Jourdain looking to take the next step in breakout season. HILLIARD, OH . . . As the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season reaches the half-way point this weekend, the breakout season of Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr.
Jourdain looking to take the next step in breakout season.
HILLIARD, OH . . . As the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season reaches the half-way point this weekend, the breakout season of Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. continues to unfold. The season is all the more remarkable considering Jourdain didn't join Team Rahal until the end of January and didn't benefit from a full off-season testing schedule.
Jourdain in his first season with Team Rahal is tied for fourth in the championship with 62 points, surpassing in just nine races the point total (61 points) he amassed in his first 101 CART starts prior to this season. Jourdain has eight top-ten results in 2002 including four top-five finishes. He has finished every race and he leads the series in laps and miles completed. Added all together and Jourdain has been among the championship leaders all season including a stint atop the point standings after Milwaukee.
The key now for Jourdain is to take the next step and become a consistent contender for the podium and wins. "Our success this season is just laying the foundation for what we want to achieve. We aren't coming to the track each week just hoping to grab a top-five. Our goal is to run at the front and to win races. Winning my first CART race was my goal at the start of the season and my focus hasn't changed. I have said before that if you run consistently you will score points and the championship standings will take care of themselves. I am not all caught up in being in the top-five. I am simply focusing on the next race and trying to put myself and the team in a position to be successful."
Bobby Rahal felt the team had signed a "diamond in the rough" when Jourdain joined the team in January. "Michel has done a solid job and has show a great deal of patience and maturity on track," said Rahal. "The adjustment before him of moving from the level he is at now to the next level of winning races and being a weekly frontrunner is one I believe he can make. It is easy to forget that Michel at 25 is still a very young driver and he is still developing his craft. Certainly having a teammate who is a champion like Jimmy [Vasser] and working with our engineers has helped him progress to this point."
This week Jourdain heads north to Canada for the Molson Indy Vancouver, a race and a course that he lists amongst his favorites. "Vancouver has always been one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. Last year I had a pretty good race running in the top-five until the final pit stop and finishing sixth overall. The atmosphere around the city is fantastic. Vancouver is a beautiful city and the Canadian fans are big Champ Car fans very supportive of the series and drivers."
"We really made some strides at Cleveland and by the end of the race we had one of the better cars on track. I think we have a very good chance to be successful but a lot is dependent on improving our qualifying effort. We started the season with some strong qualifying results but we have fallen off of late. Qualifying is an area we need to focus on and improve."
Consecutive points paying results not good enough for Vasser.
The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season has been a frustrating series of ups and downs for 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time has seemingly been Vasser's curse this season as on two occasions he has been knocked from the race on the opening lap due to the miscalculations of other drivers.
At Cleveland Vasser was spun in the first turn and fell from his starting position of seventh to 15th before he rallied to finish sixth. The sixth place result was the second consecutive top-six result for the Shell team and may be a sign that Vasser's luck may be starting to change.
"It has been great just to finish a couple of races," said Vasser. "But lets face it I am not here to just finish races. The Shell team needs to finish on the podium and we need to win races. We have everything at our disposal to contend for the championship, but we have dug ourselves a tremendous hole through some tough circumstances and things that are beyond our control. There is still a lot of races left and everybody caught a break with da Matta's DNF at Cleveland."
Vasser and the Shell team are looking to recapture the form they showed at Long Beach in April when Vasser captured the pole position and ran amongst the leaders all day prior to finishing second. "We know we have a very good package for the street courses and we know what we need to accomplish to be successful," said Vasser who has won three street races in his CART career. "There are six races in the next eight weeks and they are all tracks were Team Rahal has show themselves to be very competitive. We have a chance to close the gap but we have to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us."
Patrick to continue street course education at Vancouver.
Team Rahal's Danica Patrick will make her third start in the Barber Dodge Pro Series this weekend at Vancouver after finishing seventh in both of her previous outings at Toronto and Cleveland. The 20-year-old who recently signed a multi-year driving contract with Team Rahal will be the team's driver in the Toyota Atlantic series next season.
"This has been a great learning experience," said Patrick, who has made only two street course starts in her racing career. "Bobby has told me that is what this season is all about, gaining some experience to better prepare us for next year."
"Danica is doing a wonderful job," said Rahal who has worked closely with the youngster. "She has shown a willingness to go wheel-to-wheel with the other drivers and considering that she had never driven a Barber Dodge car until the last week of June she has made great strides in a very short period of time."