CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana: Jimmy Vasser preview

Past Fontana winner Vasser ready for California Speedway; Shell driver survives wild Aussie race, team preps new car, VASSER COMES TO CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY FOLLOWING WILD AUSTRALIA RACE:   Jimmy Vasser is a little bruised and battered but ready...

Past Fontana winner Vasser ready for California Speedway; Shell driver survives wild Aussie race, team preps new car,


Jimmy Vasser is a little bruised and battered but ready for this Sunday's California Speedway 500-mile CART champ car race.  The Las Vegas veteran experienced one of the wild rides of his racing career last Sunday at Surfers Paradise, Australia when landed upside down at the start of the Honda Indy 300. The Shell driver was sliding sideways in the downpour on the streets of the Gold Coast city when his mount to struck in the side and flipped in the nine-car pileup.  "I was trying to keep a pace as we came down for the green flag," said Vasser on the first lap incident in Australia.  "But to be honest, I couldn't see anything because of the (water) spray.  As I went passed Start/Finish, I saw (Adrian) Fernandez' car right in front of me.  He must have checked up (braked) very early and I was maybe four to five feet from him when I saw his car.  I clipped him and got sideways.  I couldn't see and then someone hit me. The next thing I knew I was on my head sliding.  I could see Michael's (Andretti) car nose coming straight at me and I was thinking, 'Don't hit the cockpit'.  Luckily, he didn't get to me.  But there was crap flying everywhere.  It was just a matter of no visibility."  The Shell team was able to prepared the backup car quickly and Vasser restarted from his 11th spot.  A late pit stop, according to CART rules, saw Vasser go from third to 12th at the finish in one of the strangest races ever seen on the 23-year history of Championship Auto Racing Series.


Vasser has enjoyed some of his finest races on the fast two-mile California Speedway oval.  The Las Vegas veteran is hoping to continue his success in Fontana, Calif., when he brings Team Rahal's No. 8 Shell Ford Lola onto the 230 mile per hour banked track on Nov. 1-3 for the 500-mile CART champ car event.  Vasser, a nine- time CART winner, captured his eighth career victory in 1998 in the Target/Chip Ganassi car after placing second in 1997.  Since the win Vasser has also placed fifth (1999) and ninth earlier this year in the Indy Racing League race at California Speedway.  Vasser, who has had an up-and-down CART season in the Shell machine, has climbed back up the FedEx points after a mid-season he would like to forget.  The current Shell driver comes to Fontana as one of the favorites after Team Rahal's strong run in last year's 500-mile race at California Speedway.  Max Papis missed victory by inches in the Team Rahal in 2001 and Kenny Brack led the most laps at Fontana in 2000.  "The Fontana race should be a wild one with the Handford Wing on our cars," said Vasser, who has also won on ovals at Homestead, Michigan, Milwaukee and Nazareth.  "Team Rahal has been strong in recent years at Fontana and Todd (Bowland, Vasser's engineer) helped Christian (Fittipaldi) win there two years ago.  So I think we'll have a very strong car for California Speedway.  I'm sure Toyota and Honda will go all out to be very fast there.  But our Ford engine is strong and reliable.  You have to get to the end at that place."


The Hilliard, Ohio operation owned by three-time CART champion Rahal and television icon Letterman has been successful at California Speedway in the past years but has won the race.  Last year's Papis finished inches behind winner Cristiano da Matta and the Italian dominated the race in 1999 before placing second to Adrian Fernandez.  In 2000, Brack led the most laps before an engine problem forced him out. Rahal made his final career start at Fontana in 1998.


Vasser has fond memories of his races at California Speedway including his exciting win in 1998.  "That win was pretty wild since I was racing against Alex (Zanardi, Vasser's teammate) and Greg (Moore, who was fatal injured the following year at Fontana)," said Vasser.  "We swapped the lead back and forth and I was able to get by Greg at the checkered flag. Looking back now that was a very special race.  I remember it was Bobby's (Rahal) last race too.  In the truck that went around the track after the race, we had Alex (third), Greg (second), Chip (Ganassi, Vasser's team owner), Bobby and David Letterman (Rahal's partner). That was very special to think about that ride around the track now. Obviously, a lot of things have happened since that victory lap and now I'm driving for Bobby and David.  I'd like to give them a win at Fontana this year."


Rahal may have retired from active CART competition in 1998 with 24 wins, 18 pole positions and three championships.  But the 49- year-old racing legend hasn't hung up his Bell Helmet just yet.  In fact, Rahal spent three weekends in September competing in vintage races in England, Belgium and France. "It was a great experience for me," said Rahal, who'll be back in his team owner's capacity in the Miami event.  "I went to some tracks I had never raced before and it was a tremendous opportunity to meet some legendary racing people. We drove at Goodwood (England), then Spa in Belgium and finally at LeMans."


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta