CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship Series Notebook 2002-01-31

CART FedEx Championship Series Happenings Notes And Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, January 31, 2002 With the opening of Sneak Preview at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca just one week away, a few more names have found their way onto the...

CART FedEx Championship Series Happenings
Notes And Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, January 31, 2002

With the opening of Sneak Preview at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca just one week away, a few more names have found their way onto the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series Entry List.

Team Rahal announced yesterday that veteran Champ Car driver Michel Jourdain Jr. has joined the team and will pilot the team's #9 Ford-Cosworth/Lola with sponsorship from Gigante Group, which is a leading self-service retail chain in Mexico. Jourdain, a 25-year-old native of Mexico City, enters his seventh season of Champ Car competition in 2002, and will join 1996 CART FedEx Championship Series champion Jimmy Vasser on the two-car team.

"Getting involved from the start with two great organizations like Gigante and Team Rahal is an amazing opportunity for me," Jourdain said. "It says a lot about Team Rahal and CART that a successful international company like Gigante, one that has never been in racing before, has started a racing program in the FedEx Championship Series. The chance to drive for Team Rahal is a dream come true. I have spoken to Bobby in the past about various opportunities, but this time everything came together and we have a deal. The chance to join the most successful team in CART from last year, and to drive with a great champion like Jimmy Vasser was the kind of opportunity I was looking for at this stage of my career. I am looking forward to helping the team fight for the championship in 2002."

Likewise, Team Rahal co-owners, three-time CART FedEx Championship Series champion Bobby Rahal and CBS LATE SHOW host David Letterman are excited to add Gigante and Jourdain to the team, and both look for Jourdain to have his most successful season to date in 2002.

"We are pleased to join in a partnership with Gigante, and to welcome Michel to our team," Rahal said. "Countless hours have gone into making this relationship come to fruition. One thing became abundantly clear as we worked on this partnership with Gigante, that this is a dedicated and driven group of individuals that has aggressive plans for growth throughout Mexico and the United States for their company. The fact that they have chosen the international appeal of CART, a North American-based racing series, to market their product speaks volumes about the appeal of CART and the strength of the schedule for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series.

"Michel has made great strides over the last couple of seasons, and I think he is poised to break through as one of the young stars of this sport. Having a teammate like Jimmy Vasser will be a great benefit to him. The opportunity to be a part of a two-car team that led the series in wins last season, and being able to take advantage of Team Rahal's status as the Ford-Cosworth factory team makes this an ideal situation for Michel."

"It's a pleasure to welcome a talented young driver like Michel and an aspiring new sponsor like Gigante to the team," added Letterman. "Team Rahal is unique in having developed long-standing partnerships with its sponsors over the years. I hope that today is just the start of a long, mutually-beneficial relationship between Gigante and Team Rahal."

While Team Rahal enters 2002 with an all-new lineup, the driver who won two races for the team in 2001, Max Papis, has joined second-year CART FedEx Championship Series competitors Sigma Autosport. The team announced last week that the Italian, who has three career Champ Car victories on his résumé, will pilot the #22 Sigma machine for 2002.

"We are very happy to have Max come on board with Sigma," said team owner Tom Wieringa. "Having Max on the team, coupled with other recent enhancements, positions us with a chance to win the CART title. His background and talent will help the team through the promising season."

Never one to hold his emotions back, Papis was understandably delighted to be chosen by Sigma and he is excited about his prospects for the upcoming season.

"Since I was a little kid, I dreamed about racing and winning, but I also imagined how and what tools were necessary to accomplish my goal," Papis said. "If today I can consider myself among an elite group of drivers that compete in one of the most prestigious world championships, it's because I was able to follow my path with will and dedication, believing in myself, my values, and always working for the team. I am glad to have found Tom Wieringa and his organization has a very similar mentality that I have. Sigma is a very young team with a lot of desire to be at the top of the game."

Before Papis joins Sigma and all of his friends in the CART FedEx Championship Series next week at Sneak Preview, he will compete against an all-star cast of drivers from different racing backgrounds in this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona. Papis qualified for the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in 1998 and recorded a third place finish teaming with Vasser and former CART competitor Stefan Johansson in 1999. Papis will drive this weekend for Doran Racing and recently posted the fastest time in testing at Daytona.

* FLYING SOUTH

* Sebring International Raceway was bustling with Champ Car activity last week as many teams took the opportunity to put some miles on their 2002 equipment packages at the Central Florida circuit last week, and a handful of drivers turned their first testing laps of the off-season. Among the drivers completing his first test was the winningest driver in CART history, Michael Andretti, who ran his first laps behind the wheel of the 2002 Team Motorola Honda/Reynard on Jan. 21. In two days of testing, Andretti completed 277 miles and the team reported a best lap time of 51.5 seconds. "It's always nice to regroup and have some time off after the season," said the '91 CART FedEx Championship Series champion. "But by the first week of January, I'm ready to get back on the race track and get to work. This was a very good first test. The Team Motorola guys did a great job in preparing the car, so we were able to get a lot of work done and I feel like it was a productive two days." While Andretti, an 18-year veteran of Champ Car wars, has had plenty of seat time, Patrick Racing rookie Townsend Bell climbed into the cockpit of his 2002 Toyota-powered Reynard for the first time last week as well. Bell made his Champ Car debut with Patrick Racing in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series events at EuroSpeedway in Germany and Rockingham Motor Speedway in England while he was winning the Dayton Indy Lights Championship with Dorricott Racing. He reportedly clocked a best lap of 51.58 seconds and logged approximately 300 miles in two days at Sebring as well. "The Visteon/Patrick Racing team had a very productive two days of testing at Sebring," Bell said. "We had a couple of minor teething problems, which is to be expected from a new car, but all in all it was a positive test. The reliability of the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard was outstanding. The Toyota engine continues to be very impressive from both a reliability and power standpoint. The new Reynard chassis is an evolution of what we had last year and all indications are that the updates and improvements are headed in the right direction. The major difference I notice between last year's car and this year's is the shifting on the new car has a more positive feel. Overall, it was a good two days."

* Others getting their first laps in 2002 equipment were Newman/Haas Racing competitor Cristiano da Matta, Target Chip Ganassi Racing second-year driver Bruno Junqueira, and owner/driver Adrian Fernandez. Da Matta claimed the unofficial fastest speed of the test, running a reported 50.6-second best lap. "The test was quite good--no, really good," da Matta said. "We ran almost 200 miles again on the second day. Lola made some good improvements with the car and the Toyota is strong. Compared to the first test I had last season, which was good, this one was much better. We are only starting to work with the car and understand it, but so far, so good." Target Chip Ganassi Racing claimed the unofficial second quickest time in the "high 50 second range" with Kenny Brack, while Team Rahal believed Vasser was also among the quickest at the test but did not report a time. Player's Forsythe Racing driver Alex Tagliani turned in what would be considered a competitive time with a best lap at 51.1 seconds, as did Mario Dominguez in the Herdez Competition Ford-Cosworth/Lola at 51.3 seconds.

* FAN PLANS COMING TOGETHER FOR SNEAK PREVIEW

* Several fan activities have been planned for the two days of on track activity during Sneak Preview next week at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The track is open to the public on Saturday, February 9 and Sunday, February 10 with a five dollar-per-carload charge to enter the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca grounds. Fans may gain paddock access by joining the CART Winners Circle Fan Club, and Fan Club members will be able to attend the All-Driver Autograph Session in the paddock at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday. Other activities planned for the Winners Circle Fan Club members include pit tours, drawings for CART Fast Laps pace car rides, and "tech talks" at CART Technical Inspection. Fans interested in joining the CART Winners Circle Fan Club may do so in person at Sneak Preview, by calling the WCFC hotline at (800) 356-5922, or on CART.com. The cost to join is $14.99 per person for residents of the United States, $19 for Canadian residents, and $29.99 for residents of any other country.

* MONTERREY TRACK ADDS BRIDGE

* Officials from CIE have announced that construction has begun on a second bridge over the pit straight at the Fundidora Park circuit in Monterrey, Mexico, which is set to host the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series opener on March 10. According to Rubén Saldívar, the director of the project, "the complete overhaul and checkup of the four existing bridges has been completed, and we already have in place the main structure of the fifth bridge, parallel to the existing one on the main straight." The bridge is expected to be nearly five meters wide, and could hold half a metric ton per square meter. The bridge is expected to be completed by February 9.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Mario Dominguez , Chip Ganassi , Tom Wieringa , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Doran Racing