Vancouver, British Columbia -- For Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, the newly reconstructed Concord Pacific Place street course is a bastion of opportunity. Alex Zanardi has posted victories on every street/road course on the CART tour except two - ...
Vancouver, British Columbia -- For Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, the newly reconstructed Concord Pacific Place street course is a bastion of opportunity. Alex Zanardi has posted victories on every street/road course on the CART tour except two - Vancouver and Australia. For Jimmy Vasser, last year's Molson Indy Vancouver was the beginning of a strong season finale. He ended the 1997 season with three consecutive podium finishes. With the new track configuration for the Sept. 6 Molson Indy Vancouver, Vasser and Zanardi are starting fresh once again.
In the last two races in Vancouver, Zanardi earned points as the polesitter. If he can capture the top spot again this year, Zanardi will match Michael Andretti's 1990-1992 achievement of three consecutive poles at the Concord Pacific Place street course. Despite his two poles, Zanardi is still searching for his first victory in Vancouver. In the '96 race, after gaining the pole with a course-record speed of 113.576 mph, he led the first 18 laps but was forced out of the race after making contact with PJ Jones. Although he was eliminated from that race, Zanardi still managed to clinch the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award. In last year's race, things looked bleak again after braking problems sent Zanardi toward the back of the pack on lap 15 and to ninth place on lap 89 of 100. As he has done so many times in his career, however, he made a furious comeback and just missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.
As he heads back to Vancouver, where he will have a chance of clinching his second consecutive PPG Cup, Zanardi says he is looking forward to returning to the Canadian city and racing on the redesigned circuit. "Vancouver is a wonderful place," he says. "I really like the city, and it's certainly one of the most beautiful places we visit each year. I haven't won there even though I've been on the pole twice, so I guess I'm happy to be racing on a new circuit. Maybe it will bring me better luck. I'm sure the course is going to be better for all the drivers, because it's wider and has more opportunities for overtaking than the old course."
For Vasser, last year's race at Vancouver was the best of his three starts there. In 1995, engine troubles ended his day after just nine laps and he finished in 27th place. In 1996, he improved to a seventh-place finish. Last year, he led a race-high 46 laps and was in a position to win but finished 2.872 seconds behind winner Mauricio Gugelmin. Vasser's runner-up finish was the first of three straight podium finishes to end the season, as he went on to win at Laguna Seca and finish second at Fontana.
"I really had a good race at Vancouver last year and felt I could have won," Vasser recalls. "We had a few problems though. I hit the wall at one point and bent the suspension, and then we had gearbox problems for about 50 laps. Although we didn't win, that race gave us some pretty good momentum that we carried through to the final two races of the season."
Like Zanardi, Vasser says he is looking forward to returning to Vancouver. "Vancouver is one of my favorite places. It's a great city, and I really enjoy it there," he says. "In terms of the track itself, it's been completely reconfigured since last season, so it's going to be like racing on a brand new course. They've added some new turns, there are a couple of new passing areas and I think the whole track is going to be a lot less bumpy. All of the changes are really positive and should make for faster and more exciting racing. Some of the walls in the corners have been moved back, which is going to make it better for the fans' vision of the track."
Zanardi, who must register at least nine points to have any chance of clinching the championship, recognizes the opportunity before him but says he is not treating this race differently than any other. "We are close to the championship, but I don't want to think about that yet. I just want to get out there and race to a good finish. My team has been doing a great job this entire season," he says, "and I think that Vancouver will not be any different. We expect a challenge this year because it is a new circuit, but we have risen to challenges all along and hopefully we will come out with a strong performance again."