Laziers Strive To Be Leaders
March 1, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Hornish, the 2001 IRL champ, is more concerned about the Lazier brothers.
Buddy, the 2000 IRL champ and a four-time winner last season, and Jaques, Team Menard driver and winner at Chicagoland Speedway last season, pose the biggest threat to Hornish’s Panther Racing team, he said.
“That’s the two biggest ones right now,” Hornish said. “I know that Jaques is a great race car driver, and together with Menard Racing they should be able to be a tough competitor this year. Buddy’s staying with the same combination with the Dallara chassis, Firestone tires and Speedway Engines – Chevrolets - which are all the same things we run.”
Based on preseason performance, Hornish may be right. The Lazier brothers were in the Top 5 on the first day of the Test in West on Feb. 6 at California Speedway. Both are also confident that 2002 can be their year.
“My team remains unchanged, which is great because we work so well together,” said Buddy, who is entering his seventh season with Hemelgarn Racing. “Our offseason testing was successful, especially at the Test in the West. We definitely look forward to hopefully having our best season yet.”
Said Jaques: “Our big push is to continue the momentum we had at the end of last year where we ran very well, won a race and were a threat each weekend we rolled the car onto a track. We know we can win. It's a matter of grasping that consistency each race weekend and working on being in the hunt when the race begins to wind down.
“We worked really hard in the offseason. Team Menard put together what I think is the ultimate team. The synergy right now is where I believe it needs to be going into the season.”
Buddy finished 2001 105 points behind Hornish in the standings despite winning four times. Three finishes outside the Top 15 hurt Buddy, especially a 20th-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway after an accident on Lap 175 last year.
This weekend, Buddy hopes to redeem himself in the IRL’s season-opening Grand Prix of Miami at the flat, 1.5-mile oval in Homestead, Fla. Hornish won the race last season, the second of his three wins on the year.
“From a competitor's point of view, this track is very challenging in terms of getting a hold of the track and finding the right race setup,” said Buddy. “The long-radius, flat corners provide a particular challenge but make for great racing. This a great place to start the season, and it sure would be nice to drive my new silver-and-purple Coors Light race car into victory lane at Miami.”
Jaques is making his first trip to Homestead. He did not have a ride for the IRL’s inaugural visit to the track last season. But that doesn’t hurt his confident.
“I think the goal for Team Menard and for myself is to come out to Miami and have a strong showing, win the pole and win the race - this is what we do, and this is why we come to the track,” said Jaques, driver of the No. 2 Dallara-Chevy. “Getting out of the gate fast at Homestead with a great result is important to this team in that respect. I want to build momentum early.”
Jaques was unable to get an early start on the championship last season while sitting out the first three races of the season. He made up for it with three top-10 finishes and one win in 10 races. He finished 17th in points. Buddy finished second with four wins and four other top-10 finishes.
Qualifying for the Grand Prix of Miami is 12:30 p.m. (ET) Friday. The race is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday.