CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Saturday press conference

An interview with: SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS WILL POWER JUSTIN WILSON MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for our top three press conference following the second and final round of qualifying for this weekend's...

An interview with:
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS
WILL POWER
JUSTIN WILSON

MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for our top three press conference following the second and final 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 as they will start in tomorrow's race.

We'll start out first with the driver who qualified third today, driver of the #9 CDW car for RSPORTS, Justin Wilson. Justin had a top lap today of 57.533 seconds, a speed of 105.310 miles per hour. He did that on his 12th and final lap of today's qualifying session. Represents the top qualifying effort of the season for Justin. He started seventh and finished fifth last season here at Houston.

We saw you gained a lot of speed, a lot of work overnight from the RSPORT team. How did things pan out for you in qualifying?

JUSTIN WILSON: I think it was pretty good. We've just been making progress. We have been every session this year. We get a little bit better, a little bit stronger. We understand the car a bit more.

It's been a steep learning curve for RSPORT and also for myself and my new engineer Mike Talbott. It's his first season as a race engineer. He's been in the deep end with a new car, a change in the team as much as it has.

I'm just very pleased with the progress we're making now. Hopefully it will continue and we can race well. We found at Long Beach we could race very well. We just started at the wrong end of the grid. You start in the middle, it's very hard to improve. Here starting at the front, I hope we can have a good race tomorrow and finish at least on the podium if not somewhere near the top of the podium for CDW.

MERRILL CAIN: You seem to have been gaining speed throughout the weekend, culminating with that final lap. Talk to us about how things built up for you, how that lap developed.

JUSTIN WILSON: It was simply working on the setup, getting more comfortable with the car, getting the car to my liking. In qualifying, I'm sure you're going to hear it lot throughout the press conference, but getting a clear lap is very difficult. On lap 12, I managed to get a clear one. I put in quite a good time. I knew there was plenty more in it. Unfortunately that was the end of the session.

You know, I think we can get a bit quicker. I don't think we had enough for pole position today because I know all three of us were saying the same thing just back there a minute ago. We all got held up. It's how it goes. It's luck of the draw. Just pleased that we got half a decent lap in.

MERRILL CAIN: Very good. Good job today.

Next up we'll hear from Will Power, qualifying second, driver of the #5 Aussie Vineyards car for Team Australia. Will turned a top lap of 57.405 seconds, a speed of 105.545 miles per hour, did that on his 11th of 13th laps in today's session. Represents the third straight race starting among the top two. Started from pole at Las Vegas and earned his first series victory in Champ Car. Started second last week at Long Beach, finished third.

Will, another good session for you today. Talk about how it panned out for you.

WILL POWER: Yeah, it was a good session. Like everyone says, it was really hard to get a lap. Everyone keeps backing each other up. Then you go for it and you catch someone. But we have a bit of a shifting issue which is costing us on the straights. I think we had a car handling good enough to get pole today. I just didn't -- just didn't really come together. Yesterday we used reds. Something broke on the car. That's why we actually went slower on reds yesterday.

You know, I think tomorrow's going to be another good race for us. Hope for a clear start. Obviously the chicane's a little bit less tight this year, so I think it should be less issues there. You know, we look forward to challenging Sebastien. Hopefully we don't have a race like last week where we got held up for the whole race and Sebastien just had an easy time.

MERRILL CAIN: You talked about how well your car was set up for qualifying today; you thought you could have gotten pole. How do you think it is race-ready for tomorrow? With a 1 hour, 45 minute race, bumpy street circuit like this, where do you think you might have something for Sebastien tomorrow?

WILL POWER: Yeah, we worked on some race setups this morning in practice. You know, we had a pretty consistent car. I think we'll see what happens tomorrow. I mean, it's a bit harder when you're following someone because you lose your front downforce. But, yeah, we'll see. We'll see. You know, I think Sebastien's quite good on fuel. This morning we worked on that.

MERRILL CAIN: Very good. Good effort today for Will Power, qualifying second for Team Australia in the Aussie Vineyards car.

Your pole winner today here, driver of the #1 McDonald's car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Sebastien earned a top lap today of 57.242 seconds, a speed of 105.845 miles per hour. Did that relatively early in today's session on his fourth lap. It's the 27th pole of his distinguished Champ Car career, second pole of the season. He started on pole last week at Long Beach and won. Defending Grand Prix of Houston champion. 3-time Champ Car World Series champion. Also wanted to point out an interesting note: 27th pole of his career, now ties him for sixth on the all-time Champ Car list with Al Unser, Sr.

Sebastien, you were able to gain a little bit more speed today. We talked a little bit about traffic, but it didn't seem to hold you up too much, especially early in qualifying.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, yeah, it did. Basically we just succeeded to match what we had done in the 15 minutes, which obviously the track gets better. No, I think there was a ton more in the McDonald's car and I was very happy with the balance. But I got one lap in the 15 laps or 14 laps we've done. So it was quite hard. I was pretty darn sure that we were actually not going to get the pole. I guess everybody ran into the same problem.

The track is a minute long. When you have a red flag, everybody goes out at the same time. It's just the head of the pack catches the tail in three laps, meaning right when you start to be fast. This time we got pit out, which usually is good. But I was the first one to hit traffic, then I had to try and fall back down the pack. You know, ended up apparently screwing around with Will and everybody else. There was just no room for me. It was like I was not allowed to go on track today.

It was just a weird session. But very happy with the way the car behaved. You know, I think we've got a very consistent car, too, for the race. This morning we were able to just basically manage to keep our pace all throughout the session with small improvements. I think we're fairly confident with that. We'll keep on thinking about it and hopefully have a good warmup and a good race tomorrow.

MERRILL CAIN: Very physical track here at Houston. A lot of drivers were talking about how it's one of the most physical tracks on the circuit. Keeping that in mind, starting up front, how do you think the race is going to develop?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know if I would agree on the physical aspect of the track. I think it's hard because you don't breathe a lot, but if on the cardio side you're doing good, I think you're actually having quite an easy time because the steering effort isn't that high and the Gs obviously aren't that high. So it's for sure going to be a little warm and it's the first time we race in these conditions since last year. So it's been a while.

But, you know, we'll see. It all depends also how the race unfolds, if there are yellows and everything. But, no, I think we should be -- I'm pretty on top of things physically, so we should have a good day tomorrow.

MERRILL CAIN: Sebastien earns a championship point for winning the pole today, now with 42 points on the year, remains third in the series standings. Will continues to lead the championship. We'll open it up for questions.

Q: Will, how much of a handicap was it today only having one set of red tires rather than two?

WILL POWER: It's hard to say. It's not a massive difference in reds. I think maybe you get 3 or 4/10ths out of them maybe. Unfortunately, yeah, we sort of wasted a set of reds yesterday. It would have been interesting, if we had two runs, maybe we would have had a better shot at the pole. But it's impossible to tell because we didn't.

Q: Along those lines, Sebastien, I didn't watch your tire usage yesterday. I noticed you did your last run on blacks today. Do you think they were quicker or were you saving a set of reds for the race?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: A little bit of both. I think we are pretty happy with the balance we had on the car with the primes. We had worked with it. That's always the same problem. You get to develop a car with a certain type of tires, and then unless the option is really like half a second or full second quicker, it's sometimes very hard to actually manage to go quicker with them because you just don't exactly get the flow of the car right and everything, which is quite important around here.

You know, it's just a good thing to be able to start and bring a new set of options. We had two other sticker sets for the race. So we're looking good on tires and we're on the pole. I guess since that's pretty much what we did at Long Beach, we felt pretty comfortable with that.

Q: Sebastien, about the red tires, have you used a set of reds between yesterday and today?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, we only used one in the first run. That's all.

Q: It depends track to track, but do you have to change anything on the car? How do you do that between the standard tires, the difference in the red tires?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: You can always do that in qualifying. Unfortunately in the race you're going to have to make a compromise. Your going to have to suffer along on one run and be good on the next two. So it's a little hard. It's a little hard, especially when there is a pretty big shift on the balance.

We kind of had the data from last year where we had a better idea of what the shift was going to be between the primes and the options. That definitely helped us to put a lap in the bank on lap four.

Q: Justin, if I remember correctly, last year's race here was one of the more eventful ones of your career. All sorts of things happening during it. Obviously you persevered and came through. Pretty decent finish, all things considered. Does that sort of hold you in good stead for tomorrow in terms of the experience here, knowing what a long and sort of difficult race this can be?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, definitely. Last year I got ran into the back of going into the first corner, which we're all meant to be single file. Not really sure why the guy behind was in such a hurry. So that put us almost a lap down. We were struggling. We were fighting going a lap down the whole day.

To actually get back on the lead lap, as soon as we got back on the lead lap, we moved up the order and finished fifth. It just shows you can't give up in these races. There's usually a lot of people having a much worse day than you are. If you can keep your head up and keep pushing, you'll get some kind of result out of it. Those points came in very handy, you know, when we got down to the last race of the season.

Q: Any or all of you. Looks like most of the corners have these sort of false apexes marked by these boomerang-shaped curb things. I wonder if you like the curbs or whether you'd have the walls there and be able to judge your own apexes?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, I think there's maybe one or two that I wouldn't necessarily put in myself. But most of them are pretty good. I think the shape of the curbs are actually working very well. They're enough that we don't try and shortcut too much. You know, I haven't found it to damage my car yet. I think it defines the racetrack in a pretty good manner.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I think it's a good addition because obviously it doesn't obstruct the view. You have a pretty clear view on the inside if there's an incident so you don't completely get blind in there and get stuck behind someone if someone crashed at the exit. Like Justin said, I think the shape for our cars is just about as good as it gets. Maybe a little too high. At least it's a clear limit. Nobody goes crazy. There is a line. That's where you've got to stay between.

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's down to us to work out whether it's quicker to jump the curb and get a slower exit or go around the curb and get a better exit. You know, it puts it back in the driver's hands of judging the quick way.

WILL POWER: Yeah, I agree with Sebastien and Justin. It's good that they're high, you know, because everyone has to be very neat and tidy. It's down to being accurate, a good driver to get the lap time. And also having the gap so you can see if there's someone in the wall on the other side is also handy. Doesn't cause a massive pileup and accident if someone has hit the wall on the exit.

MERRILL CAIN: Drivers, one question. A lot of activity still on track yet tonight. A couple of races on track. How do you think that's going to affect the track conditions for tomorrow? How much importance do you think that's going to play in the warmup to try to figure out the new conditions of the track tomorrow?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it's going to be quite rubbered in. We'll have to see how the track ends up, in what kind of shape in the warmup. From there it shouldn't evolve quite as much. If it's more rubbered in, then it's not going to pick up quite as much for the race. It's kind of nice because you don't get these big balance shifts throughout, and maybe it ends up being a little easier to predict what you need on the car.

JUSTIN WILSON: More rubber is always better from a driver's point of view because we get to go quicker and we like it. From yesterday to today, I feel the track's picked up a lot already. I had a different experience to Sebastien. I found it changed my setup quite a lot and we had to basically start again today. You know, hopefully we'll be on top of that in warmup. And, just like I said, the more rubber, the better it is, and the more fun we have.

WILL POWER: Yeah, it's always nice during the race because at the end, especially on these street circuits, they're slippery, you have an opportunity to almost do the quickest lap of the whole weekend. So more rubber's better. But obviously if you go offline, there's a lot of marbles, it makes it a lot more difficult to get it back. One groove at the end of the race that you've got to be in.

MERRILL CAIN: Warmup tomorrow morning, very important warmup, begins at 10 a.m. We will take the green flag for the Grand Prix of Houston at 2 p.m., 1 hour and 45 minutes. Thank you, drivers.

-credit: ccws

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Sébastien Bourdais , Will Power , Al Unser