Indianapolis -- Although former Team Target driver Juan Montoya is not returning for the 2001 Indy 500, Target Chip Ganassi Racing remains a favorite to defend its title on May 27. However, with talented drivers Tony Stewart, Jimmy Vasser, Bruno...
Indianapolis -- Although former Team Target driver Juan Montoya is not returning for the 2001 Indy 500, Target Chip Ganassi Racing remains a favorite to defend its title on May 27. However, with talented drivers Tony Stewart, Jimmy Vasser, Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian representing the defending champs, choosing the team's top contender is a difficult task. According to team owner Chip Ganassi, each driver has a legitimate shot at claiming the checkered flag at the 85th annual Indianapolis 500.
"I honestly believe that all four Team Target drivers have what it takes to win this race," said Ganassi, who competed in five races at Indianapolis from 1982 to 1986. "We're fortunate to have a very deep pool of talent at our organization, so, in addition to having four great drivers, we have four great engineers, pit crews and cars. It's going to be fun, that's for sure."
Joining the fun is NASCAR Winston Cup star Stewart, whose Team Target debut will mark his fifth Indy 500.
"This Target team has proven it can win anywhere, and that's one of the main reasons I jumped at the chance to race with them at Indy," said Stewart, who qualified seventh for Indy and will also compete in the Coca-Cola 600 for Home Depot/Joe Gibbs Racing on May 27. "They have experience here and so do I. I'm confident we can combine forces and challenge for the checkered flag."
Vasser, who raced in last year's Indy 500 for Team Target and finished seventh, will start this year's event from the 12th position. The 35-year-old is also confident he has a chance to give his former team a second consecutive Indy 500 championship.
"After spending six years with this team, nothing surprises me," said Vasser, who claimed the 1996 CART Championship with Team Target and now competes for Patrick Racing. "They are consistent, experienced and want to win every race. I have the same attitude, and am entering this race with just one goal: win the Indy 500."
Although it's a rare feat, Montoya proved last year that it is possible for a rookie to win the Indy 500. Montoya's dominant performance is just one of the reasons first-year Team Target drivers Bruno Junqueira, who qualified 25th, and Nicolas Minassian, who qualified 27th, believe they can find success at the Brickyard.
"This team has done some incredible things over the years -- finding a way to get Nicolas and me in the race was another example," said Junqueria, the 2000 European Formula 3000 champion. "Now that I've qualified for the Indy 500, I'm going to do my best to win the race and repay Team Target for believing in me and giving me this chance. With so many great drivers trying to win the team's second Indy 500, it's going to be a very exciting race."
Exciting is an understatement, according to Minassian, who finished second to his teammate in last year's Formula 3000 Series.
"This is absolutely incredible," said Minassian, a 28-year-old Frenchman. "I'm surrounded by some of the world's best drivers, working with the smartest people in racing and preparing for the world's biggest race. It's amazing. What's even more impressive to me is that the four Team Target drivers and crews are still one team -- willing to help one another. Every driver wants to win the race, but we all know that teamwork is the way to make that happen."
With four drivers and four crews, Ganassi believes teamwork and communication are two keys to helping Team Target achieve its goal of earning a second straight Indy 500 title. Stewart will work with Team Target engineer Bill Pappas and drive the No. 33 G-Force/Oldsmobile Aurora at the Indy 500. Vasser will race the No. 44 Target car and reunite with engineer Julian Robertson, with whom he partnered from 1995-2000. Junqueira will team with former Patrick Racing engineer Jim Hamilton and drive the No. 50 G-Force/Oldsmobile Aurora, while Minassian will work with former Tasman Motorsports chief engineer Diane Holl and drive the No. 49 Target entry.