Jumping Jaques Flash
April 5, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Since starting the 2002 Indy Racing League season with an 18th-place finish in the Grand Prix of Miami, Jaques Lazier has showed signs of being a major force He finished sixth at Phoenix and followed that performance with a wheel-to-wheel battle at Fontana with Sam Hornish Jr., following him across the finish line by a mere 0.281 seconds.
Currently fourth in the points standings behind Hornish, Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran heading to Nazareth Speedway for the Firestone Indy 225 on April 21, Lazier has high hopes for his first trip to the tricky one-mile track.
“I did race there in 1997 in an Indy Lights car, so I have turned some laps there,” Lazier said. “It’s a very tricky, very demanding track. It’s got a lot of characteristics of Phoenix and some very separate and very much unique to its own track.
“But it’s going to be a tremendously difficult race, lots of battles going on just about everywhere, lots of traffic, and it’s going to be who can maximize their car for the end of the race.
“I think our chances are very good at Nazareth. We learned a lot from Phoenix. We did struggle a little bit coming out of the blocks. We unfortunately, did have that 18th place finish at Homestead. I guess the saying is, you take your Mulligans early, and that’s exactly what we did.
“But at Phoenix, we struggled a little bit as well, but we just kept working, and I think that shows the caliber of this team. We went a lap down early because we had a car that just wasn’t working very well. We kept working with it and working it, and at the end of the race, we were running at very competitive speeds and at the same time, we also gained our lap back and finished sixth.
“So we’re going to take the knowledge that we learned during the race at Phoenix and carry it over, go into this open test. We’re hoping we’ll be able to get a couple of laps around the track at that point, and just see if we can’t maximize our effort for the race itself.”
IRL teams will test at Nazareth Speedway on April 4-5 in preparation for the race, the last one before the IRL’s biggest event of the season – the Indianapolis 500. Lazier and Team Menard are already getting ready for the Memorial Day-weekend classic.
“There is definitely a lot going on not only for Team Menard, but obviously for multiple other teams,” Lazier said. “When you have the grandfather of all races coming up, you do a lot of preparation. You have to nut and bolt everything and just really go through everything on the cars to get ready for Indy.
“Then we’re also, right after the open test, we’re getting back to Indianapolis, and we’re going to have a two-day private test at the Speedway. So we’re not by any means, looking past Nazareth onto Indy, but at the same time, it is in the back of our head that we have to start preparing for that race.”
Lazier’s early-season success has put him near the top of the points standings, but he still sees room for Team Menard to move closer to the top.
“We started a little rocky, but we’re on an upswing right now,” Lazier said of Team Menard. “I think we’re coming in to some races here in the future that are really going to be where Team Menard shines.
“We’ve moved up to fourth in the points and hopefully we’ll just steadily continue that, stay in the points battle and really be there for the month of May. But these first four races, we’re just trying to develop as much with the car and learn as much as we possibly can for the month of May.”
And with the month of May comes the chance for Lazier to win his first Indy 500.
“My father was there (Indy) and I’ve always watched it on TV,” Lazier said. “I’ve been to it a couple of times before I was able to race in it.
“The first time you walk into that place, you’re awestruck about it. The first time you start a race or finish a race, you want to come back every single weekend and just continue to try to make the whole thing happen.
“It’s the most incredible experience that I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve always, since I was just a young boy watching my father, wanted to win the 500.
“Also adding to that is obviously, John Menard. I think he’s won just about everything except for that race. I’ve said it before; I’d love to be the one that gives John Menard his first 500 champion.”
That would make for an interesting holiday season around the Lazier household.