Team Rahal seeks to continue its oval success. HILLIARD, OH . . . With both Michel Jourdain Jr. and Jimmy Vasser in the top-six of the 2002 CART championship, Team Rahal will travel half-way around the world this week for the third race of the...
Team Rahal seeks to continue its oval success.
HILLIARD, OH . . . With both Michel Jourdain Jr. and Jimmy Vasser in the top-six of the 2002 CART championship, Team Rahal will travel half-way around the world this week for the third race of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series, the Bridgestone Potenza 500 at Twin Ring Motegi Raceway in Japan. Having garnered three top-five results in the first two races, including a runner-up result for Vasser in the Shell car at Long Beach, Team Rahal now returns to the ovals where the team carved out a dominating slate of results during the 2001 season.
In the eight oval races run during the 2001 season, Team Rahal won four races and finished second four times. The only oval race in 2001 in which Team Rahal failed to capture a podium result was the Michigan 500, a race where both the Team Rahal cars consistently ran at the front of the field and combined led 137 laps led before contact between the cars left the team with a pair of DNF's. Among the four oval wins in 2001 was a breakthrough win for then Shell drive Kenny Brack at Twin Ring Motegi in April of 2001.
With two new drivers this season the challenge for the team is to continue to carry the momentum that was established last season. "If you look at the season Team Rahal had on the ovals last year is was incredible," said Jimmy Vasser the 1996 CART champion and winner of five oval races during this Champ Car career. "This team has been as strong as any in the series on the ovals over the past few seasons and because of that strength we focused the majority of our off season testing on the road courses. During our one oval test we were very fast and the whole program seemed to have picked up where it left off at Fontana."
Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. collected his first CART podium result on an oval at Michigan last year when he finished third. "In 2001 Team Rahal ran at the front on the ovals every time," said Jourdain who is currently third in the CART championship with 22 points. "With a bit of luck or a break or two Team Rahal honestly could have won every oval last year, they were that good. It feels great to be going to a race knowing that I will be running a Team Rahal car rather than against them."
"We have taken a lot of pride in what this team was able to accomplish last year, but that was last year," said three-time CART champion Bobby Rahal "I think all the ingredients are in place for this team to have similar if not greater success this season. If you look at the first couple of races, Jimmy and Michel have run up front and the Ford-Cosworth engine has proven it is a championship engine. Success on the ovals put us in the championship hunt last season, but consistency week after week is what will win the championship."
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. LOOKING AT A BREAKOUT YEAR
Bobby Rahal told the gathered press in Mexico City that he had found "a diamond in the rough" when Michel Jourdain Jr. was announced as the driver of Team Rahal's Gigante car in January. After two races of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series that "diamond in the rough" is shining brightly with a pair of top-five results and third place standing in the CART championship.
Entering the 2002 season Jourdain's career high in points was 30, set last season with Bettenhausen Motorsports, and the 25-year-old Mexican had collected one top-five result, a third place finish at Michigan last season. In just two races this year, Jourdain finished fourth at Mexico and fifth at Long Beach, posting back-to-back top-five results for the first time his Champ Car career. He enters this week's race in Japan with 22 points and the opportunity to set a new career high in points three races into the season.
"The opportunity to drive for Team Rahal has been a wonderful experience," said Jourdain. "We have enjoyed a little success the first couple of races but I feel like we have the potential to do even better. I am still getting to know the team and get familiar with how they do things. Remember I only had a four days of testing prior to the first race."
The thing that has impressed me the most about Michel is his maturity," said Rahal. "There was a lot of pressure on Michel at the first race with a new sponsor in Gigante and racing in his home country, but he responded to the challenge. At Long Beach he drove another smart race and moved right up through the field. With a bit of luck he might have been on the podium, but to bring home another top-five result was a classic case of knowing what his car could deliver and maximizing the points. "
A FEELING OF DÉJÀ VU FOR JIMMY VASSER
Two new drivers and a smattering of new faces led some to believe that there would be an adjustment period for Team Rahal at the start of the 2002 CART season. Instead the team has charged from the gate grabbing three top-five results in two races including a runner up result for Vasser at Long Beach.
The retooled Shell team with Jimmy Vasser in the Ford-Cosworth powered Lola which features Bridgestone tires, and the Gigante team with Michel Jourdain Jr. have clicked creating what Vasser feels is an atmosphere that will breed success. "The atmosphere at Team Rahal reminds me of the atmosphere at Ganassi when we won all those championships in the late 90s," said Vasser, the 1996 champion. "When a team gets on a roll and pulls together a lot of good things can happen. The spirit of this team and the way things are falling into place makes me thing we can mount a serious challenge for the championship. The key is consistency. Week in and week out we have to score points. We [Shell team] put ourselves in a bit of a hole at Monterrey but coming back with the strong weekend at Long Beach has helped us a lot.