Team Rahal Track Talk - London Champ Car Trophy JOURDAIN BUILDING ON LESSONS LEARNED AT LONG BEACH HILLIARD, OH . . . Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. heads to Europe this week for the next two races of the 2003 Champ Car World Series. He ...
Team Rahal Track Talk - London Champ Car Trophy
JOURDAIN BUILDING ON LESSONS LEARNED AT LONG BEACH
HILLIARD, OH . . . Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr. heads to Europe this week for the next two races of the 2003 Champ Car World Series. He does so as one of the most compelling stories in the series this season.
The 26-year-old native of Mexico City has emerged as a title contender in his second season with Team Rahal claiming second place results in the first two races. At the Grand Prix of Long Beach two weeks ago Jourdain appeared poised to win his first race of his Champ Car career when a faulty component in the gearbox left him stranded in the pits. The heartbreaking DNF came after Jourdain had led a race high 48 laps and he had built a sizable lead on points leader Paul Tracy.
Jourdain joined Team Rahal in January of 2002 and promptly posted a career best season as he finished in the top-ten of the championship for the first time. In his first year in the Gigante car, Jourdain posted career marks in points (105), top-five results (5) and top-ten results (14) while leading the series in laps completed and miles logged.
As he entered the 2003 season Jourdain found himself the lone Champ Car driver for Team Rahal. He has responded to the task with strong outings in the first three events and he enters this weekends race at Brands Hatch third in the championship. He established a career best with second place results at St. Petersburg and at Monterrey, Mexico and he won his first career pole position at Long Beach. All this seemed to be building towards his first win which was just laps away when the gearbox failed.
While the heartbreak at Long Beach still weighs on his mind, Jourdain has taken to heart the lessons of 'Shoreline Drive' and understands that race day was a defining moment for the young driver. "I think the Gigante team showed everyone at Long Beach what we are capable of," said Jourdain. "Sure it still hurts a bit that we didn't get the win at Long Beach, but on the other hand I am very proud of what we did accomplish that weekend. We won the pole and we showed we could dominate a race. If we can dial in the car like we are capable then maybe when I come back from Europe I will finally have that first win."
This week the Champ Car's return to Brands Hatch for the first time since 1978. When Rick Mears took the checkered flag for that win on the seven turn 1.226-mile road course Jourdain was just two years old. Despite the fact he was too young to remember that race, Jourdain understands what running this event at the historic Brands Hatch means to the Champ Car World Series.
"I think it is great for the Champ Car World Series to be going to a track with as great a tradition as Brands Hatch," said Jourdain. "The British racing fans are some of the most knowledgeable in the world, so the atmosphere should be unbelievable. The challenge for us is to quickly come to terms with the track. I have never raced at Brands Hatch but several of the other drivers have. Anytime you go to a new track the engineers do a lot of simulation work ahead of time trying to get a basic set-up. That gives us a starting point for when we go on track. We did a pretty good job at St. Pete of anticipating what our set-up should be so I feel confident heading into the race."
IMPROVED QUALIFYING HAS BEEN A KEY TO SUCCESS
One of the keys for Jourdain in '03 has been his qualifying success. Through three races Jourdain's average starting position is fourth as opposed to an average starting slot of 14th in 2002. Having not started outside of the top-five has let the steady Jourdain move to the front and has made the Gigante pit crew, the defending Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge champions, a significant weapon in moving the #9 car to the front.
"Michel had really matured as a driver," said three-time series champion and Team Rahal co-owner Bobby Rahal. "He and his engineering staff identified qualifying as an area they had to improve and he has done that. After Long Beach I don't think there is anyone who doubts that this kid has what it takes. I said when we signed him in 2002 that he was a diamond in the rough right now that diamond is shining brightly. I told him to hold his head high and be proud of what he did accomplish because it was significant. Someday I think people will look back at that race as one that helped define Michel as a driver."
GEARBOX WOES A HICUP IN CONSISTENT RUN FOR JOURDAIN
Since he joined Team Rahal at the start of the 2002 Champ Car season, Michel Jourdain Jr. has been the model of consistency. Jourdain posted points paying results in his first 17 events with Team Rahal last season, establishing a team record for consecutive points paying finishes.
In 22 races with Team Rahal, Jourdain has posted points 20 times. He has collected seven top-five results and 16 top-ten finishes. Only twice in the previous 22 events with Team Rahal has Jourdain failed to finish a race. With victory in sight, a gearbox failure at Long Beach left Jourdain with his second Team Rahal DNF and his first since last November. That was at Fontana in November of 2002, where he led ten laps and appeared to be headed for a podium finish before an engine failure ended his day.
A year ago Jourdain led the series in laps completed and miles logged. The DNF at Long Beach dropped Jourdain from a 2003 tie with leaders Paul Tracy and Bruno Junqueira to fifth in laps logged and miles completed.
TEAM RAHAL LOOKS TO REPEAT INAUGURAL EUROPEAN SUCCESS
When the Champ Car World Series made its return to Europe in 2001 Team Rahal led the way by claiming three podium results in the first two races. The first Champ Car event in Europe was the German 500 run September at the Euro Speedway 15th in Germany. Kenny Brack won the race and was followed by teammate Max Papis. It was one of Team Rahal's series leading six wins in 2001 and it marked the only time in Team Rahal history that both drivers finished one-two.
A week later Kenny Brack started from the pole and finished second in a classic last couple of lap duel with Gil de Ferran in the inaugural race at Rockingham Speedway.