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Vasser Paces First Day Of Open Test At Twin Ring Motegi In Japan

CART Online (November 1) -- Jimmy Vasser of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing paced a 12-driver contingent with a lap over 212 miles per hour during Saturday's opening day of the inaugural Championship Auto Racing Teams open test at the new Honda-owned Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan.

Vasser, driving a Target Reynard Honda, posted the top lap of 26.215 seconds (212.717 mph) during the afternoon run of the two three-hour test sessions on the1.549-mile oval situated approximately 60 miles northeast of Tokyo. Vasser, the 1996 PPG Cup champion, also recorded the top lap of the morning session at 208.510 mph (26.744 seconds).

Vasser and his fellow CART drivers are preparing for the official debut of Twin Ring Motegi, which occurs Saturday, March 28 when the PPG CART World Series returns for the Budweiser 500k race. The Budweiser 500k, a points-paying event, will serve as Round 2 of the 19-race schedule in 1998. The season kicks off March 15 with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami in Homestead, Fla.

"I expected to go over 200 miles per hour, but I didn't expect 212 miles per hour," Vasser said. "The track is very wide and very smooth, and enjoyable to drive. The speeds will climb higher tomorrow [Sunday]. This weekend will promote great racing for the Budweiser 500."

Overall, Vasser was followed by Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) at 211.644 mph (26.348 seconds) and Christian Fittipaldi Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) at 211.371 mph (26.382 sec). Tracy, making his second appearance for Team KOOL Green, and Fittipaldi posted their top laps in the afternoon session as well.

Also participating in Saturday's sessions were (top lap speeds in parentheses): Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes, 209.308 mph), Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda, 206.701 mph), Mauricio Gugelmin (Motorola PacWest Mercedes, 206.571 mph), Hiro Matsushita (Panasonic Duskin Reynard Toyota, 202.446 mph), Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota, 202.395 mph), Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes, 201.933 mph), Richie Hearn (Ralphs-Food 4 Less/Budweiser Swift Ford, 197.352 mph) and Juan Fangio II (Castrol Reynard Honda, 196.124 mph).

Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) made a late appearance in Saturday's session, replacing new Marlboro Team Penske teammate Unser Jr. for the final 30 minutes. Ribeiro ran the seventh-quickest lap overall at 204.106 mph. He is scheduled to run the full day Sunday.

The CART contingent ran a total of 1,075 laps with Papis running a test-high 137 laps.

The CART open test will conclude Sunday with a pair of three-hour sessions. The morning session will begin at 9 a.m. local time and the afternoon session at 1:30 p.m. local time. Two drivers will make their debuts at Twin Ring Motegi during Sunday's session. Mark Blundell will step in for Gugelmin at PacWest Racing and Dario Franchitti for Tracy at Team KOOL Green on the final test day. PPG Cup champion Alex Zanardi is on hand for the weekend, but is not scheduled to test for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing.