kevin Hanscom on inside front, Matt Motoyka on fuel, Eric Van Bibber on inside rear filling in for the injured Kevin Hanrahan and Doug Hoerig on air jack. Five of the six worked on Vasser's Shell crew last season and were members of the 2002 CPCC champions. The sixth, Van Bibber worked on the Gigante car in 2002 but was a member of Brack's 2001 CPCC championship squad.

JOURDAIN PREDICTS BIG THINGS FOR ST. PETE RACE

The Champ Car World Series features a 2003 schedule that will see the series race in six countries around the world on a combination of street, road, short oval and super speedway tracks.

The series signature events, the street races, have crafted a unique niche of their own. The Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Gold Coast Indy 300 in Australia certainly rank as two of the most successful and unique motor sport events in the world. The combination of the speed and the power of Champ Car racing on the city streets when combined with the scenic seaside setting of the aforementioned towns have helped elevate these events. Team Rahal's Champ Car driver Michel Jourdain sees a similar formula for success in St. Petersburg.

"I think the race in St. Petersburg has the potential to quickly become a great sporting tradition in the region," said Jourdain. "If you look at other seaside races like Long Beach and Australia, those events take on a bigger than life atmosphere on race weekend. There is something about the cars running by the marina and the party atmosphere that comes from the hotels and restaurants by the track. I think all the ingredients are here for this to quickly become one of the premier events in the Champ Car World Series."

JOURDAIN ADAPTS TO THE NEW LOOK GIGANTE TEAM

Team Rahal's Champ Car World Series program has a new/old look to it for 2003. Not only does the team's #9 Gigante Ford Cosworth/Lola featuring Bridgestone tires, have a new paint scheme which features an all red engine cover, but with the team's Champ Car program shifting from two cars to a single car effort in 2003 the former Shell program and the Gigante program have merged.

The result for Jourdain is a new team manager, new engineer and almost entirely new pit crew. However while on paper these may represent major change it isn't as if Jourdain is a complete stranger to the new faces.

Ray Leto, who engineered Jourdain to four top-five results in the first four races of 2002, will serve as the Team Manager for Team Rahal's Champ Car program. Joining Leto is Todd Bowland who engineered Jimmy Vasser's Shell car in 2002. Bowland replaces Tim Reiter who was promoted to the role of Team Rahal's Technical Director replacing Leto who was promoted to Champ Car Team Manager.

Additionally the merging of the Team Rahal Champ Car pit crews has further reshaped the Gigante team giving Jourdain an almost entirely new pit crew which is comprised of series veterans.

"The team had meshed very quickly, even though I have a new engineer (Todd Bowland) and new mechanics," said Jourdain "The fact that we are familiar with each other has made a big difference in us not losing any ground to where we were at last season. When Jimmy (Vasser) was with the team we debriefed with both engineers after each session, so Todd knows what I am looking for in a car and I have a sense of how he thinks."

-tr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain