An interview with Team Rahal'S Jimmy Vasser. Merrill Cain: Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We are joined today by the latest winner in the CART FedEx...
An interview with Team Rahal'S Jimmy Vasser.
Merrill Cain: Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We are joined today by the latest winner in the CART FedEx Championship Series, Jimmy Vasser, driver of the #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Team Rahal. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
Jimmy Vasser: Thanks for having me.
Merrill Cain: Jimmy captured Sunday's 500 presented by Toyota at California Speedway in record fashion, winning the race with an average speed of 197.995 miles per hour, which shattered the mark for the fastest 500-mile race in open-wheel history. The win was Jimmy's second at California Speedway following his victory there in 1998, and the win was the 10th of his CART career, moving him into a tie for 10th on the all-time victory list in CART with Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and his former teammate Juan Montoya. Congratulations on a great race and tremendous weekend for Team Rahal. This was Team Rahal's first 500-mile victory despite the fact that the team has dominated several of the 500-mile events in past CART seasons. How satisfying was this win for the team and for you personally? Does this weekend's performance help put to rest some of the trying moments the team has had this season?
Jimmy Vasser: Absolutely. So much work goes into winning races for the race team. The team won six races last year. I find it hard to believe that they hadn't won a 500-mile race, especially as dominant as they have been over the last few years. It certainly is very satisfying. Also taking the pit crew challenge, Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge on Friday, the team really takes that seriously. I think it shows. To have a weekend like that where we could attain a couple goals like that with the pit stop thing and then the race, it's obviously a good weekend for us.
Merrill Cain: You mentioned the pit crew challenge that was decided on Friday. $50,000 and a nice Waterford crystal trophy. That's the second year in a row for the #8 team. How much confidence does that give you knowing you have the top crew in CART behind you and you're going to make up time in the pits?
Jimmy Vasser: Yeah, obviously it's an added bonus. It's really cool. Those guys take it seriously. Quickest on pit lane virtually all season long. It certainly gives you an extra boost of confidence when you come down, particularly under yellow flag conditions, pit lane is all bunched up. You know you're going to come out of that at least picking up a spot or retaining your lead.
Q: All of your previous wins had come with Chip Ganassi. Obviously you were competitive last year with Patrick. Obviously could have won this year at Long Beach with Team Rahal. What does it mean to you personally to put your name up there on the winner's board with another team?
Jimmy Vasser: I mean, nobody wants to go all season long - two seasons for that matter - without winning a race. I feel bad that I didn't win a race with Patrick, although I felt like I could have. I was dreading not winning a race this year with Rahal. Last year when I came to the team, the Christmas party, there was a big ceremony. They got all these new banners that they hung from the ceiling in their beautiful new shop of all the race wins over the years. They basically started the tradition last year, hung all these banners with all these great victories. Rahal, Herta, Papis, Brack. I was bumming thinking about not hanging up a banner at Christmas time for the race team. At least now we have one to hang.
Q: Again, setting a new record speed.
Jimmy Vasser: That to me is just a product of how many yellows. Record speed, it sounds cool and all that. It was nice. The one thing that's nice about that is there weren't a lot of wrecks and nobody got hurt.
Merrill Cain: With the 500-mile race, and Michael (Andretti) brought this up towards the end of the press conference on Sunday, as well, you're able to go wheel to wheel with these guys, you're having a lot of trust in these guys. Michael was very open about the fact that he was proud of the way the guys handled it, such a clean race. That's a testament to the fact you set the fastest 500-mile race in history. Talk about racing with these guys, what it takes to do that at 230 miles per hour wheel to wheel.
Jimmy Vasser: Certainly you have to have trust in them. There's a lot of lead changes, a lot of moments where you're in a pack of cars, very close together. Everybody did a fantastic job, like Mike said. The cars are very, very fast. The speeds that you're traveling, it could be dangerous in the wrong situation. Everybody at this level is very accomplished and very good at what they do. I echo what Mike said. I never had a moment where I really was unhappy with the way the guys were driving. Everybody I thought gave everybody else some room and still raced hard. At the end of the day, I really don't expect anything different from the Champ Car drivers.
Q: Talk for a moment about when the red flag condition came. As you sat in the car, what was going through your mind?
Jimmy Vasser: It was a little bit reminiscent. I knew the restart was going to come. Not long before they told me there was going to be a green, white, checker. I thought I was in the better position, much like on the restart, I don't know what lap it was, maybe 15, somewhere between 10 and 15. Michael was in the same position I was. It's more advantageous to be in second. You get the tow from the lead car. I was really confident that if I did everything I was supposed to do, I'll have a good run on him and should be able to take the lead going into Turn 1. Then it was just a matter of keeping my foot down through 1 and 2, if I had any chance at all to keep Mike from passing me back. Those are the thoughts that were going through my mind. Like I began to say, it was a little bit reminiscent of '98 with Greg Moore at the end of the race.
Q: Then when you made the pass, after you got the run on him, could you feel the car kind of like pull past him? What were the emotions at that point? Knowing you, I could not believe you would go another year without winning. That had to be flashing through your mind.
Jimmy Vasser: Well, I mean, you have to take what you get, right? Sometimes you win, a lot of times you don't. Most times it seems like you don't. I mean, it's a great feeling to take the lead in a motor race, particularly in the closing stages. It's the greatest feeling to win the race. It's the greatest feeling that you can have in racing, is to win a race, particularly when you haven't been winning, and your guys have been working so hard. Obviously, it's very emotional. It's a great feeling.
Q: What did Bobby say to you when he leaned down in the car in the winner's circle?
Jimmy Vasser: I don't know exactly word for word. "Great job, Babe," stuff like that. He was very excited. Just like anybody else, he's a racer - more than most people on the team. You know that. He wants to win big time.
Q: You commented at the track that your situation wasn't settled for your future. Has the win stirred any more interest and changed that at all since the race?
Jimmy Vasser: Well, I think it always helps to win a race. But I hope that things aren't that fickle, that it takes a race win to get all the deals done. But there were some good things going on for me before the race, and now I believe there's at least as good a chance, if not better, after the race. Things are moving forward, not at a break-neck pace. Nobody likes to take their uncertainties too far into November or December really when you're talking about racing programs. Things are moving forward.
Merrill Cain: A comment on the Ford engine's performance, specifically this weekend. Second week in a row that the Fords have produced two of the top three finishers in the race with yourself coming up with a victory, Patrick Carpentier finishing third. It seems like the Fords were very strong this weekend. Can we get your comments on that?
Jimmy Vasser: The Ford was very strong this weekend. The Ford has been strong particularly on superspeedways for quite some time. I guess I could say I was a little bit surprised at how strong it was. I thought that the Toyota and Honda have been making some gains against the Ford all year long. I think research and development money hasn't been spent as much as it has been on the Toyota and the Honda. I was kind of thinking maybe we were going to be a little farther down on power than we were. It turned out that it didn't seem like we were down on power at all. Ford really seems to like to run, has good legs, likes to run wide open. I was pleasantly surprised to have a very powerful and very reliable Ford engine all day long.
Merrill Cain: Next year a lot of people have speculated whether it's a good thing or not that it will be an exclusive engine supplier in CART. What are your thoughts with the Cosworth engine coming back for the next two seasons for CART?
Jimmy Vasser: I think it's the right thing for the series, for sure, especially at this point. Evening out the playing field, making it a little more financially feasible for the teams is a great thing. It's a great power plant. What they do with the resources they have is amazing. I think they do a phenomenal job.
Q: You've been in the sport a long time. Still you probably had to shake your head and go, "What a sport," when you go from Australia upside down to winning the next week. Were you thinking: "Weirdest sport on the planet"?
Jimmy Vasser: I don't know about "weird," but it certainly takes you on a rollercoaster ride. I've been through the gamut of emotions before with this sport. It never ceases to amaze me. Just when you think you can expect what's going to happen, the unexpected happens. I'm on the moon really. It's great to not only win races, but to particularly when they haven't come for a while. It's a great feeling to win. Last weekend, it was a crazy race. Everybody's got a story about it. That was a day that I'll never forget.
Q: The problem with racing is you can only be on the moon for about 10 minutes, then you have to think about the next race.
Jimmy Vasser: That's right. Everybody reminds you you're only as good as your last race. Lucky for me I've got two weeks to bask in it. Mexico City I think is going to be a fantastic event with what we're hearing about the enthusiasm and the crowd numbers for the race. My teammate, (Michel) Jourdain, I really hope he can win that race. Probably more than myself to win it, I think it would be a fantastic thing for him, Mexico and CART.
Merrill Cain: A crowd expected between 300,000 to 400,000 for the weekend, 250,000 on race day. As a driver, do you sense that? Does it mean more to you to have a screaming throng of fans like that? What does it makes you feel like that when you see that?
Jimmy Vasser: Before you get in the car, you look up in the stands, you see a half empty crowd, nothing worse than that. We play to the energy, too. I mean, when there's a lot of people there, the energy's high, that's a great feeling for the drivers. I think I can speak for everybody, we look forward to that situation come Mexico City.
Merrill Cain: How important is it for you to turn in a strong performance at the final race? You said you don't know what's going on for next season yet. You want to go out on a strong note for Team Rahal in front of a great amount of fans in Mexico City.
Jimmy Vasser: I think I've been putting in strong performances all year long. I think I'm driving very well. Just because it doesn't have a victory next to it, it doesn't mean that myself or the team hasn't put in a strong performance in my mind. But I think having a result like that, it certainly doesn't hurt. People want to be associated with race winners. I could tell you I've driven my ass off all season long. Sometimes you get sixth or seventh, and the phone's not really ringing off the hook. You win a race, all of a sudden your long-lost buddies are calling up.
Merrill Cain: You didn't realize how many relatives you had?
Jimmy Vasser: Buddies and people in the business, as well. The relatives are pretty consistent. It's the other people I'm talking about.
Merrill Cain: Over the course of the weekend, one of the announcements that CART did make was the Stars of Tomorrow, adding some life into the program, going to give some good young karters an opportunity to get into the ladder system where we see them develop and move up into the Champ Cars eventually. What do you think the importance of that is? You were a karter back from the early days, came up through the ranks. Would it have helped you to have a clearer path to go from one ladder to the next?
Jimmy Vasser: Absolutely. Actually, I wasn't a karter, I did quarter midgets. But go-karting, it's a great starting point for racers that are going to be move on to CART or any other kind of racing. I think it's a proactive move on CART's behalf. I applaud it. There's a lot of junior formula and younger racing series that need help. I applaud CART's move to continue with the program.
Merrill Cain: We hope to see some of these young guys moving up in the Champ Cars. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. We wish you congratulations on a great win at California Speedway last weekend. We will see you in Mexico City in about a week.
Jimmy Vasser: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: We will remind you the Champ Cars will return to action on November 17th in Mexico City for the Gran Premio Telmex/Gigante presented by Banamex/Visa. Thanks for all who participated in today's phone call and have a great afternoon.