LONG WAIT IS OVER FOR VASSER AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 27, 2000 - The last time that Jimmy Vasser raced in an open-wheel car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he led his last lap. Unfortunately, it wasn't the final lap of the ...
LONG WAIT IS OVER FOR VASSER AT INDY
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 27, 2000 - The last time that Jimmy Vasser raced in an open-wheel car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he led his last lap. Unfortunately, it wasn't the final lap of the Indianapolis 500. He plans to change that this year.
Vasser was leading on Lap 170 of the 1995 Indianapolis 500 when he and Scott Pruett tangled in Turn 3. Vasser hit the wall, ending his bid for victory.
That was his first season driving for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. And it was his last in an open-wheel car at Indianapolis until this year.
But now Vasser, along with Juan Montoya, will return to the Indianapolis 500 this May.
For Vasser, it's a chance to pick up where he left off and see whether he can lead the 200th lap May 28.
"Certainly, I missed being here, Vasser said recently. "All the success we' ve had since we've left has been great, but there's certainly been a hole in the racing part of my life, and that's missing here. I certainly feel lucky I race for a team that has the capability to do something like this."
Vasser's memory of Indy seemingly has been stored in a bottle waiting for a genie to release it. That happened when Ganassi returned to the world's greatest race.
"I remember clearly the last lap I raced here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Vasser said. "I led. And then I ended up in the fence in a little deal with Scott Pruett.
"That was the beginning for (Jacques) Villeneuve to get his lap back and the crazy things that happened in those final 15, 20 laps."
That included Scott Goodyear being penalized for passing the Pace Car on a restart that cost him the victory. Villeneuve got the win.
Leading at Indy provided Vasser with the confidence he needed to become a winning driver. He won the CART championship in 1996 and in three seasons since has finished third, second and ninth, respectively, behind teammates Alex Zanardi and, last season, Montoya.
"It was a great race," he said.
"I believe that moment probably was the springboard for what was to come for me the following year. That was the first time I had led a race. From that point on for the rest of the season, we started doing better. And I believe that was the springboard for the things that happened to me in 1996, obviously winning the championship." The performance of Vasser and Montoya at the recent Open Test at Indianapolis also could prove to be a springboard toward victory this year in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Montoya was second fastest at 219.780 mph in his Target G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone on April 10, his first day ever at the Speedway. Vasser was sixth fastest at 219.127 that day.
"If I can get an Indianapolis 500 under my belt that certainly would be one of the crown jewels of my career right along side my championship," he said. "I'd like another CART championship. I can't add an Indianapolis 500 race championship if I'm not here."