CHAMPCAR/CART: Vasser, Team Rahal to begin Sebring tests

There's a gleam in Jimmy Vasser's eyes right now. The 1996 CART FedEx Series champion had a broad smile on his face when he sat in his new No. 8 Shell Ford Lola champ car last month. Just the new seat fitting process at the Team Rahal headquarters...

There's a gleam in Jimmy Vasser's eyes right now. The 1996 CART FedEx Series champion had a broad smile on his face when he sat in his new No. 8 Shell Ford Lola champ car last month. Just the new seat fitting process at the Team Rahal headquarters in Hilliard, Ohio had the Las Vegas driver excited.

"I'll admit that I'm pretty damn excited about the 2002 season,l, said Vasser, who moved from Patrick Racing to Team Rahal in November. "This is a very good operation and I have been with good ones at Ganassi and Patrick in my CART career. Having the Lola again as well as the Ford horsepower has given me a strong combination for the upcoming season. I just want to hit the track now."

That's exactly what Vasser gets to do this week at Sebring, Fla., when his new mount hits the pavement on Thursday and Friday (Jan. 10-11). Vasser jumps into the car that Kenny Brack took to four wins and six poles last year en route to the runner-up spot in the CART points.

"The Shell car is a good one," admits Vasser. "I know I had to follow it a lot last year. When Bobby (Rahal, Team Rahal co-owner) came to me in August about the Shell car, I knew it would be a good fit for me. Bobby talked to me in 1998 about driving for him but I had a commitment to my Target guys back then. Now I feel comfortable with Team Rahal. I feel good about our chances with the Shell car this year. The FedEx series is tough and I have been working out all winter to be ready. At my age (36), I have to be in better shape to race against the younger guys. I can see what Bobby told me a few years ago. You have to be prepared for the season as you get older." Vasser, a nine-time CART winner, has started 167 CART events and placed in the top five 49 times and the top ten on 94 occasions.

With six wins, seven poles and 832 laps led in 2001, Bobby Rahal and David Letterman's Team Rahal recorded its finest season since Rahal's CART title run in 1992. With drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis, the two-car Team Rahal operation led the FedEx tour in a variety of categories. The Ford-Lola connection became dominant on the ovals and Team Rahal was the driving force.

"The Ford-Lola combination was the car to beat on the ovals and I think that will continue in 2002," said Rahal, the 24-time CART race winner. "But I think both Ford and Lola have made major advancements on their road circuit package. We're anxious to see how the improvements have benefited the car in this upcoming test. I think Jimmy will be pleased with the new setup."

Veteran engineer Todd Bowland teams with Vasser on this year's Shell machine after a successful stint at Newman-Haas Racing. Longtime Team Rahal engineers Ray Leto and Tim Reiter continue to be behind the scenes on aerodynamic, component development and computer simulation.

-sr/tr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack