JANUARY 10, 2001
Rahal remains cautious as Jaguar starts testing
The former Indy 500 winner privately knows just what a difficult political balancing act he must pull off this season, setting the obviously high hopes of Jaguar supporters against the reality that there is still a lot of work to do before the team can even be sure of challenging seriously in F1's second division.
"I think this year I want our results to speak for themselves," he insisted. "There is obviously a lot of expectation bound up in the Jaguar name and we have a lot to live up to. We must not confuse effort with results.
"I have to say that I'm loving this new challenge. It is a big job, and a wonderful opportunity for me. My enthusiasm for racing has always been focused on Europe. When I was young my hero was Jimmy Clark, followed by Americans Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti who were both over here at various times racing F1.
"The position of CEO at Jaguar Racing is a huge opportunity for me, both professionally and personally. But I have to tell you, driving is a piece of cake compared with running as racing team.
"I have a pretty good idea of where I want us to be at the end of the year - and I guess at the end of the year I will tell you whether we have achieved it. I know 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful attribute, but I'm keeping quiet on those ambitions for the moment."
Despite this cautious approach from Rahal, Jaguar's number one driver Eddie Irvine was perhaps more upbeat about the team's prospects than he has ever been in the past.
"My job last year was complaining," he said, only half jokingly. "Let's hope that the new car shows that I was complaining about the right things. In particular, I believe in Michelin and think we will make big progress with them this year, although we have to be realistic and understand that we will struggle at some circuits."
Then came the crucial words from the Ulsterman; "The building blocks are there to take this team into the Big league - but it's going to take time."
A coded message, perhaps? At the end of the day, whether Jaguar under or over-performs relative to the expectations of those behind the wheel or watching from the pit wall is set to become one of the most tantalizing elements of the 2001 World Championship season.