On his competitive return to racing, former double CART Champion Alex Zanardi finished an outstanding seventh in the second European Touring Car race of the day at Monza in Italy, his return to action made even more special by a surprise visit from a close friend.

Jimmy Vasser, Zanardi's teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing between 1996-1998, jetted in from the United States to watch his former colleague and friend drive his specially adapted BMW 320i in the final double-header of the ETCC season, taking the much-loved Italian by surprise in the process.

Zanardi and Vasser have been close friends since 1996 when they became teammates at TCGR. Zanardi surprised Vasser earlier this year, when he wrote and sang a song "Oh Jimmy" for Jimmy at his surprise 200th race start celebration. Vasser returned the surprise this weekend as Zanardi had no idea his former teammate would be in Italy to cheer him on.

On the track Zanardi qualified a highly creditable 11th in a field of 23 and although he was one of several completely innocent parties eliminated on the first lap of race one, his factory BMW mechanics were able to repair his car and get him back out for the second race of the day where he finished seventh, just two tenths of a second behind BMW Great Britain driver Andy Priaulx.

Despite the emotion of the occasion, Vasser had little time to celebrate with his buddy, as Italy was just the second stop of a mini world tour for Vasser and American Spirit Team Johansson teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and team boss Stefan Johansson.

Mexico City last weekend was the first stop of many on the trio's world tour. Vasser spent this weekend in Italy and will return to the United States on Monday just in time to catch the Champ Car charter flight that will take him to Australia for the Lexmark 300 Australian Grand Prix at Surfers Paradise.

He will return to the States on Monday October the 27th for a week of promotional appearances as the defending champion of the California 500 which takes place October 31st - November 2nd; the weekend after Australia.

Following the California 500 and his season finale, Vasser heads to Brazil for the wedding of a good friend. The weekend after, he will travel to Columbia to participate in "Formula Smiles," a charity karting event organized by another former TCGR teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya and his wife Connie.

Following "Formula Smiles," Vasser will celebrate his birthday in the deserts of Mexico as he prepares for the Baja 1000. For the second consecutive year, he is teaming up with lifelong friends Mike and Robby Groff to drive the Northwest Excavating Jimco Class 1 Buggy on the 22nd and 23rd of November. Vasser's co driver will be his former Crew Chief from Team Rahal, Bharat Naran.

His world tour will wrap up just in time for Thanksgiving with his family in California. No rest for the weary, the 2004 Champ Car World series is just around the corner.

Hunter-Reay hardly had time to put a note out to the milkman at his Boca Raton abode on his return from Mexico as he is already in Australia making promotional appearances for Ford. Hunter Reay is also spending a day at the Sydney Auto Show before heading to Surfers Paradise for his Australian debut.

When not racing his 750 horsepower Champ Car, Hunter-Reay's heart is at the beach. An avid surfer and jet-skier, Hunter-Reay is in paradise on Australia's Gold Coast.

Johansson has had a victorious start to ASTJ's mini world tour as he spent his weekend in Atlanta supporting his occasional Champion Racing teammates JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert claim a dominant victory in Saturday's Petit Le Mans event at Road Atlanta aboard their Audi R8. Although Johansson has scaled back his appearances with the team since becoming a Champ Car World Series team owner, he was still very much part of the set-up that scored a crushing eight lap victory in the 1000km, ten-hour event.

 

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