This Week in Ford Racing April 9, 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series Jimmy Vasser has enjoyed a great deal of success in the Grand Prix of Long Beach over his 10-year career. Driver of the Team Rahal No. 8 Shell Ford-Cosworth, Vasser has...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 9, 2002
CART FedEx Championship Series
Jimmy Vasser has enjoyed a great deal of success in the Grand Prix of Long Beach over his 10-year career. Driver of the Team Rahal No. 8 Shell Ford-Cosworth, Vasser has scored seven top-10 finishes in 10 career starts on the streets of Long Beach, highlighted by a victory in 1996 and top-five results in both 2000 [3rd] and 2001 [5th]. Although his debut race with Team Rahal ended in disappointment at Monterrey, Mexico, following a first lap incident with Paul Tracy, Vasser is confident in his and the team's ability to win races and contend for the championship this season.
JIMMY VASSER - No. 8 Shell Ford-Cosworth
TALK ABOUT HOW DISAPPOINTING IT WAS TO NOT EVEN COMPLETE A LAP IN THE FIRST RACE AT MONTERREY, MEXICO. "Well, it was a big disappointment, for sure. But I've been around long enough to know that you've got to roll with the punches and sometimes things happen that are beyond your control, but that's racing. On the positive side, the car ran great, the engine seems to have great power, and the team works well together, so we know that we have the tools necessary to win races and the championship. We've just got to not look too far down the road and just focus on one step at a time."
HOW HAS YOUR TRANSITION TO WORKING WITH TEAM RAHAL AND NEW ENGINEER TODD BOWLAND GONE SO FAR? "It's been a very smooth transition, which is not a surprise because it's a professional outfit. And with Todd and myself being the new ones there, we're the ones who have to prove ourselves. The team pretty much is a proven entity - I think it's the best team on the circuit, so it's a matter of Todd and I getting together, having good chemistry and getting the job done."
MONTERREY WAS THE FIRST RACE WHERE TRACTION CONTROL WAS USED. I KNOW YOU TESTED IT DURING THE OFFSEASON, BUT DID YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY TRYING TO GET IT "DIALED-IN" TO THE CIRCUIT? "Obviously it's a driver aid, and what we used to do with our foot based on our own senses we now have the engine doing the work for us. There's not just a switch where you turn it on and off - there's a lot that you can do with it and we're still learning about it every day. But the engineers at Ford and Cosworth seem to have a better grasp on it right now than the Honda and Toyota guys."
HAS THE USE OF TRACTION CONTROL CHANGED THE WAY THE CAR FEELS TO YOU? "Every corner is different and you need a different percentage of slip for each one and it requires us to make a variety of technical adjustments. You can adjust a lot of things, like when and how hard it comes on, and we're still learning about that. But I think the Cosworth guys have a better grasp of it right now."
HAVE YOU HAD TO CHANGE YOUR DRIVING STYLE AT ALL TO ADAPT TO USING TRACTION CONTROL? "No, no. You change a few things, but still the best thing is to not have any traction control at all and a lot of rear grip. What traction control is doing is taking horsepower away from the engine to keep the wheels from spinning. You just can't rely on it and mindlessly stick your foot down and have it turn on because when it's on it's pulling horsepower away. It's still, in my opinion, the best thing to work with the chassis and get the car working better to get the rear grip levels high so you can have all the horsepower."
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THE IRL RACE WENT FOR YOU AND TEAM RAHAL IN FONTANA. "There's a lot more similarities between the two cars than there are differences. Once you get used to the ergonomics of the IRL car you're dealing with a lot of the same dynamics that you deal with in a Champ Car, like trying to make it go around a corner and handle properly. And we do different disciplines all the time in CART - one weekend we'll be on a superspeedway and the next week we'll be on a street circuit, so it's nothing new in that respect."
HOW BIG OF AN ADJUSTMENT IS IT TO DRIVE AN IRL CAR ON AN OVAL COMPARED TO A CHAMP CAR? "Like I said earlier, there's a lot more similarities than there are differences. Once you get to the car itself, which is very easy to do, you're dealing with a lot of the same dynamics. Now the car has a lot less horsepower, but once you get out there and run, you're trying to squeeze everything you can out of it. At Indy we'll be trimming the car out, taking downforce off and reducing drag, trying to make the car go around the corner using its mechanical grip. Again, there's more similarities than differences and it's not a big adjustment."
DID YOU COME AWAY FROM THAT EXPERIENCE SATISFIED WITH WHAT YOU LEARNED? "Well, you're never satisfied unless you're winning and everything is perfect, and that's almost never the case in motor racing. In some respects we were happy about the things we did learn, but we're not satisfied."
YOU'RE NO STRANGER TO THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, BUT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO RACING THERE AGAIN THIS SEASON? "Absolutely. It's the biggest race in the world as far as I'm concerned, and anytime you get an opportunity to compete and win the thing ... that's why I'm doing it. They're not making me do it with a gun to my head."
CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT YOUR TEAMMATE, MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.? HIS DEAL CAME TOGETHER A BIT LATE, BUT I KNOW HE'S EXCITED TO JOIIN TEAM RAHAL AND WORK WITH YOU. "He's a great kid. He's so young, but you have to remember he's been around a long time. I think he's got over 100 starts, so he's not really a rookie or inexperienced but a veteran in my mind. So far he's been a great teammate to be with and I think everybody's going to see great things out of him. He's going to have a breakout year, I think he's going to win races and I'm not surprised at all. I think some people are going to be surprised, but I'm not because he's never been in a situation like Team Rahal before. It's a good opportunity for him and I think you're going to see great things out of him."
WHAT DO YOU THINK YO HAVE TO OFFER HIM? CERTAINLY THERE ARE SITUATIONS WHERE TEAMMATES DO NOT GET ALONG, BUT HOW HAS THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN YOU AND MICHEL BEEN? "So far so good. We get on well, we've been friendly on the circuit prior to being on the same team, but all I can do is to be the best teammate I can. And of course I expect to get the same back from my teammate. However I can help I will, but don't get me wrong. I want to win and I want to beat him, but it'll be in a good way. If I can't win and he does well then I'll be genuinely happy for him."
AND I THINK WE ALL SAW SOME OF THAT IN MONTERREY WHEN YOU WERE ONE OF THE FIRST PEOPLE TO MEET HIM WHEN HE CLIMBED OUT OF THE CAR AFTER HIS FOURTH-PLACE FINISH. "Well, I appreciate that, and that's just the way I am and the way I've always been. It's a team. A lot of guys feel that the first one they want to destroy is their teammate and it's an all-out war, but that's not conducive for a good team environment. I think they had that here at Team Rahal last year where it was a two-car team but they had a big divider down the middle to the point where they were barely sharing any information. I just don't subscribe to that mentality."
YOU'VE ENJOYED A GREAT DEAL OF SUCCESS AT LONG BEACH WITH SEVEN TOP-10 FINISHES IN 10 CAREER STARTS, INCLUDING A VICTORY IN 1996. WHAT ARE THERE SOME FACTORS THAT MAY CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR SUCCESS OVER THE YEARS? "I don't know. I think I can do well at any track and I think a lot of success or failure has to do with coincidence. For many years, whatever team I was with, when I go to a race I ended up running up front and/or winning. I don't think I could attribute any more or less success at any particular track to more than coincidence."
DO YOU THINK IT COULD COME DOWN TO SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS LIKING THE COURSE? "There really aren't tracks that stand out that I enjoy more than others. I enjoy it when my car is working well and I can run up front. But I like the atmosphere and the energy at Long Beach, and I think it's the best race on the circuit."
BEING ORIGINALLY FROM CALIFORNIA, DOES THIS RACE HOLD ANYTHING SPECIAL FOR YOU? "Yeah, any time I can be around my friends and family and they can come to the race and enjoy it it's always a good weekend."
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CONCENTRATE ON TO PERFORM WELL AT LONG BEACH? "You've just got to get the car working well. It's got to be well balanced, have good grip and be a nice, easy car to drive. You don't want to have too much understeer, you can't have too much oversteer and the brakes have to work well. These days, you can't have any parameter on the setup of the car that's deficient otherwise you're not going to have any success during the race weekend."
OBVIOUSLY THE USE OF TRACTION CONTROL WILL COME INTO PLAY WITH THE SURFACE CHANGING IN SEVERAL SPOTS ON THE TRACK FROM ASPHALT TO CONCRETE. "It'll be a factor, but I don't know how big a factor. It's all speculation and I'm not one to sit and talk about the 'what ifs.' Again, I think Cosworth has a good grasp on traction control and I'm expecting that it's going to work well and we'll be able to tune it to our liking. How big a factor is it going to be? You're guess is as good as mine."