HILLIARD, OH . . . The FedEx Championship Series moves to the Pacific Northwest this week for the GI Joe's 200 at the Portland International Raceway. When the Champ Cars take to the track Team Rahal drivers Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr....
HILLIARD, OH . . . The FedEx Championship Series moves to the Pacific Northwest this week for the GI Joe's 200 at the Portland International Raceway. When the Champ Cars take to the track Team Rahal drivers Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr. will be looking to pick up and carry the momentum of Team Rahal's victory last season at PIR. A year ago in adverse weather conditions Max Papis piloted the Miller Lite Ford-Cosworth Lola to victory. It was the third of six Team Rahal wins in 2001 and the first of two wins in 2001 for Papis.
The win was just the third podium result at PIR for Team Rahal which has had a car start from the top-five on six occasions since 1992, including each of the last four seasons. Twice Team Rahal has won the pole at PIR most recent being last year when Papis started from the front of the grid.
Shell driver Jimmy Vasser in particular has endured some frustrating times at Portland with just two top-ten results in ten previous starts at on the 1.969-mile road course. Vasser's biggest success came in 1995 when he started second and finished second. Vasser finished second behind Al Unser Jr. but was named winner when the Team Penske car failed the post race technical inspection. Following the appeal process Unser was eventually reinstated as the winner of the race stripping Vasser of what at the time was his first career victory.
Since then Vasser has posted just two points paying results at Portland (1998 & 1999). During Vasser's 1996 CART championship when he scored points in 15 of the 16 races, Portland was the only race in which he failed to produce a points paying result.
"It just seems like the worst things have happened to me at Portland," said Vasser. "I like the track and for a road course there are a couple of good opportunities to pass, but it always seems like something has gone south on me. The Shell car has been a very competitive car for the road courses so I feel we will be at the front and have the opportunity to score some solid points. Our team certainly has had our share of bad luck early in the season, but everyone is working hard and I feel like we are overdue for a breakout weekend."
Weather has often played a significant role at Portland. The 2001 race was run in a drenching rain that led to a track record nine cautions which resulted in 25 laps being run under yellow. "Last year was a pretty wild race," said Vasser. "It seems whenever we have some rain at Portland I end up in the middle of an incident."
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. CONTINUES TO POST CAREER BESTS
Gigante driver Michel Jourdain Jr. enters this weekend's race at Portland second in the CART championship with 46 points, just five points behind leader Cristiano da Matta. Jourdain has carved a spot for himself among the championship leaders by posting five top-ten results in 2002, including a series leading four top-five finishes. Jourdain has made the most of his chance with Team Rahal posting a career best outing at each of the five tracks CART has raced at in 2002.
Entering the 2002 season Jourdain had posted seven career top-ten results in 101 starts with three Champ Car teams. In five starts with Team Rahal Jourdain is five-for-five in top-ten results and he has posted four of his five career top-five results. Furthermore Jourdain collected 32 points in the season's first three races, which surpassed his previous CART high of 30 points in a season set last year. With 46 points in five races, Jourdain is on pace this season to triple his combined point total for his first six CART seasons (184-61).
"Being presented with an opportunity to drive for Team Rahal is one of the best things to every happen to my racing career," said the 25-year-old native of Mexico City. "From the beginning I have felt at home here. After about five minutes of talking to my engineer Ray Leto and my crew chief Ricardo Nault, I felt like I had been with Team Rahal all of my career. They really put me at ease. Don't get me wrong it is great to be second in the points, but this is only after five races. There is still a long way to go in the championship. My team still has a lot to accomplish this season and I feel like what we have already accomplished is just scratching the surface of our potential."
Jourdain has his work cut out for him this week at Portland if he is to continue his streak of improving his career mark at each track. In six career starts at Portland Jourdain has posted one points paying result, a 12th place finish in 1997.
"I really feel at home on the road courses and I think we will be very competitive at Portland this week," said Jourdain. "Jimmy [Vasser] and the team focused quite a bit of the off season testing program on the road and street courses and the team has been fast. I want to win but if I am not in a position to win then I will take all the points I can get."