CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Friday top three press conference

An interview with Cristiano da Matta, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon MERRILL CAIN: Scott Dixon, driver of the ...

An interview with Cristiano da Matta, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon

MERRILL CAIN: Scott Dixon, driver of the #44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone joins us today as the third fastest in provisional qualifying. A position that, if he holds tomorrow, will give him his best starting spot of the 2002 season. Scott qualified 18th in his only previous start here in Cleveland. He'll be looking to extend a six-race streak of Top-10 finishes on Sunday.

Scott, tell us a little bit about your afternoon. Obviously the Target Team was working on its qualifying setup during most of the day, and you came up with a great lap there.

SCOTT DIXON: Team Target worked very hard. The car was pretty good this morning. We stayed on one set through the whole session, and basically just worked a little on race stuff. We tried to get a little more front grip for qualifying. It generally wasn't too bad. We were a little loose for the first set, and then later on in the second run, towards the end of it, we started to pick up some oversteer, as well.

The car was good. I think, as many others, we were up a few tenths on our last lap and ended up fighting traffic.

We're very happy, it's just different this time.  We waited until the end
to go out with everyone else.  I think it definitely helps.

MERRILL CAIN: Tony Kanaan qualified second this afternoon driving the #10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola Bridgestone. He earned the second spot in provisional qualifying with a best lap of 58.092 seconds, that's a speed of 130.510 miles per hour. Tony has one front row starting spot already this season. He started second in Motegi, Japan.

Talk about your afternoon. Obviously you're chasing your buddy there, Cristiano da Matta, as is everyone else, but you did a pretty good job giving him a run at the end there.

TONY KANAAN: I've been struggling after we switched chassis. I think even before that it was a matter of bad luck. I would say so. But lately I don't think it's the luck It's been us not doing the proper job. And I think we got it together today.

I'm still not very happy with my car, but obviously not being happy and sitting second, it feels pretty good. But I pulled out one lap. I got a lot of traffic and I was really mad because I don't think it's the way to do it. People, if you can do the lap, why you going to block somebody? And I got blocked twice from the same guy.

But, hey, there's always tomorrow. So one day he's going to come behind me and my mirror's going to be broken. You know, fortunately I could do the job, and I'm happy. We really need that, to pump the guys up. We've been having such a hard time lately that this result could mean a lot more than it looks like. That's all I need.

And I'm going to keep supporting them and working together with them to make the car better. Whatever it's going to be, we're going to get through it. The secret here is just to keep fighting, and that's what I'm going to do.

MERRILL CAIN: The man that seems to own that middle seat up in the podium, Cristiano da Matta, wins the provisional pole today. Driver of the #6 Havoline Toyota/Lola Bridgestone, he wins the pole for Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland presented by U.S. Bank, the provisional pole, with the best lap of 57.641 seconds, that's a speed of 131.531 miles per hour. The pole gives Cristiano another championship point, his 119th point of the season. It widens his series lead to 49 points now over Bruno Junqueira. It's also the ninth straight road course qualifying session that Cristiano has been in the top two for qualifying.

Quite a performance. I know you were talking a little bit that you actually thought you had a pretty good lap going on your first set of tires, but you ran into some traffic when you got on your second set. You just cruised.

TONY KANAAN: You use this microphone today. Tomorrow I'll be sitting there and you'll be sitting here.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: After you spend a whole week in my house, I'm going to be charging you for more now. The guy went to my house Sunday night and only left Thursday morning.

TONY KANAAN: Hold on. I said everything's working so fine for him, from Toronto on I said I'm going to eat whatever you eat, wake up whatever time you wake up. I'm going to follow him for a week. It worked, so I'm putting my house for sale, I'm moving in.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA:  I had some traffic in my first run, and I made
a mistake in a lap that was coming around good, too.  But I still was able
to put a decent lap together.  On my second set, I had a pretty good run,
clear laps and everything.  That's when I was able to improve my time.

In the first run I think I hit the tires a little too late, so I had a little bit too much understeer by the time I put my lap together. On the second set, I was able to do it earlier, so the car was a little bit better balanced. I was still fighting a little bit of understeer. But I'm pretty happy of course the way my car is going right now.

Traction changes a lot here from one day to the other because, of course, the airport. So there's a lot of rubber being laid down right now. I think it's almost going to be a different racetrack tomorrow - not completely different, but it can change a lot. So we just have to keep improving the car according to the racetrack, and hopefully tomorrow have another good run.

MERRILL CAIN: One quick note. Toyota continues its road course dominance, seventh straight road course session that Toyota has been in the top the chart. Obviously, another good performance from Toyota.

Let's open it up for questions.

Q. Tony, is there a fundamental difference to the chassis switch to Lola, or is it just little things? Have you found much in the last couple of weeks?

TONY KANAAN: Well, I would say it did really hurt us, making the switch, because we did testing all winter with the Reynard. All of a sudden in the month of May, while we're doing Indy, we got this new thing coming along, which I personally didn't agree with. But obviously it was the right decision to make at the time. So we start all over again.

I saw people having a lot of problems during the winter to dial the car in. I wouldn't say it's a Lola problem, it's just a new car thing. And for us we start all over again, but with the downside that we're not testing. So we can't test. So every race weekend was a test weekend for us.

Obviously, we got going pretty well in Milwaukee and we ended up having a mechanical problem because it was a new car. The guys are not used to working the car, and they worked flat out the whole month doing my both programs. Obviously, we did pretty well. I mean, look at the run in Indy and the run in Milwaukee.

But then all of a sudden we go to a road course and a street course we've never been to, and a lot of things change. And this car is completely different car than the Reynard. To me, it's been pretty hard to adapt myself. It's been pretty hard to understand what the car needs.

Right now, I'm not being able to drive my car; my car is driving me - and I don't feel comfortable. Today, for example, I switched cars four times, back and forth from the backup car to the primary car, because we had big changes and as for not having a teammate, I'm my own teammate. So it's hard.

But, like I said, [team owner] Morris [Nunn] tells me that's why I get the big bucks. I guess that's what I'm going to have to work on. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It goes up and down. I don't feel very consistent right now. Today we're here, tomorrow I don't know. So we just need to try to keep the same pace and not get lost.

Q. Tony, the fact that you're staying at Cristiano's place, can you tell us something about what you did this week? What did you learn?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: He learned a lot about computer games because that's all he did.

TONY KANAAN: I was the only one?

Q. Is that the first time you've been staying at his place?

TONY KANAAN: No. I lived at his place before for two weeks and he lived in my place for nine months. A bit of balance but it paid off. I went back to his place.

Well, after Toronto, I said, "Man, come on, four in a row. Must be something. I need to check it out. I can't check what's going on in your team, so I'm going to check what's going on in your house." Obviously the atmosphere in his house is pretty good. You can barely walk because all the trophies he has hanging around. I said I think the energy over there is a lot better. I only have three trophies in my house. So I went to his house.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: This guy cries a lot, huh?

TONY KANAAN: I ate his food, drank his milk, played his video game and slept in his -- not in his bed, please (laughter). No, we just had fun. I mean, we're pretty close friends. That's just as a joke. Obviously, I want to spend some of his money. He's earning a lot right now.

By the way, I went to get groceries for you last time I left.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I don't remember that.

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, right.

Q. How do the drivers feel about the fact you waited a half hour to go on track? The fans are waiting, a bit like Formula 1 where everybody seems to wait, wait and wait. You still think it's fair for the people waiting and waiting to see a show on the track?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, for me there's two sides. I'm sure the fans don't like it a lot because there are no cars running at the full hour the session lasts. But the other side, it's very fair for the drivers. Last year here, for example, I had a pretty good car, and I qualify 17th because it rained in my group, and in the other group was dry. So it's not fair then for the drivers.

So I think what we can do is maybe adjust how much the session is going to last or something like that. Just say instead of saying we're going to have a one-hour session, maybe a 45-minutes session or something, then nobody would expect us to run. In the first 15 minutes there's nobody on the track anyway.

CART did the right thing with one group of qualifying because I think before the show, the most important thing is the sport. CART... "Real Racing, Real Sport." That says everything. That's the sport. It's good when it's the same condition for everybody as far as motorsports goes. So I think it's a good change. Maybe we need to adjust it a little bit more, but we're going the right way.

Q. Tony and Scott, could you address the qualifying?

TONY KANAAN: Well, in the first 20 minutes, everybody's bored, but what about the last 35? It's so exciting. So it's a paid off. They gave us an hour which is open for everybody. The fans obviously get frustrated because nobody's running the first 25 minutes. But once we get on the track, it's really exciting because we only have that really small window. I would say I like the way it is. I think it's fair for everybody. Maybe we can make an adjustment, but I would say it's working fine for all of us - not just looking at the drivers' side, but looking at the fans' side. I would say in the last 20 minutes of this session the fans were pretty excited seeing everybody going off and trying to put a lap together.

SCOTT DIXON: I'm the same way. I don't think you'll ever be able to please both sides, of course. There's one thing with the variables with, say, the 50 minutes of nothing sitting there with a red flag. They should definitely take that out and make it 30 minutes time certain or something like that instead of having 45 minutes of green or whatever it is.

I think it's definitely better than what it was last year. We were the same. We got caught out in the rain last year. It's definitely better for the teams and drivers. As Tony said, I think it puts on a good show at the end.

MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations on a good qualifying session. Best of luck in the second round of qualifying tomorrow.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Cristiano da Matta