This Week in Ford Racing June 1, 2004 Champ Car World Series Mexico's Michel Jourdain entered the 2004 Champ Car season with expectations of challenging for the series championship after posting strong campaigns in both 2002 and 2003.
This Week in Ford Racing
June 1, 2004
Champ Car World Series
Mexico's Michel Jourdain entered the 2004 Champ Car season with expectations of challenging for the series championship after posting strong campaigns in both 2002 and 2003. However, the surprise departure of Team Rahal from Champ Car shortly before the season-opener in Long Beach left Jourdain scrambling for a new team before RuSport stepped up and added him to their first-year Champ Car operation. Returning this weekend to Milwaukee, the site of his first career Champ Car win, Jourdain reflects on that weekend a year ago and talks about his decision to stay in Champ Cars.
Michel Jourdain - No. 9 Gigante Ford
YOU EXPERIENCED PERHAPS THE MOST TURBULENT OFFSEASON OF ALL THE CHAMP CAR DRIVERS THIS SEASON, LEAVING TEAM RAHAL SO LATE AND MOVING TO RUSPORT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW ALL THOSE EVENTS CAME ABOUT?
"After season preview in Long Beach, Team Rahal decided to leave Champ Car and I decided to stay for many reasons. I do believe in Champ Car's philosophy in terms of the technical package and the fact that we race on a variety of different tracks like street courses, road courses and ovals. I like all of that much more and I do think it's the proper way to go racing. It was also very important to me that I race in Mexico because that's where my sponsor is and that's where my fans are. So once I made the decision to stay in Champ Car I had to look for a team, and while I had a couple of different opportunities, to me what RuSport did last year in Atlantics was very impressive. I talked to a lot of people in the paddock who know about the team and everybody thought very highly of their operation and I was sure they would come into Champ Car and do a very good job. A.J. (Almendinger) is a very good driver, they have the right people working there and they have the right mentality to be successful. Once I committed to joining them I knew it was going to be difficult because it was just three weeks before the first race and we had to get new cars and hire a bunch of guys for my crew, so just to make it to Long Beach was amazing."
HOW DIFFICULT A DECISION FOR YOU WAS IT TO CUT YOUR TIES WITH TEAM RAHAL AND STAY IN CHAMP CAR?
"Well, it was not easy because of Team Rahal. I had never experienced a lot of success until I joined with them two years ago. They understood me, they knew what I liked, what it took to give me a winning car and I became part of a big family with them, so that's what made it so difficult to leave them. But on the other hand, I had to weigh the pros and cons of staying in Champ Car and for me that was the right decision. Now I have a new challenge on my hands and I think driving in Champ Car is what I enjoy the most."
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT RUSPORT AND OWNER CARL RUSSO. THEY'VE EXPERIENCED A LOT OF SUCCESS IN ATLANTICS, BUT PEOPLE DON'T REALLY KNOW A LOT ABOUT HIM AND HIS OPERATION.
"I think what impresses me the most about Carl (Russo) is that just talking to him gives you so much confidence. He has so much confidence in himself and his people and he knows exactly where he wants to go and how he wants to get there. He's committed to getting the best people and the giving them the best tools to get the job done. He wants the best equipment, the best engineering staff and that's what gave me the confidence to join the team."
THAT BEING SAID, HAS IT BEEN FRUSTRATING FOR YOU THUS FAR? THE PROGRAM CAME TOGETHER SO LATE AND YOU'VE BEEN STRUGGLING TO CATCH UP TO THE OTHER TEAMS.
"What makes it so hard is that two or three months ago I thought I was going to come into Long Beach and dominate. Last year I had one of the best racecars that I've ever been in at that track or any other track I've raced on. My car was so dominating there that I had no doubt in my mind that I would come off the truck this year, put the car on pole and dominate the race, but unfortunately it didn't work out that way. In Monterrey (Mexico) I think we had some good ideas on how to make the car better, so I'm just working on improving the car from race to race. I thought we would be very difficult to beat for the championship, but once you are in the car I knew how good my car felt a year ago in Long Beach and it was a difficult weekend. But at the end of the weekend I realized that this is a new challenge and whatever happens this year I'll have to work hard and take what I've learned in the past to improve things."
RUSPORT HAS SHOWN ITSELF TO BE A GOOD TEAM IN ATLANTICS AND YOU HAVE TO FEEL CONFIDENT THAT THEY CAN BE SUCCESSFUL IN CHAMP CARS.
"Exactly. I am convinced that they will get it right very soon. When the race finished in Long Beach, the team was very discouraged because they were so used to winning and we didn't have a very good race. But they are here to win and they know they belong in Champ Car and sooner or later we'll put things together."
YOU'RE HEADING TO MILWAUKEE THIS WEEKEND WHERE YOU ABSOLUTELY DOMINATED LAST YEAR'S RACE TO CAPTURE YOUR FIRST CHAMP CAR VICTORY. CAN YOU REFLECT ON THAT NIGHT AND HOW IMPORTANT IT WAS FOR YOU?
"It's a funny track for me because in the past it had always been one of the worst races of the year for me. Every time I went to Milwaukee it was a nightmare. During the first practice last year the car was unbelievable and I remember coming in after a couple of laps and I was P-2 behind Paul Tracy. Well, I thought not too many guys have gone out yet and I'm sure I'll drop down. So I go out again and I'm P-1. Same thing, nobody must be going out, but by the end of the day I was still in P-1, which I thought was great. So I went out in the warm-up and I could put the car anywhere I wanted on the track. Inside, outside, it didn't matter; I was fast no matter where I went. I had a car that drivers only dream about having, especially on a short oval that I've struggled on in the past. And the race went perfectly. I could do whatever I wanted on the track and it's a weekend that I'll never forget. Now going back there this year I know that I'm not in that same situation. We went there a month ago to test and the team had never been to an oval with a Champ Car, so when we first went out the car wasn't very good. But the guys worked very hard while we were there and I think we made a lot of progress. We're still not where we were last year, but I think we're getting closer. We have some ideas on how to improve the car and like I had in Monterrey, I have no expectations going into the race and just want to work to make the car better. This is a learning experience for all of us, I'm learning how to work with the team, the team is learning to work with me and the team is learning about the Champ Car Series, and hopefully we'll be more and more competitive as the season goes on."
THE MILWAUKEE MILE IS THE FIRST AND LAST OVAL TRACK RACE OF THE SEASON. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? DO YOU ENJOY RUNNING ON THE OVALS?
"I like the ovals. When you have a good car, running on the ovals is the best. I got my first top-three qualifying result at Nazareth, I got my first podium finish at Michigan and I got my first win at Milwaukee, so when I've had good cars on ovals I've done pretty good. Last year I scored more points than anybody else on the oval tracks so I really enjoy them. When the car is good they are a lot of fun, so hopefully we'll have a good car this weekend. I think that the situation we are in right now it probably won't be as enjoyable as it was last year, but it's a good challenge and I'm looking forward to it."