Jaques Lazier knows he is a lucky man. Despite being one of 11 drivers to crash out of the Japn Indy 300 at Twin Ring Motegi a week and a half ago, the Colorado boy climbed out of his ...
Jaques Lazier knows he is a lucky man. Despite being one of 11 drivers to crash out of the Japn Indy 300 at Twin Ring Motegi a week and a half ago, the Colorado boy climbed out of his #2 Menards Dallara/Chevrolet with little more than bumps and bruises to complain about.
It's a far different scenario from his accident at Nazareth last year, when Buddy Lazier's younger brother sustained a fractured back, missing the balance of the 2002 IndyCar Series season. His relief is palpable.
Lazier was not named as driver of John Menard's car until the season was nearly started, battling for the fulltime ride with Vitor Meira, his replacement last year. Jaques earned the job and hasn't looked back.
Racing at California Speedway last year in the #2 Menards Dallara/Chevy, Lazier started and finished second to Sam Hornish Jr., falling short of a second victory by the whisper of a .0281 margin. It was his home race, as Lazier has chosen to live in the foothills not far from that Fontana, CA race track.
When it all fell apart for Jaques in Nazareth, PA, he was determined to make a negative into a positive, something that seems to run in the family. Who can forget brother Buddy's 1996 Indianapolis 500 victory after he, too, sustained a broken back? While it was tough to be patient throughout the long season, Jaques was determined to "make six months of rehab into three months. Patience was the toughest part, but I had to be patient to come back in better shape," which he did.
"Missing Indy in 2002 really stoked my fire," Jaques admits. "Back in 1999 I first came to the Speedway with an underfunded program, got into the field and then got bumped out again. I had the speed to get back into the race but it started to rain. After missing that race, I became more passionate about coming back. I missed it a bunch last year and I very much look forward to giving John Menard both the pole and the win. I'm very excited about our opportunities this year."
What about the Chevrolet engine, which has been down on power to competitors Honda and Toyota? "There's definitely a concern but GM is making drastic steps to increase both power and performance for us. One advantage we do have is reliability. Qualifying might be a problem for us, but the race should be less of an issue.
"We'll have to optimize our strategy, dial in our chassis and fuel economy and in the last 50 miles, I hope we can be there to race for the win." Jaques Lazier thinks he is a better person and a smarter driver for having gone through the trials of the last year.
That passion fuels Jaques' belief that he can and will win this year despite the negatives that are thrust at him by the team's perceived difficulties. "We're battling as much as we can. We were pretty frustrated [early in the year] with the new Dallara chassis. It had different characteristics from the old that we understood in theory but had to deal with. The Dallara has a fine window of tuning and, if you miss it, you're in a lot of trouble.
"We're gaining on it and we have a better understanding as we go along. It really helps that we have an alliance with Cheever Racing and Buddy Rice. It's a big blessing," Lazier states. "This is truly a two-car team. We test, practice and corroborate our findings. There are always different things to try and Buddy and I both like different things. We come back and compare." He does the same with stablemate Meira.
"Vitor is a very big talent and he's a sponge. He sits around and soaks up the information we gather." That could explain why Meira and Rice were so quick in their Rookie Orientation Programs, held Monday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I really believe Team Menard is at the height of unity right now.
"I believe in my heart the [Menard] team is of that caliber with the kind of communication we have. It's the best it's ever been. We're smarter, we're wiser and we're making it easier to adapt to changing circumstances. We have a pretty good idea of what the [Indianapolis] track wants and find a smooth setup for a good month of May."