In 2003 the racing world saw the initiation of American Spirit Team Johansson, lead by racer, Stefan Johansson. Hot off a streak from the 2001 LMP900 class Le Mans racing series, Johansson teamed up with Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Jimmy Vasser. Hunter-Reay and Vasser would man the wheel as drivers, and Johansson would manage the CART team for the 2003 Champ Car World Series, presented by Bridgestone.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was a series rookie, having just begun climbing the Champ Car ladder series. Jimmy Vasser was a series veteran and former champion driver, who brought the team full circle under the guidance of Stefan, who had nine years of Formula 1 and six of Champ Car racing experience under his belt.
In the Pit
While the stars of the track are usually behind the wheel, no race team is complete without a master pit crew, and American Spirit team Johansson chose experienced men to arm the pit lane as well. Ed Nathman was a Newman/Haas championship winning engineer, who took pit mechanics to the next level. He was chosen based on his success in past races and an impressive resume of past team employers.
The team manager was Graham Taylor, a veteran Formula 1 race expert who used his experience as a driver to encourage the team to victory. Rob Hill became Crew Chief, having won previous titles in campaigns with famous names like Juan Montoya and Alex Zanardi.
On the Track at the 2003 Champ Car World Series
Racing is all about timing, and the team wasn’t able to find the balance it needed to place first in the series. The 2003 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series began on February 23 with the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. The 189.63 mile track saw Paul Tracy take first place. This would be the first of 3 consecutive wins in St. Petersburg, Monterrey and Long Beach, he would win 4 more tracks before the series finished.
In May Sbastien Bourdais took two rounds at the London Champ Car Trophy in Brands Hatch, and the German 500 in Lausitz, and another in July at the U.S. Bank Presents the Cleveland Grand Prix at the Cleveland track. Other winning legs included victories by Michel Jourdain Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Adrin Fernndez, Bruno Junqueira, and Mario Domnguez.
Finally, at the last leg of the series on October 26, 2003, Ryan Hunter-Reay of American Team Spirit Johansson won the Lexmark Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise track in Australia. The track was 131.365 miles in length, and the conditions that day were rainy, leading many to comment on the great time made by Hunter-Reay despite the wet conditions.
With only one victory under their belt, American Spirit Team Johansson disbanded at the end of the year, with each member going on to focus on other racing activities. Team lead, Stefan Johansson would follow the 2003 Champ Car World Series with the American Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. He drove with Cort Wagner, and scored his best finish at Mont Tremblant in Canada, with a second place victory for the track. The team ended the Sports Car Series in fifth place, restoring Johansson’s faith in his driving expertise. He went on to compete in the Grand Prix Master Series, American Le Mans Series, Inaugural Speedcar Series, and the high profile races in following years.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the rookie of the team, has also seen success in racing following his winning lap at the 2003 Champ Car World Series. In 2012, the American born racer on the IndyCar Series Championship, and in 2015, he won the Indianapolis 500. Born in 1980, Hunter-Reay is still heavily involved in the racing industry, and continues to race professionally in the United States.
The veteran of the team, Jimmy Vasser, who was best known for his victory in 1996 at the IndyCar Season Championship, also stayed true to his racing roots. He would go on to compete in three Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series races in 2006.
For more information about American Spirit Team Johansson and the team, get in touch through our Contact page.