An interview with: Cristiano da Matta Dario Franchitti Merrill Cain: Cristiano, obviously a great run for you today. Tough conditions with the weather. You took advantage of some great opportunities that were presented to you. You had a...
An interview with: Cristiano da Matta Dario Franchitti
Merrill Cain: Cristiano, obviously a great run for you today. Tough conditions with the weather. You took advantage of some great opportunities that were presented to you. You had a great day as you pointed out in the post-race with a win for Brazil in the World Cup. Some people may object to your haircut, but you came up with a great effort on the racetrack today.
Cristiano da Matta: Well, of course, I'm very happy to win the race in the conditions like that. It's very difficult, especially coming from where we came from. If you look back to Motegi, Christian [Fittipaldi] and I were just struggling too much. I finished the race 15 laps behind Bruno [Junqueira], still on the track. So to come from 15 laps down in Milwaukee and get in the top six was something even though we eventually had mechanical trouble. It shows how much the team improved and how much work is done on the car. Especially in the month of May when everybody was testing for Indy, we went and we had to get our oval act together and so we worked really hard.
We still have a lot to learn. We had a great race. Everything fell exactly the way we wanted it to. First, we saved some fuel when we tried to make my first pit stop shorter because I was using less fuel than the other cars. More than that, I think the problem with the pit stop, too - it was a surprise that I came out ahead of him on the stop, but the team and the crew did a great job in the pits, not only on the first stop, but the second stop and also the third stop. It is a huge part of racing because it is a team sport, but today more than any other race - and I have to take my hat off for them. We had a very good run and we'll keep on trying to make our car better and better and better.
Merrill Cain: Cristiano, you'll also be going for your CART-record fourth consecutive victory at Toronto. As you look ahead to Toronto, what do you think about going up for the CART record?
Cristiano da Matta: I think more than ever now, it's important - but more than anything, it's the points. Of course, I came into Chicago thinking that to have a good weekend, a good weekend would be qualifying in the top-10 and finish in the top-5 because that's what I thought our car was going to be capable to do. But, going into Toronto I think I'll have to qualify in the top-five. I just think we have such a great car on the street courses and on the road courses. So I'm pretty confident there.
Of course, I'm not going there thinking that I am just going in there trying to take the weekend as we took this weekend or any other previous weekend or any other race. Of course, if it happens, we are going to take the chance and we are going to push very, very hard to try to make it happen, but it's not the main target we have for Toronto.
Q: You've won six out of the last nine races, how do you feel about the run?
Cristiano da Matta: I hope it keeps on going, right. But this series is so competitive. Everybody that follows the series, to win some of six of the last nine, for me personally, it means a lot because I know how difficult it is to get six out of the last nine, it's very difficult, and I understand that. It just means a lot. It shows that I'm in very good shape; the team is in very good shape; Toyota is in very good shape; Lola is in very good shape. It's a great combination and we have to keep on working.
Of course, you have to enjoy it because something like that in a series like CART doesn't happen every day. So you have to enjoy this moment and you have to keep on working hard to make sure you keep on winning.
Q: The fact that you have the Brazilian World Cup game going on this morning, you guys got up early and went to watch the game. It was distracting, I'm sure, to some degree. Was it difficult to get back into race mode after that, and how exciting was that for you today?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, I think for Brazil, I cannot explain how much it means. Because in the U.S., with so many sports, you have baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and there's a championship every year. IN soccer, there's a championship every year but it's not the same. World Cup is one country against every country competing and it only happens once every four years. In Brazil, soccer is the first sport and motor sports is second.
But it's a big difference between how much people they like soccer and how much people like motor sports. A lot of people like motor sports, they like it a lot. It's just that they are completely crazy about soccer. To win it the way we [Brazil] won it, going into the competition as the favorites, and it's the fifth time Brazil wins it. It's a big, big difference. It's the nation's favorite sport, and to win it, it's just great.
Just so you guys have an idea how important it is in Brazil, the president declared that tomorrow is a national holiday.
Q: You're obviously still excited about the win. How did it affect you today, the way you put it completely out of your mind and got back to thinking about racing?
Cristiano da Matta: I went out to the racetrack today at 6:00 a.m. to watch the game, so I've been here for almost 12 hours. I think the game was over by 8:00 a.m. Then it was probably 8:45 a.m. and the drivers meeting started at 9:00 a.m. You just start to get into your work and you just forget about it. The thing is, it's in the back of your mind but you just keep 100% focused on the driving. It's not difficult for me to keep my focus.
Q: I've heard a rumor that your teammate's wife might be upset about his new look. Is she going to be upset with you?
Cristiano da Matta: It's true. (Laughter). Well, my girlfriend is going to be pretty impressed when she sees me today. I spoke to her after the game and I never said anything.
Q: At Portland, Bruno stopped you the last 20 laps and he made you earn your victory there and today was the same thing. Do you feel like the last two races you've driven as well as you have ever have in your career, just staying there, lap after lap?
Cristiano da Matta: No. I think I've been in difficult races like this before. I can think of many other races as good as those two. Racing sometimes is very unfair with the driver because sometimes you feel or you think you did the best job in your career and you finish fifth, for example. Nobody can see it but from inside the car, you feel a lot. Personally, after the race you're very like happy with yourself, very confident and positive about yourself, but it's tough.
Q: So what do you plan to do, shave it off or leave it like that?
Cristiano da Matta: I think I have to leave it on for about a week or so at least. Maybe Toronto and then after that, the people will think I'm crazy. (Laughter).
Q: The weight regulations start in Mid-Ohio. Any thoughts on that?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, we tested in Mid-Ohio last Monday and I had the weights on and everything and I ran the fastest time of the day. I think everybody thinks it's a completely different story when that weight is put in the right places. That weight in the right place, of course it's going to slow the car down a little bit, but it's nothing like fuel. We did an experiment and I can tell you, it's just - fuel kills the car. For example, 40 pounds of fuel, it's probably a lot more pounds on weight than if you put it on the right places.
Q: Because of the World Cup, normally you'd be on page one of the Brazilian paper, but now you might be on page 14. I'm sure you don't mind.
Cristiano da Matta: Well, for this reason, I take my hat off. I think it's just fine. Brazil winning the World Cup, I don't have any problem being on the last page of the newspaper. (Laughs). But I think my haircut is going to help a little bit.
Q: We asked Dario, as well, though obviously your view on it, almost halfway through the season and particularly this race, it seems to have gotten you over the hump on the ovals. Can you maybe take a look, does this give you particular confidence now, not just being on the lead in the championship, but knowing that you can be competitive on all different kinds of tracks now?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, one thing is that we were getting better on the ovals - qualifying after, we were never sure that we were doing it the right way. We had a very good feel we were going in the right direction and we were 100% sure. Now I think with experience, we know we are going in the right direction. We don't have to do anything else. I think we have to work a little bit more. But it's just a matter of keeping up our work and to keep on improving.
Like people always say in racing, the first part of the mountain you climb, but the very top of it is the difficult part. I think about going for the top now, the setup from where we are now I think we are not going to find any big gains anymore. I for sure hope so, but I don't think we're going to find any big gains anymore because we have a car that's very competitive.
Merrill Cain: Cristiano, thank you very much and congratulations. Now let's open the floor and talk to our third-place finisher for the second straight race, Dario Franchitti.
da Matta, Franchitti press conference, part II