MOTEGI, JAPAN - FRIDAY, MAY 18, 2001 -- Round ...
MOTEGI, JAPAN - FRIDAY, MAY 18, 2001 -- Round #5 of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series - Patrick Racing's Jimmy Vasser qualified 21st while teammate Roberto Moreno will line-up 23rd for tomorrow's Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, in Motegi, Japan.
Vasser, driving the #40 Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, began the day 26th on the combined speed charts with a time of 26.945 seconds (206.821 mph) following Thursday's two practice sessions. In today's morning practice, which was run in two groups based on championship points, Vasser, who ran in the second group, made significant progress improving his time to 26.520 seconds (210.136 mph). Unfortunately, several other drivers also improved their times so Vasser was only able to jump four places on the final speed charts turning the 22nd fastest practice time of the weekend. In qualifying, which on ovals is run in inverse order of the championship points, Vasser went out 22nd of the 25 entrants and ran a fast lap of 26.600 seconds (209.504 mph).
"The Patrick Racing team is obviously disappointed with today's qualifying," Vasser said. "The team has worked very hard to improve the car, which we have done. The Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard handles very well, and I think we have a good race car, we are just lacking overall speed. We are going to have to sit down tonight and try and figure out some ways to get some more speed and then rely on race and fuel strategy to put us in a position to use it," Vasser noted.
In tomorrow's Firestone Firehawk 500, Vasser will be trying to extend several streaks. The talented and determined native of California has finished in the top-six in all three races this year improving his finishing position each race (sixth-Mexico, fifth-Long Beach, fourth-Nazareth). He is currently tied for third in the championship standings with 30 points and is one of six drivers to have completed every lap run this year. Vasser, who is competing at Motegi for the fourth time, will also be looking for his third points paying finish at Motegi having placed seventh in 1998 and 12th in 1999. He has scored points in 43 of his 58 (32 of last 39) oval races with 40 top-10 finishes, 21 top-five showings with 12 podiums and five wins. Vasser has finished 88 of his last 106 races placing in the points 84 times. A veteran of nine plus CART seasons, Vasser has 89 top-10 finishes including 26 podium showings, nine victories and seven poles in 150 CART starts.
Moreno, piloting the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, started the day 21st on the combined practice report with a time of 26.826 seconds (207.739). In this morning's practice, he also was able to improve his time running a quick lap of 26.667 seconds (208.977 mph). However, he still dropped three places on the final speed charts coming in 24th overall. In qualifying Moreno, who went out ninth, ran a quick lap of 26.800 seconds (207.940 mph).
"The Visteon/Patrick Racing team has improved the car over the last two days," Moreno said. "We have had to work hard to get the car balanced. Obviously, qualifying was not our strong point, but as usual, I think we have a pretty good race car. The car feels fine going around the track, we just have a lack of speed. We have to trim the car and get rid of some of the drag to make it faster for tomorrow's race. I think we have some good ideas on how to do that. Then, I will rely on Mr. Patrick and Jim McGee to devise a strategy that will get me into a position to be able to compete for the victory," Moreno concluded.
Moreno, who has finished the last two races in the points, 11th at Long Beach and 12th in Nazareth, is 16th in the championship standings with three points.
In tomorrow's race he will be looking for more of the good fortune he has experienced over the years in Japan. He started his first Formula One race (1987), earned his first F1 podium (1990) in Japan, and in his second race at Motegi, last year, finished third. The talented and personable Brazilian will also be looking to add to an oval record that has seen him score points in 12 of his last 15 oval races. The resident of Weston, Florida has finished in the top-10 in 18 of his last 36 starts and in the points 24 times.
Patrick Racing has several factors going for it in tomorrow's race. First is the proven ability of Patrick Racing owner Pat Patrick and General Manager Jim McGee's to strategize on ovals thus putting the team's car cars in a position to compete for victories. Second, the team's history of success on ovals, including five points paying finishes, with four top-10 showings, three podium finishes and two victories in six starts at Motegi (two per year for three years) is cause for confidence. Finally, pit stops, as always will play a key role in tomorrow's race and the fact that the #40 Patrick Racing crew tops the charts in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge competition bodes well for the team's chances to gain positions. All factors considered Patrick Racing's chances for a successful outcome in tomorrow's race are good.
The Firestone Firehawk 500 will be run on Saturday, May 19 at 12:30 p.m. (local time) and will be televised at 12:00 am (ET) on ESPN.