CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca: Team Rahal preview

Points leader Jourdain hopes to build on Milwaukee momentum. HILLIARD, OH . . . It is deja vu for Team Rahal and Champ Car World Series points leader Michel Jourdain Jr. One year ago the Gigante driver left the Milwaukee Mile with the series ...

Points leader Jourdain hopes to build on Milwaukee momentum.

HILLIARD, OH . . . It is deja vu for Team Rahal and Champ Car World Series points leader Michel Jourdain Jr. One year ago the Gigante driver left the Milwaukee Mile with the series points lead and headed to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Starting the 2002 season with four top-five results in his first four races with Team Rahal vaulted the then 25-year-old native of Mexico City to the top of the points standings for the first time in his career.

Jump ahead 52 weeks and the scenario of Jourdain leaving Milwaukee with the points lead is accurate again. However, the Jourdain who leads the points in 2003 does so because of his on track dominance, not just his consistent finishing record.

The proverbial 800-pound gorilla is gone after Jourdain's dominating victory at the Milwaukee Mile a little over a week ago. The numbers from the cold Saturday night in Milwaukee tell a tale of dominance that put Jourdain alone in the CCWS record book. The Gigante car led an amazing 234 laps out of 250, the most by a driver in series history, topping the mark set by Nigel Mansell (222) in 1993 at Michigan. In capturing the win, Jourdain posted a series best fourth podium finish in 2003 and he took over the series lead in points (77) and laps led (282).

"The night at Milwaukee was perfect," said Jourdain. "After Long Beach I thought I would never have as good a car again, but once the Milwaukee race began I found I had an even better car than at Long Beach. To take over the points lead is a testament to all the hard work the Gigante team is doing. I have had a great car every week and that has allowed us to be competitive on track and to put ourselves in position to qualify well and race at the front."

Team owner Bobby Rahal has watched as Jourdain has matured from promising driver to championship leader and contender. "Anyone who has watched him dominate the races at Long Beach and Milwaukee knows that Michel is a contender for the championship," said Rahal. "I always thought that Michel had the ability and that all he needed was the right support group around him. Since the day he signed with Team Rahal he has made us look pretty smart. I couldn't be prouder of the job he and his team have done so far. With that in mind it is still early in the championship, and a lot of things can change between now and November, but if he can keep up the consistency he has displayed over the last year and a half he has a chance to win it."

Jourdain though knows that leading the championship after Milwaukee doesn't pay a single dollar of prize money or deliver any hardware for the mantle. "Sitting on top of the points right now means just as much as leading lap 50 at Long Beach. It is nice to say you did that but it doesn't mean anything . The only time it really matters to be on top of the points is when you are driving out of Fontana after the race. Don't get me wrong, it is better to be on top than behind at this point of the season, but I try not to get too excited about the points lead because we still have 13 races to go."

Jourdain's knows the key to staying on top of the points is to continue to produce the points paying results that have been his calling card over the last two seasons. Jourdain has posted points in 23 of the 25 races he has run for Team Rahal.

"We have to keep scoring points," acknowledges Jourdain. "Wins are great but podium results are the key. If you look back over the years it isn't always the guy who wins the most races who wins the championship, but the driver who is on the podium the most. We will race to win every week, but I also realize that the championship is like a marathon and that you have to take the points when they are available."


One of the keys for Jourdain in '03 has been his qualifying success. Through six races Jourdain's average starting position is fourth, as opposed to an average starting slot of 14th in 2002. Having started in the top-five in five of the six races has allowed 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.

In 2003, Jourdain has captured his first pole position (Long Beach) and he started on the front row on an oval for the first time (Milwaukee). As a result, Jourdain has posted a series best four podium finishes in 2003. A fifth podium finish and probable win escaped the young Mexican when his gearbox failed at Long Beach.

This week Jourdain has a chance to establish another personal best in qualifying. In his previous seven trips to Laguna Seca Raceway, Jourdain has never started better than eighth.


If there was a downside to Jourdain's win at Milwaukee it was that his parents (Michel Sr. and Patricia) were not there to share in the joy of their son's inaugural win. Moments after Jourdain climbed from the car he spoke with his Mom on a cell phone and later he chatted with his father.

"My dad is my hero," said Jourdain. "Some of the happiest memories that I have growing up were spent with my Dad at the track. He was always supportive of my efforts in racing and he never pushed me to get involved in the sport. My Mom was worried that I felt like I had to be a racer, and although I tried other sports I always came back to racing."


Mid Ohio Sports Car Course or his self described "favorite course" Elkhart Lake's Road America are often the tracks associated with three-time series champion Bobby Rahal. However, it is Laguna Seca where Rahal has crafted his greatest success. Seven times as a driver and an owner, Rahal has taken home the winner's trophy.

Team Rahal and Rahal himself have won at Laguna Seca every way from the dominating manner of Rahal and Bryan Herta in 1998 and 1999 to the fuel strategy run of Max Papis in 2001.

"I have always loved running at Laguna Seca," said Rahal. "It is truly one of the great race tracks in the United States and that fact that I have had some success here as a driver and owner hasn't hurt my fondness for the track."


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 25 races with Team Rahal, Jourdain has posted points 23 times. He has collected nine top-five results and 19 top-ten finishes. Only twice in the previous 25 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 Laguna Seca as the series leader in points (77), podium results (4), laps led (282), and is second in laps completed (842) and miles logged (1,298).


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta , Nigel Mansell , Michel Jourdain