CHAMPCAR/CART: Vasser, Hunter-Reay to drive for Johansson

CHAMPCAR/CART: Vasser, Hunter-Reay to drive for Johansson

Stefan Johansson introduced the drivers for his new CART Champ Car series team, American Spirit Team Johansson, today in Indianapolis. Champ Car veteran Jimmy Vasser and CART Ladder Series standout Ryan Hunter-Reay will pilot Reynards for ASTJ in...

Stefan Johansson introduced the drivers for his new CART Champ Car series team, American Spirit Team Johansson, today in Indianapolis. Champ Car veteran Jimmy Vasser and CART Ladder Series standout Ryan Hunter-Reay will pilot Reynards for ASTJ in the team's inaugural Champ Car season.

Johansson is excited about his new lineup, saying: "We have experience and speed, mixed with raw talent, and it is going to be a very good combination."

Jimmy Vasser.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.

Vasser, 1996 CART Champion, is entering his 12th season of Champ Car competition and has started 186 races in the series and has 10 victories. He finished 6th in the 2002 points chase while driving for Team Rahal, despite a frustrating start to his season when he was an early retiree from four of the first seven races. The highlight of his season was a thrilling victory in the 500-mile race at the California Speedway.

The 37-year-old California native will also compete in NASCAR's Busch Grand National series next season, running a partial schedule with Braun Motorsports. About Vasser, Johansson said: "Not only is he fast, he is a total team player. He's absolutely the man for the job."

Hunter-Reay, a 22 year old from Florida, will be chasing the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year title after an impressive season in the Toyota Atlantic Championship with Hylton Motorsports. He won 3 races, 3 poles, led the most laps, and won two of the series major awards, the WorldCom Fast Pace Award and the BBS Rising Star award in his debut season in the top category in CART's Ladder system.

In prior years, Hunter-Reay competed in the lower rungs of the CART ladder, earning several scholarships to progress through the Skip Barber ranks. He won the Barber Karting Scholarship in 1998, the Barber Big Scholarship in '99 and the 2000 Barber Dodge Pro Series rookie of the year, impressing at each level. Johansson had great things to say about Hunter-Reay as well, stating: "Ryan is by far the best young American driver that is on the radar screen, and that's the reason he's in our car."

Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Photo by Ange Lisuzzo.

Johansson, while starting his new team for the 2003 Champ Car season, has previously operated teams in ALMS and Indy Lights series following his retirement from CART as a driver in 1996. He started 73 races in CART over five seasons, all with Tony Bettenhausen's team, and was CART's Rookie of the Year in 1992. He was also the British Formula 3 champion in 1980 and raced in Formula 1 prior to joining CART. In recent years, Stefan has actively competed in sports cars, winning the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1997 and the European LeMans Series championship in 2001.

ASTJ will have a strong staff, led by veteran Team Manager Rob Hill, with Ed Nathman and Graham Taylor running the technical side of the team. The team will use the Forsythe-developed Reynard chassis and are convinced that they will not be at a disadvantage to the teams using the far more popular Lola.

In keeping with the "American Spirit" theme, and with the only all-American driver lineup, the ASTJ cars will wear a patriotic paint scheme, blue with red and white trim. The cars will carry numbers 12 (Vasser) and 31 (Hunter-Reay). No sponsors are associated with the effort at this point, but Johansson assured the media today that the team is fully funded for the season and that sponsors would be announced at a later time.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Jimmy Vasser , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Skip Barber , Tony Bettenhausen