CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Target heads for Motoegi, Japan

What: Firestone Firehawk 500, round four of the 20-race CART FedEx Championship Series. When: Race - Saturday, May 15 (1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Eastern on ABC-TV) Practice - Thursday, May 13. Qualifying - Friday, May 14. Where: The 1.549-mile...

What: Firestone Firehawk 500, round four of the 20-race CART FedEx Championship Series.

When:   Race - Saturday, May 15 (1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Eastern on ABC-TV)
Practice - Thursday, May 13.  Qualifying - Friday, May 14.

Where: The 1.549-mile oval in Motegi, Japan.

History:        Juan Montoya started 13th and finished 15th at Motegi in
1999.  Jimmy Vasser started 12th and finished 12th last year. 

Motegi, Japan -- Team Target driver Jimmy Vasser, whose two consecutive podium finishes have vaulted him to second place in the CART point standings, heads to the Firestone Firehawk 500 in Motegi, Japan with the opportunity to take his first points lead since he claimed the CART championship in 1996.

Trailing series points leader Paul Tracy 48-42, Vasser boasts eight top-five finishes in his last 11 races, dating back to the 1999 Grand Prix of Detroit. According to Vasser, his success is the result of a positive attitude, hard work and a little luck.

"When we struggled early in the 1999 season, I was very impressed with our team's attitude," Vasser said. "Everyone was disappointed, but no one gave up. We started to get some breaks toward the end of the year, and that has carried over into this season. The crew and car are performing very well and, as we found out late in the race in Rio, luck might be on our side this season."

With 10 laps remaining in the Rio 200, race leader Alex Tagliani spun in the middle of the track, kicking up a thick cloud of smoke. Vasser, two cars behind Tagliani, couldn't see through the smoke, but he guessed correctly and was able to avoid the rookie's car. Team Target/Japan.../3

"Sometimes luck is the difference between a good season and an average season," Vasser said. "I'm hoping our luck continues and we can make up a little more ground on Paul (Tracy) in Japan. I'm looking forward to this trip. I haven't had a great deal of success in Japan, but the way the Toyota-Lola is performing, we feel we can win anywhere."

Team Target's Juan Montoya is hoping that a little of his teammate's luck will rub off on him. Through the first three events of the 2000 CART FedEx Championship Series, Montoya has yet to finish a race. That's as many scoreless races as he had all of last season (Japan, Toronto and Australia). "This isn't how I hoped to start the new millennium," said Montoya, who has qualified third or better in each race this year, including a pole position at the snowed-out event in Nazareth. "The way the car has run in testing and during qualifying, it's a surprise that I have had trouble during the races. I feel like we can get right back into it with a couple good races. We're ready to get back to the podium."

Although Montoya failed to score a point in Japan in 1999, the second-year driver from Colombia is confident he can turn his season around at the 1.549-mile oval in Motegi.

"I really liked the track in Japan last year even though I didn't finish in the top 10," Montoya said. "The speeds were high and that new track was perfect. I'm looking forward to my second chance to race there and my next chance to get some points and jump up in the standings."

With one driver struggling and one driver flirting with the points lead, team owner Chip Ganassi believes it's too early to make predictions about the season.

"There's still a lot of racing to be done," Ganassi said. "You can't really tell what's going to happen until at least halfway through the season. Jimmy is looking great and he's only going to get more comfortable with that car. Juan is a great driver and you know he's going to be a driver to contend with before this thing's all over. Fortunately, I'm not a betting man, because I have no idea how this season will end up."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Chip Ganassi