Jaques Lazier returned to the cockpit of an Indy Racing League car Oct. 12 for the first time since he suffered a back injury during an IRL race in April, turning 77 laps with Team Menard in a test at Kentucky Speedway.

Lazier, from Alta Loma, Calif., suffered a fractured vertebra in an accident during the Firestone Indy 225 on April 21 at Nazareth Speedway that caused him to miss the rest of the IRL season. Lazier was fourth in points in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone when he was injured.

Still, it took little time for Lazier to feel comfortable again behind the wheel.

"We ran a total of 77 laps in race trim and ended up within 3/100ths of where we (substitute Vitor Meira) qualified there this year, so I was pretty happy with how things went," Lazier said. "I had a bet with the guys on the team that I'd be flat within 15 laps, and I fell short by one lap - I did it in 14 laps. Really, it didn't take much time at all to feel right back at home."

The test on the 1.5-mile oval at Kentucky was delayed one day due to rain. But the waiting game was easy for Lazier, who has revised his definition of patience during his recovery from injury.

"On Friday I was a little disappointed because I was so ready to get in the car, and the rain kept us from running until Saturday," Lazier said. "But I figured, 'Hey, I've waited six months to get back in this car, what's one more day?

"It was great; we picked up right where we left off. I think the team was excited. I was definitely excited. My biggest concern was how my back would respond, and it felt fantastic. We did a lot of things to see how it would react, like leaving the pits hard, braking hard down pit lane, etc., and I felt great no problems whatsoever. I feel as strong as an ox.

"The test was really more about me than it was the car, and I have to say it was very successful."

Now that Lazier is feeling fit again in the car, he already is looking ahead to a chase for the championship in 2003. Team Menard won IRL titles in 1996-97 with Tony Stewart and 1999 with Greg Ray.

"As for the future, we're planning some more tests for Chevy and the new motor," Lazier said. "I'm very eager to get back in the car again, and I really can't wait for next year. I'd like to start next year with the same mindset as last year and run for the championship.

"We've got a great team here at Team Menard. With the new motor and chassis coming in, nobody wants to get back to winning races more than I do."

Story By Beth Agan, Indy Racing League / Photos by Bill Schneider, Racingwest.com