CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Jimmy Vasser preview

Fontana winner Vasser looks for winner's circle again; Shell driver ready to score another victory at Mexico City. VASSER'S IMPRESSIVE FONTANA DOUBLE WIN KEEPS SHELL TEAM READY FOR MEXICO: Jimmy Vasser, coming off a record-setting victory at...

Fontana winner Vasser looks for winner's circle again; Shell driver ready to score another victory at Mexico City.


Jimmy Vasser, coming off a record-setting victory at California Speedway when he recorded the fastest speed in a 500-mile oval race at 197.995 miles per hour, hopes to continue his winning ways when he takes the No. 8 Shell Ford Lola to Autodrome Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City for the Mexico Gran Premio this weekend (Nov. 15-17). The race will conclude the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series and is expected to have the largest three-day attendance in CART history with some 400,000 spectators scheduled. Vasser led a track record 148 laps in his second Fontana win and easily topped the previous 500-mile record set in 1990 at Michigan Speedway by Al Unser Jr. of 189.727 m.p.h. The win marked the first victory for Team Rahal at California Speedway and the Ohio-based squad's first 500-mile triumph. Vasser's victory, his tenth career CART win, moved him to tenth on the all-time CART victory list with Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and his former teammate Juan Montoya. He also vaulted him from 11th to sixth in the current CART points with the final race at Mexico City. "So much work goes into winning races for the race team," said Vasser. "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 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."


Vasser's Shell crew captured the $50,000 Craftsman Pit Stop Challenge (Nov.1) for the second straight year by defeating the Newman-Haas teams of Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi in the pit crew shootout. "Obviously it's an added bonus," said Vasser. "It's really cool. Those guys take it seriously. They were the 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, and the 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."


Vasser isn't sure what to expect in the upcoming Mexico City race but he knows the fans will be enthusiastic. "Everybody reminds you you're only as good as your last race," said Vasser. "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. For 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. Before you get in the car, you look up in the (grand) stands, you see a half empty crowd, nothing worse than that. We play to the energy, too. 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 at Mexico City."


Vasser had not sipped victory champagne since October 3, 2000 in the streets of Houston but the Las Vegas veteran came back with a dominant showing at Fontana. "Nobody wants to go all season long - two seasons for that matter - without winning a race," said Vasser. "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 Team Rahal. At the team 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, Rahal, Herta, Papis, Brack. I was bumming thinking about not hanging up a banner."


Vasser's late pass of Michael Andretti was similar to his last lap pass of Greg Moore in 1998 to score his first California Speedway win. "I knew the restart was going to come," explained Vasser. "Not long before they told me there was going to be a green, white, checker. 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'd 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. It was a little bit reminiscent of '98 with Greg Moore at the end of the race."


Team owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman were elated with Vasser's 500-mile win, the first 500-mile victory for Team Rahal. "It's the greatest feeling to win the race," Vasser. "Your guys have been working so hard. Obviously, it's very emotional. It's a great feeling and I know Bobby and David were excited too. Bobby said, 'Great job, Babe' in the cockpit. He was very excited. Just like anybody else, he's a racer. He wants to win big time. David was very pleased too. He ran race highlights on his television show on Monday night. That's pretty cool."


Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta , Johnny Rutherford