People get a myriad of different things out of a trip to Las Vegas.
Some get perspective and other get life lessons, while a scant few actually get rich.
For Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Michel Jourdain Jr., his trip to Vegas in November of last year actually got him a chance to revitalize his racing career.
Jourdain is back behind the wheel of an IZOD Indy Car Series machine for the first time since 2004, and is making his first trip to Indianapolis since 1996 when he participated in the first Indianapolis 500 after the crippling open-wheel split. His return to open-wheel competition was eight years in the making, but the Mexican star says that it really came together during a nostalgic trip to the race track six months ago.
“I got a call to see if I wanted to go to the Vegas race last year, just go out and see some old friends, so I figured it would be a good way to spend a weekend,” Jourdain relates. “But once I got there, got in the paddock and saw the atmosphere, saw my friends, I realized how much I missed it.”
Jourdain had a brief meeting during the race weekend with his former team owner Bobby Rahal, as Rahal was meeting a number of drivers in hopes of putting together a full-season two-car squad for his team’s return to Indy Car racing.
“We met with Bobby and I showed interest in wanting to do this. We decided that it would a great idea to try and put something together,” said the two-time race winner. “We knew that it would be best to do something at Indianapolis because you have so much track time to try and get up to speed. Doing this at Long Beach where you have two days of practice and then a race, would have been a big challenge. Not that this isn’t a challenge, but I thought it was going to be in a way harder.”
So the seeds of the return were planted in Vegas, but it was a social call that Jourdain made leading into the Christmas holiday that gave the idea the fertilizer it needed to sprout.
“I went to see some of my friends from Office Depot, just to say hello and check in, and we were sitting around and somebody asked what we could do in racing this year,” related Jourdain. “So we talked about some ideas, and this made the most sense. So we made some deals, talked to some other businesses and it took some time, and ended being a little more last-minute than we’d hoped, but he were are and it is good.”
Jourdain had been finding his way around the cavernous 2.5-mile Indy oval, happy to make little gains in each session as the field works its way toward Saturday’s qualifying. The Mexican got up to 221.396 mph (40.6511 mph) today before a car fire in his #30 Honda-powered machine brought out a long red flag, and sent his team scurrying to repair damages.
While not ideal for a race-car driver, Jourdain’s lengthy absence has helped him deal with the inevitable problems that the Brickyard will throw at a team during the month of May. In the past, a fire that would cost him a few hours of practice time may have affected him differently than how the relaxed Jourdain handled today’s hardship.
“I think that the thing that is really different about me this time as opposed to 16 years ago is in my patience. I know that you don’t have to get everything done today,” Jourdain said. “We’ve been taking our time, building confidence and the whole process has really helped me.”
He admits to not really remembering much about how the car drove in 1996 as compared to the new DW12, but once he got into traffic during practice, he immediately recognized the one change that all drivers understand – speed. Or the lack of it.
“I was used to running superspeedways where I had so much more power that the driving was different in traffic,” he admitted. “I feel on my side that I’m not 100 percent there, but I think I’m better than a lot of guys, not as good as some others. But I will have 500 miles to learn and hopefully master it!”