Eric Mauk: We'll go ahead and get started with our top three press conference for the Monterey Grand Prix, round seven of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Our third fastest qualifier today, Paul Tracy, driver...
Eric Mauk: We'll go ahead and get started with our top three press conference for the Monterey Grand Prix, round seven of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Our third fastest qualifier today, Paul Tracy, driver of the #3 Player's/Forsythe Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, third in today's opening round with a best lap of 1:10.341, that's 114.539 miles per hour. Paul led much of the session, was fast at the very end. He has not qualified in the top two rows in this race since taking the pole here in '94, and if it stands up, he'll take care of that tomorrow.
You had the lead for most of the session, then the red flag came out. Everybody came out in one big group. How tough was it to find space to run in that last session?
Paul Tracy: Well, I was just hoping that yellow was going to last a little longer. It didn't. I'm kind of bummed. They were both the two next cars behind me. I should have just slowed down and held them up for the last couple laps (laughter).
Bruno Junqueira: I thought you were going to do that (laughter).
Paul Tracy: I gave it my best shot on the last lap. And I improved my time. I made a little mistake in the last corner. I locked the brakes going in, lost a little bit of time. But I think what you see up here now, the three guys, you know, we all put our best lap together on the last lap. So it was a fair qualifying session. Not where I want to be, but happy with third.
Eric Mauk: Track conditions today? Were you able to do what you wanted to do out there as far as track goes?
Paul Tracy: I think it's improving. We started out, the car wasn't very good. The car was slippery and nervous feeling. We were able to make changes. We made a lot of changes, more than what we would normally do on a race weekend. We changed quite a lot of stuff. I think we're improving the car, but we're going to need to improve some more tomorrow.
Eric Mauk: Thanks Paul, good luck. Today's runner-up, driver of the #32 Player's/Forsythe Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, Patrick Carpentier. He is second after a best lap of 1:10.314, 114.583 miles per hour. This would represent Pat's best ever starting spot at Laguna Seca, since he never qualified in the top five here in his seven -year Champ car career. Why the turnaround? Where did the speed come from today?
Patrick Carpentier: I don't know. The car was very good. We tested well here during the winter. We have good exchange of information with Paul's team and Paul. It's going pretty well actually this year with the team. So I'm pretty happy. The beginning of the season was so-so. Now it's starting to be quite a bit better for us. To be at the front today here is a first for me during the race weekend. So it's very good. The car was a little bit slippery early on, but it was very good from the get-go and well balanced. So we'll see what we're going to do for tomorrow. We need to improve it a little bit to get this guy right there. But really it should be interesting.
Eric Mauk: Again, same question for you. Came out with five minutes to go, eight or nine guys all come out in the same spot. How did you create the space to get a flying lap?
Patrick Carpentier: Everybody was slowing down. I was slowing down Bruno there, trying to get a gap. Paul was slowing down, trying to get a gap. And it seems like it took so long to get up to speed, to get the tires up to pressure, that it was pretty difficult to do the lap there at the end. But we all had space at the end. It was a very short time. Like Paul said, wish it would have been just one lap shorter, but it was good.
Eric Mauk: Congratulations, good luck tomorrow. Today's opening qualifying session leader is the driver of the #1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, for Newman-Haas Racing, Bruno Junqueira, who led the first round of qualifying with a top lap of 1:10.040 seconds, 115.031 miles per hour. Bruno earned a championship point for leading today's session, and moves into a tie for second in the standings with Paul Tracy. Both of them have 67 points. Bruno, this is the first qualifying session you led all year. You've been close pretty much everywhere we've been. How does it feel to be on top of one of these?
Bruno Junqueira: I feel really good. On the first six races, like five of them I've been second place in qualifying in one of the sessions. It feels really good. I think the PacifiCare, Newman/Haas Racing did a great job. We had a very good winter test. On my first outing, on my fourth time lap, I just laid down a very good lap. The car was really good.
But we made some changes trying to improve a little bit for qualifying. But I think the track went the wrong way from what you expect, and the car wasn't very good on the first outing. I got a little bit of traffic. Then for the second set of tires, we did a good change, and I have to thank the guy (John Tzouanakis) that called me on the radio to find the gap and get my chance to put one lap. I knew there was that.
It's really difficult because, as Paul said, everybody had the same chance. It was really difficult. You know you have just that lap. The tires weren't that hot. Maybe the first two or three corners, I was a little bit slow. Then the tires get hot and I start to pick up the pace. I think on the last two corners, I didn't push too hard on the last two corners because I was afraid to make a mistake. I think it's kind of difficult because on qualifying, you just try to go fast. This time it's try to go fast and not think too much on the lap. The car was really good and I was able to get the good lap.
Eric Mauk: Your third time here. You qualified third, finished fourth a year ago, very strong in the pre-season test here. Are you starting to get comfortable with this racetrack?
Bruno Junqueira: Yeah, I like it a lot, especially the road courses. It's where I've been racing all my life. Laguna Seca is a very difficult road track, especially for qualifying, to put one lap together. I've been doing well. I think the third time I'm here, 2001, there was a lot of trouble but I managed to finish seventh, I think. Last year I was just behind the Newman/Haas guys. This year I'm with Newman/Haas. I hope I can keep the lead.
Eric Mauk: We'll open it up to questions for the media.
Q: Bruno, does Friday take on an extra importance at a track like this, a good start will help you stay out ahead? Was there more pressure today?
Bruno Junqueira: I think qualifying is very important on the street and road tracks, not much on the oval track. But a track like this, it's really important because, first of all, it's difficult to pass. But second, the people that are so close, I think me and Paul and Patrick, we are so close, the difference between us is so small that it makes it really difficult to pass. If a good guy start last, he can pass a little bit until he gets the fast guys. It's not easy to pass on this track, as well. A lot of those tracks are difficult.
But I think the race here is going to be really difficult because this year we don't have traction control, then qualifying is important. But to keep up a strong pace during the race, it will not be easy as previous years. I think some people, you'll fall off on the last 10 laps if you do not have a really good setup. The good thing is to be on the pole today. I don't know what we're going to do, but this gives us a chance, tomorrow morning session to work a little bit on the race setup. That's going to be really important.
Q: Patrick, you were P1 fastest briefly, for about five seconds. I'm wondering if the team informed you of that?
Patrick Carpentier: Yeah, shouldn't have started celebrating. It was about three-tenths of a second (laughter). No, I knew because I looked at the time, I said, "Oh, that must be pretty close." Because I knew everybody was on tires that were not necessarily up to pressure, something like that. Paul was on front. The team was saying nothing. Then when they said nothing for after about 10 seconds, I knew that the guy that was behind me or in front of me had a better time. So I didn't even ask, I just went around and came back in (laughter).
Q: Do you guys think there will be any more overtaking here this weekend than there has been in the last few years?
Paul Tracy: I think now, without traction control, there will be, because this track has been notoriously hard on tires. And I think with traction control, it made it a lot easier to complete a full stint at full speed, you know, going maximum all the time. You know, I think the tire's good, the tire's fast, we're doing pretty good times. But definitely you can see not many people running this morning in the first session, saving tires for the race, because I think tire conservation is important.
It's like Bruno said, in the last 10 laps of the stint is when you have to go fast. If you don't have the setup right, the car's using the tires too hard, you're going to be slow. You'll see some passing.
Q: They made a lot of nice changes here. Should they widen the track, make the straightaway long? What do you think would make the race better?
Paul Tracy: It's difficult to say what you want to change because I think the track, the layout, is a great layout. I would say probably the only issue that it has, it doesn't have a nice, long straightaway. There's no real long straightaway anywhere on the track. But it's such a great layout, such a great driver's track. I mean, I think if you ask any driver around the world, if they've driven around Laguna Seca, they'll say it's probably one of the best tracks to drive around. It's got so many different corners, the corkscrew is so world famous. But it just really lacks a long straightaway and a real deep braking zone for overtaking. There's no complaints about the track. I mean, it's a beautiful track.
Patrick Carpentier: There's a long straightaway here, but it's turning all the time. It's true, there's a couple of kinks in it that keeps you from getting beside the other guy. Maybe more downforce, again, like Milwaukee.
Bruno Junqueira: I think they did a very good job on the suites, and the track is looking pretty nice. I think Laguna Seca is one of the best well-taken care of tracks. They take care of it a lot. Every time I come here, you can see everything is nice, everything is in order, the right place. It is an awesome track to drive, especially like in qualifying. As Paul said, in the race, because I think nowadays our cars are too fast on the straightaway, on the main straightaway, you stay like five or six seconds. If you get like the Atlantic car, they don't have much power, they can draft and then they can pass in turn two, what they call turn two, is turn one.
I mean, the track is really good. But if you want to have a little bit more passing, they could extend it. I don't know if they have some area to do it, but if they could extend going to turn one. I mean, you have a really slow second gear corner that you can do very close to the guy in front and outbrake him. Just make that straightaway, I don't know, 500 feet, 600 feet longer, there would be more passing.
Paul Tracy: Robin will remember, the old track used to go straight. Mario rolled one up in a ball right there one year. I was a kid. He went out into the park out there.
Bruno Junqueira: You were a kid (laughter)? Then I wasn't even born.
Paul Tracy: What year was that, Robin? He rolled it up.
Q: Did you ever race on the old circuit?
Paul Tracy: I never raced on the old track. It used to be flat out all the way up.
Bruno Junqueira: I mean, this track has a lot of nice corners, apart from the corkscrew. I love turn six. It is one of the most difficult corners of the year, in my opinion, because you need to be really precise, it's uphill. You need to be fast, getting a lot of speed, but still have to do a good exit to pull on the uphill. I mean, there are some really difficult corners here, especially to get everything together in qualifying.
Q: Is this about as technical a permanent road course as you guys run, that you've ever run?
Paul Tracy: I think it is. Like what Bruno says, the corner that goes up the hill to the corkscrew, I mean, if you just get that wrong a little bit, because it's so steep going uphill, you can lose half a second easy, just by not carrying enough speed. If you go in a little too quick, you're late getting on the throttle, it costs you so much time. It feels like you went through it fast because you braked right, but if you don't get on the throttle really early, almost before you get to the apex, you want to be back on the throttle to get up that hill.
There's so many different types of corners here. Turn five is kind of banked uphill. As soon as you brake, as soon as you turn the car, you're back on full throttle because you're going uphill. It's so critical. The corners are very technical here and you have to be very precise. It's very challenging.
Bruno Junqueira: There's a lot of grip, this track, because a lot of corners, they have a little bit of banking, like turn five, turn nine, a lot of grip. It's very physical because it gets heavy, but it's fun.
Patrick Carpentier: Same thing (laughter).
Eric Mauk: Thanks, guys.