Jourdain heads to Milwaukee looking for his first CART win. HILLIARD, OH . . . The early season success of Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. has been one of the developing stories of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season.
Jourdain heads to Milwaukee looking for his first CART win.
HILLIARD, OH . . . The early season success of Team Rahal's Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. has been one of the developing stories of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season. Although he joined Team Rahal less than six weeks prior to the 2002 season opener, Jourdain has posted three top-five results and enters this weekend's Miller Lite 250 second in the series championship just two points behind points leader Dario Franchitti.
Upon signing the 25-year-old Mexican, Team Rahal co-owner Bobby Rahal indicated he felt Jourdain was "a diamond in the rough," who given the right opportunity could flourish. "I have to admit even I have been surprised by how quickly Michel has adapted to the team," said Rahal. "Without the benefit of an extensive off season testing program, this kid has come in and excelled. He has shown a lot of patience in the first few races. He isn't forcing the issue. If he has a car that allows him to race for the win he will take advantage of that but if he only has a car for fourth or fifth place he will take those points. That is how you consistently score points and scoring points consistently is how you become a champion. I have no doubt that Michel is going to win races this year and he will be a factor as the championship plays out."
"I am very happy with the way the season has been going," said Jourdain. " I think we have done a good job of fighting for the front and I think we'll continue to do that all year. Talk of championships is a little premature only three races into the season. I feel like I have bonded with my team very quickly and while we have had some success, we aren't coming to the track each week to finish fifth. I want to win and I think we can achieve that this year."
Despite his downplaying of his lofty position in the points, one can't ignore that fact that in just three races this season Jourdain has already established a career high in points for a Champ Car season. In his previous six CART seasons and 101 starts, Jourdain had collected a total of 61 points and one top-five result, a third place finish in 2001 at Michigan. In three starts with Team Rahal Jourdain has 32 points and three straight top-five results.
"It has been like a dream since I joined the team in January," said Jourdain. "I have always felt that Team Rahal is one of the strongest teams in the paddock. Now we are heading to Milwaukee, a track that I haven't done well at in the past, but a track where Team Rahal won at a year ago. We had a very good test at Milwaukee a few weeks ago and so I feel very confident that we can have a good race on Sunday and score some points."
Three Champ Car drivers have won their first CART race with Team Rahal. Bryan Herta won his first CART race at Laguna Seca in 1998, Max Papis at Miami in 2000 and Kenny Brack at Motegi in 2001. Jourdain hopes to add his name to that list shortly.
'96 CHAMP VASSER LOOKS TO RESUME HIS TITLE CHASE
The 2002 season has been one of ups and downs for 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser. The Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola has been quick at each stop but twice Vasser has been victimized and with a DNF due to circumstances beyond his control.
Taking over the Shell ride, which propelled Kenny Brack to a second place finish in the championship in 2001, Vasser is considered a front-runner for the 2002 Championship. After three races he sits ninth in the points with 17 points, all earned during a stellar run at Long Beach in mid-April.
"We have to avoid DNF's and score points," said Vasser. "At Monterrey we had a great car but we got caught up in an incident that was someone else's fault. That is going to happen a couple of times a year and you hope that will be your only DNF's. At Motegi we were quick but we had an unusual mechanical failure with the buckeye on the fueling system. The one race we finished we could have won but we just caught an unlucky break on a yellow. We have been fast everywhere but we just have to keep the car on track."
During his championship season of 1996 Vasser became the first CART champ to finish every race. He posted points in 15 out of 16 events and captured the first of what would be four straight championships for Chip Ganassi Racing.
"Fortunately for us everyone of the points leaders except Michel has had a DNF or has failed to finish in the points this year. This is a key stretch for us. Team Rahal won the next three races on the schedule last year so we know we will have a strong car at each event. This is an opportunity for us to score some serious points and move up in the championship."
Vasser has a record of success at Milwaukee having won at the Milwaukee Mile in 1998. Four of the last five years Vasser has posted a top-seven result and the only exception being last season when he was running a strong third until he was taken out by a back-marker on lap 133.
RAHAL OPTIMISTIC ON TEAM RAHAL'S CHANCES
As the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series begins in earnest with six races in the next seven weeks, three time series champion Bobby Rahal likes what he sees on the horizon for the team that carries his name.
"The atmosphere around the team is really upbeat and I really like the way our driver combination has come together," said Rahal. "I know there were some skeptics at the start of the season with that fact we had two new drivers after we had so much success last season, but I think Jimmy and Michel have stepped in and have done a magnificent job. Jimmy especially has been a great help to Michel and I think he deserves some of the credit for how quickly Michel has adapted to the team."
"We lost some good people at the end of last season, but I think we have strengthened ourselves as well. I really like some of the new people we have brought into the program, people like Jimmy's engineer Todd Bowland who along with Tim Reiter who was my engineer and our Technical Director Ray Leto gives us three of the outstanding young engineers in open-wheel racing. Our goal at the start of the season was to pick up where we left off last season."