An interview with: SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS WILL POWER GRAHAM RAHAL MERRILL CAIN: All right, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for our first-round qualifying press conference following the open round of qualifying for this weekend's...
An interview with:
MERRILL CAIN: All right, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for our first-round qualifying press conference following the open round of qualifying for this weekend's round three of the Champ Car World Series here at the Grand Prix of Houston. We're joined by our top-three qualifiers after a very warm and exciting qualifying session for the Champ Cars. We'll hear from each one of the drivers and then open it up for questions.
We'll get some opening comments. We'll start with Graham Rahal, driver of the #2 MEDIZONE car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. Graham turned a top lap today of 58.998 seconds, a speed of 102.695 miles per hour, did that on the 11th lap of today's session. Top qualifying effort of his rookie session here in the Champ Cars. Qualified third last year here in the Atlantic Championships, so Graham knows a little bit about qualifying here on this circuit.
Graham, we talked about it a little bit yesterday, a little bit of a tough start to the year in Las Vegas. Came back with an eighth-place finish in Long Beach. Appeared to be pretty comfortable settling into the Champ Cars.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, Vegas was pretty difficult for not only myself but the entire team. Sebastien, as well. So, you know, then we went to Long Beach and finally started to get a little bit of our rhythm back. Then here it seems to be better so far.
I really have to give all the credit I can to the whole MEDIZONE crew because, I mean, we've worked so hard. After having a couple of crashes in Vegas, then Long Beach was a tight turnaround, but they did it, and coming here fortunately we didn't have any problems in Long Beach, so that made it a little bit easier. But certainly this weekend's gone well so far. We'll just hope it continues.
MERRILL CAIN: A little bit familiar with the circuit. Things have changed a bit since last year in the Atlantic cars. Talk to us about the track and how you were able to adapt to it.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I certainly think they made some improvements. It's a bit different, obviously, because the speed you're carrying in the Atlantic car through the back straight, it's pretty easy to run whatever line you wanted to run. These things it's a bit different, at least for me.
I think they certainly made some improvements. The bumps seem to be a lot better on the back straight. The chicane and some of the other corner changes that they made I tend to like. So, you know, I mean, I think certainly the track's headed in the right direction. I hope the entire race is, as well.
MERRILL CAIN: Good job today, qualifying third in the MEDIZONE car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
Qualifying second this afternoon, driver of the #5 Aussie Vineyards car for Team Australia, Will Power. Will turned a top lap today of 58.890 seconds, a speed of 102.883 miles per hour. Did it relatively early in today's session, on his fifth lap of 13 laps turned today. Current series leading entering this weekend with 59 points on the year. Won the pole in the first race of the year at Las Vegas and also won his first Champ Car race there as well.
You've been in the top two now in four out of the five qualifying sessions for the season. We talked about your confidence yesterday. You showed it here again in practice this morning and in qualifying this afternoon.
WILL POWER: Yeah, just exactly what Sebastien had at Long Beach. You're back in the pits, there's a red flag just before the end, and everyone rushes out when the track is at its best. It's really hard to get a lap or a rhythm because everyone backs each other up.
I think that sort of hindered us a bit. I don't think the reds are as grippy as they have been, like at Vegas. It's only day one. I think that we can go back, have a good look at everything, and come out with a pretty good car tomorrow and have a shot at the pole.
MERRILL CAIN: Certainly feel there's a lot left in the car for you?
WILL POWER: Yeah. I made a lot of mistakes. I mean, my best lap, you know, it was a rubbish lap. It wasn't very good. So there was plenty left. Maybe a bit of overdriving by me trying a little bit too hard. I'll settle that down a little bit tomorrow and go for it.
MERRILL CAIN: Very good. Will Power qualifying second today in the Aussie Vineyards car.
Your provisional pole winner today here in Houston, driver of the #1 McDonald's car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Sebastien, obviously the defending champion here. Three-time World Series champion here in Champ Cars. He ran the lop lap today of 58.376 seconds, speed of 103.709 miles per hour. Won last year here as we talked about in Houston. Won on the streets of Long Beach last weekend.
Sebastien, you and Graham were talking about it a little bit beforehand: a quick lap kind of came out of nowhere, didn't it?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, the first run was a little difficult. The grip wouldn't come. Kind of kept going quicker and quicker. Felt like we really would have needed to extend the run, but we were running low on fuel so we had to pit.
On the second run, obviously, like Will said, it's always great to pit out. All the credit to Graham and the team. We did a good job all together at Long Beach, put ourselves in that position. The whole McDonald's team did a great job again this morning at turning things around. I think the baseline wasn't all that great for that circuit, but we made some improvements and I felt much more comfortable this afternoon, and it paid off. The second run was not really much different from the setup, but it's small details that make it a whole different lap at the end.
MERRILL CAIN: Sebastien earns a championship point for leading the opening round of qualifying, now with 41 points on the year, remains third in the standing. He also locks up a front row starting spot for Sunday's race with today's performance.
Sebastien, we talked a little bit about the struggles that happened in Vegas. Do you feel like the way you've kind of figured this out with last week's win and today's performance that you have a pretty good handle on the new car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: We're kind of learning. Especially as rough as this track is, it's always a different game. You kind of spend a lot of time in the air. You have to work a lot of things on dampers. Obviously we don't have the same kind of freedom that we used to have, so it's a little trickier. But, yeah, I think we definitely getting better knowledge of the car, better understanding. It's kind of paying off.
Like I said in Long Beach, I think the only thing I was really super proud of was the way the whole team reacted to the situation after Vegas. They could have completely folded and break down, and nobody did. We just regrouped, stuck together and make it for a good showing at Long Beach with a flawless weekend. That's all we needed. Vegas is behind us and we just need to plug it away.
MERRILL CAIN: Very good effort today. Let's open it up to questions.
Q: Where on the track did you pick up the most time today during qualifying?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, it's just a little bit everywhere. It's never really one corner. You can't really do anything that different. But the car felt a little better, more connected. I just could keep a little bit more speed at the apex. It worked out.
Q: How are the improvements to the track?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I'm glad they did it because I don't think, you know, the Panoz obviously being so new, it's probably not ready for a big shunt as the Lola was getting last year. It was really rough, especially on the cars, around the Astrodome and the main straight. I'm very happy that Mike and all the guys at Mi-Jack Promotions did that.
The truth is, as far as driving goes it's still the same because they haven't grinded any braking or cornering or exits. It's still rough concrete racing, but it's a lot of fun. Once you get a good handle on the car and the track rubbers in, it's bouncing around, but it's quite a bit of fun.
WILL POWER: Yeah, it's definitely better, especially around the stadium there. They definitely got rid of the bumps there. But it's still fairly rough, like Sebastien said, the braking and so on.
But, no, I enjoy this track. It's a real challenge to get a balance in the car and also make it ride the bumps well, you know. It's a one-make chassis, one-make shock absorber, it's up to the engineers and the driver to really work well together to get it.
Q: How have the changes made to the last turn effected the course?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, there was a bit of a safety debate. I mean, originally if the corner was to stay the same, we had kind of all agreed that the safety committee to kind of have a speedway wall very close to the track so you couldn't get any kind of lateral speed, which I thought was a pretty good compromise. But when we saw that, it was not exactly what we were looking for, so then we had to see how we were going to manage the runoff area and everything. I'm not saying that it's the best compromise, but that's what we've got.
Maybe it's going to actually generate some passing opportunities because as quick as the corner was, you are moving the air and it was going to be very hard to pass through the chicane. Maybe now it's going to be more of an opportunity.
Q: Will you had some problems in that corner, what happened?
WILL POWER: Yeah, almost hit the wall. No, I lost a lot of time in turn seven just by sort of sliding way too wide. Yeah, I mean, and a couple other mistakes. Yeah, I did that one lap.
I think last year's corner was really good for spectators. I thought it was a bit of a pity the way they took that away.
MERRILL CAIN: Graham, I understand it's prom weekend this weekend for your high school, is that true?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Everybody's asking me about prom.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: You're going to miss it.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It is prom weekend. But that's okay. I'd much rather be doing this than dancing. I prefer driving (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: I think you're much better at that. I have never seen you dance, but...
GRAHAM RAHAL: You don't need to see that. That's all right.
MERRILL CAIN: Practice tomorrow morning for the Champ Cars begins at 10 a.m. Final round of qualifying, we'll take the green flag at 1:30. Drivers, thank you very much.