CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Team Rahal Champ Car Track Talk

HILLIARD, OH . . . It is all about the points to Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. A dominate run at Portland in which he led 42 of the first 45 laps ended when he and championship rival Paul Tracy tangled in the Festival Curves. ...

HILLIARD, OH . . . It is all about the points to Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. A dominate run at Portland in which he led 42 of the first 45 laps ended when he and championship rival Paul Tracy tangled in the Festival Curves. The swing in points for Jourdain was painful as a potential win and podium became a single point for finishing the race in 12th place.

"At some point, the races we dominate and don't score points are going to hurt us," said Jourdain after the run at Portland. "All we can do is focus on Cleveland and get ourselves back in the points and hopefully on the podium."

The resulting points swing dropped the popular 26-year-old native of Mexico City from his position as championship leader to third in the points entering Cleveland. Jourdain trails Paul Tracy by eight points and Bruno Junqueira by four points entering Round 9 of the 2003 Champ Car World Series.

For Jourdain the 2003 season has been his best in the Champ Car World Series featuring his first win (Milwaukee) and some dominate runs. The season has also been peppered with some frustrating results when his car has been at its most dominate.

At Long Beach, searching for his first win, Jourdain built a 40-second lead over second place Tracy only to have his gearbox fail in the pits a mere seven laps from the end. At Portland the Gigante car was again the class of the field, but an illegal pit maneuver by Tracy allowed the Players car to take the lead from Jourdain. The two leaders clashed on lap 45 with Jourdain spinning and stalling and falling off the lead lap. Tracy was later penalized for the pit impropriety and would finish second, but Jourdain was unable to recover his lap and barely finished in the points.

Consistently finishing races and scoring points is what will win the championship," said three-time series champion and Team Rahal owner Bobby Rahal. "Michel's finishing record over the last two seasons is second to none and the fact that the car and Michel have been so strong this year is why he finds himself in the position he is in fighting for the championship."

This week Jourdain comes to Cleveland, a track where his best career finish is ninth, which came last year with Team Rahal. Cleveland annually ranks as a favorite stop for drivers in the Champ Car World Series because the wide runways at Burke Lakefront Airport make for plenty of room to race wheel-to-wheel. "We have had a strong car at all the road and street courses this season, so I see no reason that the Gigante car shouldn't be very competitive this weekend," said Jourdain. "Team Rahal has had some strong runs at Cleveland in the past, but they have never won the race. Bobby won at Cleveland when he was a driver, but the team has never finished better than second. I just want to score as many points as possible this weekend, and hopefully get on the podium, but it would be nice for the team to finally get a win at Cleveland."

PORTLAND ANOTHER POINTS PAYING RESULT 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.

At Portland, Jourdain posted a 12th place finish to earn a single point, after his lap 45 scrum with Paul Tracy.

In 27 races with Team Rahal, Jourdain has posted points 25 times. He has collected ten top-five results and 20 top-ten finishes. Only twice in the previous 27 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 Fontana in November of 2002. At Fontana 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 (2,368) and miles logged (4,238). Jourdain enters the race at Cleveland once again as the series leader in laps completed (1,028) and miles logged (1,687).

NIGHT RACING

This year's Cleveland Grand Prix will be the second Champ Car race run under the lights at night. Jourdain won the inaugural Champ Car night race by dominating the Milwaukee Mile in May leading a series record 234 laps en route to the win. "I have always enjoyed racing at Burke Lakefront Airport and with this years event being at night I think it will be a great show," said Jourdain. "As I said after I won at Milwaukee, if I can duplicate that result at Cleveland then I want all the races to be at night. It will certainly be a big challenge to Champ Car and the race officials to light the airport, as this lighting job is even bigger than the one they had at Milwaukee. I have confidence that Champ Car will do the same great job lighting the airport that they did at the Milwaukee Mile. I actually preferred the lighted conditions to the normal afternoon sunshine. As a driver I had consistent light instead of having to deal with shadows, clouds and the changing light."

JOURDAIN HAS MADE QUALIFYING A FOCUS N 2003

One of the keys for Jourdain in '03 has been his qualifying success. Through the first eight races of 2003 Jourdain's average starting position was fifth, as opposed to an average starting slot of 14th in 2002. Having started in the top-five in six of the first eight races allowed the steady Jourdain move to the front of the points chase, and has made the Gigante pit crew, the defending Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge champions, a significant weapon in #9 cars success.

At Portland Jourdain collected his third front row start of the season losing the pole by 46-thousandths of a second to Paul Tracy. Jourdain captured his first pole position at Long Beach and had a second pole position stripped when the car was ruled underweight at Laguna Seca.

TEAM RAHAL'S SINGLE CAR TITLE QUEST

Jourdain and the Gigante team are vying to become the first single car entry to win the Champ Car World Series championship since Jacques Villeneuve with Players in 1995. Only three have won the title with a single entry, including Bobby Rahal in Team Rahal's first year of operation 1992.

JOURDAIN 2003 vs. 2002

It took Jourdain until the 14th race of the 2002 season to amass his 91st point. Jourdain had just 61 points in his first six seasons. Since the start of the 2002 season when he joined Team Rahal Jourdian has amassed 196 points in the Champ Car World Series. Last season Jourdain averaged 5.5 points per race. In 2003 Jourdain and the Gigante team are currently averaging 11.4 points per race.

TEAM RAHAL AT CLEVELAND

Team Rahal comes to Cleveland this weekend still searching for its first win at Burke Lakefront Airport. Since the team was founded as Rahal/Hogan Racing in 1992 the best finish for the Team Rahal car was Kenny Brack's second in 2000.

Bobby Rahal won the first ever Cleveland Grand Prix in 1982 for is inaugural Champ Car win. For Rahal, who was born in nearby Medina, the race holds special meaning both personally and professionally.

A side benefit for Team Rahal is since they are the only Ohio based Champ Car team, they enjoy increased fan support at Burke Lakefront. "Cleveland is always a special race for Team Rahal, because we are basically the home team," aid Michel Jourdain. "I was really surprised last year at all the fan support we had from the crowd just because we were Team Rahal. I know a lot of the Columbus fans travel to Cleveland, and with Bobby being from Cleveland the town has adopted Team Rahal as the local team. It is always great to go to the track and see the Gigante and Team Rahal shirts and to have the fans cheer for you. Of all the races we have in the US, Cleveland and Mid-Ohio are Team Rahal's tracks. The only places I saw more Gigante shirts last year was in Mexico."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Kenny Brack , Michel Jourdain