Thursday, April 26, 2012

Welcome Back, Michel Jourdain

When Michel Jourdain, Jr. was all of 19 years old, he ran in the 80th Indianapolis 500, and as a rookie, finished P13.

That was in 1996.

Lost slightly in the shuffle of news this week was the announcement that after a 16-year layoff, Michel Jourdain will again be attempting to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Sponsored by the Mexican iteration of Office Depot, Jourdain will be attempting to give Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing another bullet in their gun for Indy this year, over a decade and a half since he made his one and only Indianapolis start.

Assuming he qualifies, Jourdain's time between races won't be the longest hiatus in history; he misses it by one year (Roland Free and Cy Marshall both went 17 years), but it's still a noteworthy absence. 1996 might not seem like ages ago, but let's think back, just to have some fun with it. The last time Jourdain raced at Indianapolis...

...The next-earliest start by a driver in this year's current projected field wouldn't come until 5 years later (Helio Castroneves, 2001).

...Johnny Parsons made the field. He had first attempted to qualify for Indy in 1969.

...Davey Hamilton was an Indy rookie, qualifying for his first 500 as well.

...Garry Bettenhausen, Danny Ongais, Emmerson Fittipaldi, and Bobby Rahal were all still active drivers at the time in either IRL or CART.

...The average gallon of gas cost $1.20.

...The internet looked like this.

It's been a long time since Jourdain last ran Indy.
(Courtesy IMS Archives)
Of course, it isn't as if Jourdain has been idle since his last 500 start. A late bloomer of sorts, he ended up having a solid open wheel career, winning two races in the last year of CART, and collecting ten  total podiums over the years as well. He also had stints in the NASCAR Busch Series and WTCC, not to mention the Baja 1000 and a couple other forms of racing. He's the sort of racer who has a bit of everything on the resume.

Now, at 35 years of age, younger still than Dario Franchitti or Tony Kanaan, Michel Jourdain returns to Indianapolis. The last time he was here, he was a teen, smiling in his qualification photo, his sidepod loudly trumpeting Herdez Mexican Salsa and Jalapenos. Now, as a veteran driver, he will once again attempt to make this race, even as the car count numbers continue their unpredictable flux. It's one of the more unique storylines we'll see this May. If he can improve on that P13 he scored 16 years ago, there might be something to be said for biding one's time.


  1. Heres another one for what the internet looked liked back then. The Pacific GP website, with Keith Wiggins as team principal. Hasnt been touched since 1995!

    1. Optimized for Netscape! Wow! :)