CHAMPCAR/CART: Lexington: Team Rahal Track Talk

Team Rahal preps for home race at Mid-Ohio. HILLIARD, OH . . . For Team Rahal the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio represents more than Round 11 on the 2002 FedEx Championship Series schedule, it represents the team's home race. Located less than...

Team Rahal preps for home race at Mid-Ohio.

HILLIARD, OH . . . For Team Rahal the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio represents more than Round 11 on the 2002 FedEx Championship Series schedule, it represents the team's home race.

Located less than an hour from the Team Rahal shop in suburban Columbus, Ohio, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has been known as Team Rahal's "home course" not only for its proximity to the team's headquarters but because over the years the team has enjoyed a great deal of success on the scenic 2.3-mile course. Last season marked the first time since 1996 that at least one of the two Team Rahal cars hadn't finished in the top-five. Twice since 1996 (1996 & 2000) both cars brought home top-five results..

The track originally opened in 1962 but it didn't host a CART event until 1980. In 1981 Jim Trueman purchased the track and began a series of improvements to the facilities. Trueman's Truesports team entered CART in 1982 with a young driver named Bobby Rahal who quickly made Mid-Ohio his signature course. Rahal finished on the podium for the CART race each year from 1983-87 and captured wins in 1985 and 1986. In 16 years of racing Champ Cars at Mid-Ohio Rahal posted eight podiums appearances (two wins, two seconds and four thirds) and four front row starts including pole positions in 1983 and 1985.

"Mid-Ohio is one of the great road racing tracks in the United States," said Rahal. "Even if I wouldn't have had the success I did there and all the memories from over the years, the track would still hold a special place in my heart because of its rich racing history."

This season Team Rahal comes to Mid-Ohio with two new drivers and trying to erase the memory of last years disappointing outing on its home turf.

Shell driver Jimmy Vasser started fourth last season for Patrick Racing and was one of the few cars on the track that kept pace with the dominate Penske cars. Vasser's day ended on lap 34 when his car was clipped on a passing attempt. Vasser has collected three top-five finishes at Mid-Ohio including a second place finish in 1996 during his championship season. Vasser has been plagued by troubles over the last few seasons having posted a DNF at Mid-Ohio three times in the last four years.

"Mid-Ohio is a big race for Team Rahal and all of the fans who have supported the team over the years," said Vasser. "We have had so many problems this season that I just want a solid and strong run to the finish. We need the points badly. We had our final Ford test of the year last week at Portland. I was very happy with the developments that the Cosworth guys came up with at Portland. I think we have learned more things going to Mid-Ohio. I'd like to get back on form with a strong showing this week. Since this test, I think we have good shot." Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr., currently tied for third in the championship, has his own demons to battle at Mid-Ohio. In five previous starts at Mid-Ohio Jourdain is pointless. His best career finish at Mid-Ohio came in 2000 when he finished 15th. "Mid-Ohio is a beautiful track and certainly one of the most challenging tracks we race on in CART. Everyone knows Mid-Ohio is a special race for Team Rahal because it is the home track for the team. Most of the shop based guys, people who only make it to one race a year, come to the race and this is their chance to see their hard work pay off first hand. It is a big time fast track and there is a lot for a team and driver to come to grips with. I know it will be a very busy week for the team with a lot of media attention and sponsor functions, but I also know that Team Rahal has had a great deal of success at this track."

'96 CHAMP VASSER TRYING TO ESCAPE NIGHTMARE SEASON

Jimmy Vasser has tried to maintain his sense of humor throughout a nightmare season of 2002 in which he has collected five DNF's in the first ten Champ Car races. The season has been frustrating for a driver who holds the CART record for consecutive finishes (25 straight 1995-1997) and who has finished over 71% of the races in his Champ Car career entering the 2002 season.

"It has almost become humorous (about the first lap mishaps). It all started back in Mexico in the season opener when I got taken out on the first lap. We came back at Long Beach and got the pole and nearly won the race. So I didn't think about any kind of bad luck. But we had a fire at Japan, a gearbox (problem) at Indy and Portland and then the first lap incidents at Chicago, Cleveland and Vancouver. It's like living in a bad nightmare. We seem to get caught up in the mix on the first lap."

Vasser enters Mid-Ohio 12th in the championship (42 points) with five top-ten results on the season including a runner-up finish at Long Beach in April.

RACE DAY CONSISTENCY HAS PAID OFF IN POINTS FOR JOURDAIN

Michel Jourdain Jr. has enjoyed a breakout season in his first season with Team Rahal and is currently tied for third in the championship with 74 points. The key to Jourdain's success has been consistency. He is the only driver in the series to finish every race this season and subsequently he is the only driver to have scored points in all ten events. Jourdain leads the series in laps completed and miles logged and he has posted a career high nine top-ten results in the first ten races.

Jourdain's consistency has paid dividends to this point but he knows to mount a serious challenge for the championship he will need to begin collecting podium appearances.

The 25-year-old native of Mexico City comes to Mid-Ohio off an impressive fourth place finish at Vancouver. The fourth place finish marked the tenth time in ten races this season that Jourdain has posted a career best finish at a track.

"We have a bit of momentum after a strong finish in the race at Vancouver and we need to keep that momentum through this stretch of races," said Jourdain. "The biggest area we have to focus on is finding a way to improve our qualifying results. We have been successful on race day but we have struggled in qualifying. At Vancouver we had a good provisional qualifying effort but we had some problems on Saturday and we ended up starting 18th."

Jourdain's consecutive running finish streak is actually at 12 straight races as Jourdain finished the final two events of the 2001 season finishing seventh at Australia and 16th at Fontana.

GIGANTE CREW LEADS THE CRAFTSMAN PIT CREW CHALLENGE

Team Rahal's Gigante pit crew holds a three point lead on second place Newman-Haas Racing (83-80) in the fourth annual Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge. The weekly competition awards points to the pit crews of the teams which finish the race and compile the least time in the pits. Points are awarded in the same manner of CART championship points with 20 points being awarded to the crew which wins the round. The four crews with the highest point totals from the first 18 races and the pit crew of Cristiano da Matta which won a wild card spot at Chicago, will compete in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge Shootout at Fontana for the $50,000 first prize.

The Gigante team finished fifth at Vancouver and that ten points allowed them to surpass the pit crew of Christian Fittipaldi and claim the lead spot heading into the second half of the 2002 season. The Gigante crew has scored points in nine of the ten events this season.

Remarkably the six man crew wasn't assembled until early February just shortly after the Gigante sponsorship was announced.

Team Rahal's Shell pit crew captured the 2001 championship in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge edging the two pit crews of Penske Racing and Paul Tracy's Team Green crew. Team Rahal has had a crew in the finals in two of the three previous competitions. Max Papis' Miller Lite pit crew finished as runner's up in 1999.

DANICA PATRICK LOOKS TO CONTINUE HER IMPROVEMENT

Three races and three top-seven results have left Team Rahal's newest driver, 20-year-old Danica Patrick, even more hungry for success. Having shown marked improvement in each of the three previous Barber Dodge Pro Series Events she has run, Patrick comes to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course looking for her first Barber Dodge podium.

The Roscoe, IL native posted her best Barber Dodge finish at Vancouver when she collected a fourth place result. The thing that has most impressed three-time CART champion Bobby Rahal has been the way she has made significant progress each week.

"She hadn't driven in a while so some rust was to be expected," said Rahal. "But she has caught on and seems to be making up for lost time. I have always felt she had the ability and that the results would come in time. Based on what we have seen they may come sooner. Running these races in Barber Dodge was entirely about getting her some street course and practical experience while we put the pieces together for her Toyota Atlantic program next season. I am still not worried about her winning or finishing on the podium, the most important thing is for her to gain experience."

While Patrick understands that the Barber Dodge races are about gaining experience, she also finds it hard to keep her competitive nature in check. "We are out there to race and to win," said Patrick. "I want to finish every lap of every race but there is no reason I can't finish the laps before everyone else."

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About this article
Series Barber Pro , IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Danica Patrick , Michel Jourdain
Teams Team Penske , ART Grand Prix