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Target/Ganassi, Vasser to drive off in separate ways

Tuesday, August 15, 2000

By Chris Dolack, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

After four dominant years atop the Championship Auto Racing Teams standings, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing finally has fallen.

With the team no longer favored to win every race, Fox Chapel's Chip Ganassi confirmed yesterday that Jimmy Vasser will not drive for him next year. A formal announcement will come Friday at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., where the series runs this weekend.

Vasser, 34, joined Ganassi in 1995 and won the CART title in 1996, the first of four in a row for Team Target. He has eight victories, but none since the final race of 1998 at California Speedway. He also won seven poles for Ganassi.

Although he was second in points early this season, Vasser dropped to 12th after a 21st-place finish Sunday in which he and Dario Franchitti crashed on the 54th lap of the Miller Lite 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

"Jimmy is one of the main reasons for Target Racing's success over the years," Ganassi said. "I value what he has brought to this team and the impact he has made, and, more importantly, I value his friendship.

"It's an unfortunate part of our business that friends have to deal with each other in this environment. I've been proud to have Jimmy on the team for the past six years."

Vasser, a highly respected driver who has raced in CART since 1992, will examine all his opportunities.

"Chip said he wants to make a change, and he thinks that change would be good for both the team and me," Vasser said. "I tend to agree. We have a lot of history together, and maybe things have gotten a little stale. It should be an amicable divorce. The timing gives me the opportunity to see what options are available for next season and in the future."

OnSaturday, Vasser, who had one year left on his contract with Ganassi, was open to the idea of giving NASCAR a chance.

"I would consider almost anything," he said. "The grass is always greener, too, isn't it? NASCAR puts on a good show, but it's a different kind of racing."

Juan Montoya, winner of Ganassi's fourth title last season, also is expected to leave Target Racing after this year. He most likely will compete for the Williams team in Formula One next season, which would leave Ganassi without a signed driver for the 2001 season.

Aside from winning the Indy Racing League's Indianapolis 500 in May, Montoya has won twice on the CART circuit this year, but finished 24th Sunday after going off the course numerous times and eventually running out of fuel. A result, combined with Vasser's, that Ganassi called, "difficult to stomach."

Last month, Ganassi, a member of CART's board of directors, completed a deal to become majority owner of NASCAR Winston Cup's Team Sabco, but he isn't abandoning CART.

"Right now, this is my first obligation, at least in the near term," he said. "In the long term, we'll have to look at it and see what shakes out."

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