CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Team Rahal preview

Jourdain searches for victory to complete his breakout season. HILLIARD, OH . . . Michel Jourdain Jr. has posted his finest Champ Car season in 2002, establishing career marks in points (105), top-five results (5), top-ten results (14) and...

Jourdain searches for victory to complete his breakout season.

HILLIARD, OH . . . Michel Jourdain Jr. has posted his finest Champ Car season in 2002, establishing career marks in points (105), top-five results (5), top-ten results (14) and posting a series best 17 race point streak.

At Fontana the point streak ended and his year long consecutive running finish streak ended when Jourdain suffered mechanical failure on lap 218. The 26-year-old-native of Mexico City led ten laps and was running third and appeared to be one of the few cars on the track that could challenge eventual winner Jimmy Vasser. Although his first podium appearance of the season and possibly his first CART victory eluded him, Jourdain feels Fontana was a positive for the Gigante team.

"We proved again that we can run up front, lead races and battle for the win," said Jourdain. "Considering everything that the crew went through after Australia, it was an incredible weekend for Team Rahal. After the first lap wreck we had three cars that were badly damaged. The two crews (Vasser's Shell crew and Jourdain's Gigante crew) worked together and rebuilt the cars. Not only id they do a fantastic job rebuilding the cars but they managed to put together two very competitive cars. Ford-Cosworth gave us a great engine and everything came together for the team. Team Rahal could have easily had two cars on the podium last week, but it wasn't meant to be. I started the year saying that my goal for this season was to win a race. We have one more chance to do that and what better place than here in Mexico City."

Jourdain didn't sign with Team Rahal until late January which left the newly formed Gigante team with precious little off season testing. The team pulled together and Jourdain posted top-five results in his first four races and found himself leading the CART championship following Milwaukee. It took Jourdain just nine races to surpass his career total for points and he well documented point streak established a Team Rahal record surpassing the streak of 11 straight set by Bobby Rahal during the final season of his legendary career.

"A lot of the so called experts questioned our decision to sign Michel back in January," said Rahal. "I don't see many of them questioning that decision now. I raced with Michel and I always felt that he had a great deal of ability, and that given the right circumstances he could be successful. It is easy to forget that Michel is only 26-years-old because he has been around this series since he was only 19. Young drivers tend to make mistakes but that is one of the great strengths I see in Michel is his patience and his ability to avoid mistakes. You just don't see young drivers put together a point streak like he had and finish every race over the course of a year. He has a great deal of experience having driven all those years, yet he still has a lot to learn. I think you are just beginning to see the best of Michel and in the years to come he is going to win his fair share of races."

VASSER FOCUSED ON FIFTH IN SEASON STANDINGS

Riding the momentum of his first victory of the season, Shell driver Jimmy Vasser heads to Mexico City with a chance to finish in the top-five in the championship. To claim his spot in the top-five Vasser will have to make up a ten-point deficit to Christian Fittipaldi this weekend.

Vasser climbed five spots in the CART standings thanks to the dominating victory at Fontana. Vasser led a track record 148 laps en route to posting the fastest 500-mile race win in history. The victory culminated a weekend in which Vasser's Shell pit crew also captured the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge championship.

Vasser has finished in the top-ten in six of the last seven races and has claimed a podium result in two of the last three events. Vasser has run his point streak to eight straight races after posting five DNF's in the first ten races.

"I was really happy to be able to give the crew guys a win after all they have been through the last few weeks," said Vasser. "The effort that all the crew guys at Team Rahal put in after Australia was amazing. We came back from Oz with three cars that were basically junk and that included both Shell cars. The crew did a fantastic job putting the things back together and giving us a competitive cars and all in a very short amount of time."

The win at Fontana snapped a 39-race winless streak (Houston 2000) for the 1996 CART champion. "It has been a long time coming," said Vasser as he reflected on the Fontana win. "We really haven't done anything different of late but we have been finishing races and scoring points and that has moved us right up in the points."

JOURDAIN READY FOR HOME RACE IN MEXICO CITY

The last time CART raced in Mexico City Michel Jourdain Jr. was five years old. In 1981 it was Michel Jourdain Sr. that the hometown Mexican fans were rooting for but on Sunday it will be the next generation of the racing Jourdain's, Michel Jr. that the fans will be watching.

Since Mexico City was added to the CART schedule last year, Jourdain Jr. has had an eye on this race. "It is an unbelievable feeling to be getting ready to race in the city I was born, that I've lived all my life, it's great," said the young Jourdain. "All my family lives here, all my friends, everything. To race on this track, which pretty much I was born here watching my dad race, all my uncles, then I started racing here myself. I raced in Mexico for seven years. Some years probably I raced 10, 15 times on this track. It's a very special feeling. Especially now to come and see the unbelievable job they have done on the track. This is the best track we're going to race in CART the whole year by far. The atmosphere will be something special. To have a city of 20 million people moving around an event, will be amazing. I'm just so proud to be a Mexican because of the track and the event. It's just great. "

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Michel Jourdain