CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH WILL POWER, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS AND SIMON PAGENAUD
ERIC MAUK: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our post-qualifying press conference, first round of qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Round 2 of the Champ Car World Series. We're joined by our top three qualifiers for first day running.
We'll start with our third-place qualifier, driver of the #15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Team Australia, Simon Pagenaud. He put up a quick lap on his last lap of the day of 1:08.200, 103.883 miles per hour. Simon, you put on the red-walled Bridgestone Potenzas, came out on that last stint and put up a good lap. Tell us about how it went.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, especially we did a very good lap with the black tires before. I did a 68.4. Then we put the red tires, tried to have a chance to do the pole again. Unfortunately, I only had two laps, and the tires didn't came as warm as I wanted. So I did a 68.2, which was good, but I think I had something left in the tire. But, you know, it's still very good to be here. I think we are doing a very good job with the team. Especially you can see my teammate on my left side, so it means that we have been doing a good job. As I said before, it's a team effort, and it looks like we are doing very well.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us how much different it is for you coming into a Champ Car weekend on a track where you have run before. Last weekend in Vegas, you didn't have that luxury. Here at Long Beach, you ran here in Atlantics last year, obviously. How much difference does it make for you in your preparation?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I still need to be careful in the first few laps because there is a huge difference of speed coming in the corners. The weight of the car is also very different. We got much more weight on the Champ Car. So it's different driving style.
But I'm getting used to it. I think I will get there very soon. I'm already pretty fast, I think. But, yeah, I still need to understand a little bit better the way to drive the car. But coming in on Friday on the track is pretty easy when I know the track, like I did in Atlantic before. It gives me more confidence. I think I could do a very good race anyway.
ERIC MAUK: Our second-place qualifier on the day, driver of the #1 McDonald's Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. He is the defending champion here at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the three-time defending champion of the Champ Car World Series. His top lap today 1:07.970, 104.234 miles per hour. Sebastien, you put up three quick laps during the session, then Will got you at the very end. Tell us a little about you how the session went from your eyes.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it was a good session for the McDonald's team. I think we really needed to get ourselves back together after the terrible weekend we had in Vegas. It worked out all right. It's just we kind of -- I kind of keep on playing the mistakes I made in Vegas with that really bad weekend. Only got one lap due to that in the second run. It was just not enough. One lap is usually the first lap to kind of get up to speed; the second lap to get the lap time to a decent level. It was just not enough.
Good job to Team Australia. I think they definitely got the mixture together. We're going to try and give them a run for their money. Definitely looked like we had the speed on the first run, so we'll try again harder tomorrow.
ERIC MAUK: Top time today 67.92, almost a second short of the track record you set here a year ago. Do you think there's any chance that can be topped tomorrow?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know. I think, like I always kind of said, I think that the Panoz is going to be quicker on road courses. On street courses, with the bumpiness and the fact that the car is a little more ride-height sensitive than the Lola, I think it's going to probably be a little difficult to get to that level of performance. But we'll have to see. It's still very early in the season with the new car. So it's definitely up there. It's got a different character than the Lola to drive. I personally don't like it quite as much yet, but hopefully we can get it there.
ERIC MAUK: All right. Congratulations. Good run today.
First round qualifying leader for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, driver of the #5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Team Australia, Will Power. Will Power is our points leader, having won last weekend in Las Vegas. He sets a quick time of the day, 1:07.920, 104.311 miles per hour. Will earns a championship point for leading today's qualifying, giving him 34 on the season, and widening his points lead to seven over Robert Doornbos. This will be his first front-row start here at Long Beach as well. Will, good run today. You pulled it out at the end. Tell us a little bit about it.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, on the first run, I was trying really hard to get a good balance in this car. I sat in the pits after that run and looked at the time. Sebastien, it was half a second. I thought, well, it's going to probably be too hard to beat him even on reds. So I went out on blacks for the second run. I got a clear run. I let Simon go because he was on red tires, and got a clear lap. Yeah, got it right at the end. The car was nice. I think maybe I was overdriving a little on the first run. And here we are on pole.
ERIC MAUK: What did last week's performance do for you and do for the team just from a morale standpoint, a confidence standpoint?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think everyone's a lot more positive. If you look at pre-season testing, and even the end of last year, the team has been really quick. You know, they've done a lot more development over the winter. We did all the tests. We've been quick. So it wasn't a massive surprise. But it was very nice to have such a big buffer in qualifying. I mean, maybe that was a bit of a surprise, that Sebastien didn't get to do his lap on reds.
ERIC MAUK: Will guarantees himself a front-row starting spot by leading today's qualifying. If you go back to last year at Surfers, when he won the pole at Surfers Paradise, it means that Power will have started on the front row in three of the last four Champ Car events. We'll go ahead and take questions from the media now.
Q: Sebastien, over the last three years, you haven't really had a lot of real bad problems. To start the season the way you did last week, as bad as it was, did that get in your head a little bit during the week?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It really felt like a bad dream, you know. But I think we just kind of moved on and we're looking good here. It's just a little hard, again, you know to let it slip away in between our fingers really.
But I think we've got a good car. I think we've got to be positive and to look forward. It's going to be a long season. I think we have to count that Will and Team Australia is going to be right up there all the time and they're going to be tough to beat. But I think we've got what it takes, so it's going to be up to us to prove that we can do it also with the Panoz.
Q: Will, does the lack of spare parts for the new car affect your driving style? Were you thinking about, What happens if I break something?
WILL POWER: Actually, that's funny you ask that because I think it does. If you know that you haven't got parts to be replaced if you crash, it's funny, we haven't had any damage in testing and also during the races because -- I'm not sure. It's probably in the back of your mind. If you have a big shunt, and we haven't got a spare car at the moment, though it's on order, we're in a bit of strife. So, yeah. I mean, in qualifying, you push as hard as you can. It's as simple as that.
Q: Talking about that stack of three front-row starts so close together, Derrick hasn't had a frontrunner in quite a while. Have you noticed a change in Derrick?
WILL POWER: I guess, yeah, after the second half of the year. But, no, Derrick's still the tough boss he is. He always keeps the pressure on you and makes sure that you're working hard, and that's how he treats the whole team. You know, he's a very good operator. If you look at his workshop, the way he runs everything, you know, the structure of people underneath him, he's just really good at organizing.
I think it's his turn. You know, he's got the right budget, he's got the right team, and he's got the right drivers this year. It's his turn to win a championship. You know, I want to be the one to do it for him.
Q: Simon, what has been the biggest challenge for you so far in switching to the bigger car with more power?
SIMON PAGENAUD: The braking points are a little bit later than was the Atlantic car. I'm going in a lot quicker (laughter). I need to be careful sometimes that I'm not braking too late because it happens sometimes. I'm just surprised by the speed. Could happen. But, yeah, it was the biggest challenge at the beginning. Also, as I said before, the weight of the car was kind of a struggle for me at the beginning. I think I'm getting used to it now, for sure.
Q: Will, your second year of driving in the series. What is more important, keep building the team chemistry or sorting out the new chassis?
WILL POWER: Probably both. Our team chemistry's already good. For us it was just a matter of getting the car right. We've done everything in the off-season to do that. Though we're still learning. I think all the teams are learning. Also you have the reliability thing, as well, which you probably saw in Vegas, a lot of teams struggled with the fuel thing. You know, that's it. You just got to -- the quicker you sort it out, the more reliable.
Q: Sebastien, I know you weren't too crazy about the reliability of the car. Is it somewhat routine for you to come out today and have a good day today?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'm not quite sure we can base the reliability on one day. I'm not really comfortable with the reliability, looking at all the problems that went on in Vegas. For sure we're going to enter the race Sunday and we're going to be crossing fingers a little bit.
It's still very much a concern. I think it's going to be the case also in Houston. Hopefully by the time we make it back on the track after the month of May, we'll get things figured out. But it's definitely up there in your mind. You know bad things can strike. So hopefully we're going to have a trouble-free weekend.
Q: Sebastien, did you find the source of the electrical problem last week? Any changes?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Actually, the Friday thing was not a coil, as much as it sounded like it. It was a fuel mapping issue on the software. Apparently we just kind of got the short end of the stick on that end because everybody who had the problem got it in the 15 minutes. Since we didn't drive that much in the 15 minutes on Friday, we got it in the first round of qualifying.
But, no, other than that, it was just clearly a fuel mapping issue mixed with the altitude. It wasn't completely solved all weekend. I think everybody kind of had some hiccups going part throttle in the twisty section, but nothing like that kind of bogged down the engine as much as it did in the first round.
And the fuel, you know, we were handed the piece. We had one piece in Vegas and then we have a new piece now because we're refueling on the other side. It's a little bit of a struggle. I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen when we going to get to Houston. Hopefully our piece hasn't melt since Vegas and we'll be all right. But, yeah, it's definitely kind of a temporary piece right now, and it's definitely not bulletproof, but hopefully we can make it through the weekend.
Q: (Question to Will regarding letting Simon go by.)
WILL POWER: Yeah, he was on red tires. He'd also done a couple more laps so his tires were more up to temperature. I know he's not going to block me, he was just going to take off. So I left him, left him a gap, there was no problem.
Q: Weren't worried about losing your fast lap?
WILL POWER: No, because I did it on the out-lap. So I knew if I had a gap, back for him, it wouldn't be a problem.
Q: Are the paddle shifters helping you shift faster?
WILL POWER: No, I don't think so. I think it's exactly the same.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's costing time on the upshift right now, definitely. I mean, downshift it goes about as quick as I used to do it. But on the upshift, when you look at the speed trace, it's kind of ugly for sure.
Q: Tire wear was an issue last week, how are they holding up here?
WILL POWER: No, I think the tires are going to last well here. It's quite the opposite actually. I don't think the rear tires felt very bad at all - not on my car anyway.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, I think tire wear -- Bridgestone knows this place. It was a little bit of a surprise in Vegas they came out with apparently a little bit too soft of a tire. I guess next year probably the standard car is going to become the option tires, so on and so forth. But no drama here.
Q: Will, what was the reaction, if any, that you got back home in Australia from the win?
WILL POWER: It's massive. Non-stop interviews on the radio. We had three of the major television stations come over here and interview me today. It's really good for the series, and it's really good for the race in Australia. You know, it's also very good for our team. So I think it was a really good thing to win the first race in Vegas.
Q: (Question to Will and Simon regarding tire strategy.)
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I don't know. I just think we put red tires on just to take the pole. I thought we would put the red tires on, too. No, I don't have any clue about that. But I think it's very interesting that I put the red tires on because we going to have a feedback for tomorrow for Will and myself. So it's pretty interesting to do that. So, yeah, I think it's a pretty good strategy.
WILL POWER: I mean, I didn't use them because I didn't think it was -- I thought Sebastien would go out and improve his time. I knew I'd be able to improve my time anyway on the black tires. And there wasn't much time, like five minutes.
Q: Sebastien, you led a changing of the guard a couple years ago in Champ Car. What are you impressions about your competition?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think like everybody expected, since you really can't develop many things on the car, it's definitely leveling up the playing field. But for us it's somewhat frustrating, for the engineers. For the driver, we haven't had much time to explore everything on the car yet. As much as we'd like to do a few things on that car, it's not been really time possible.
But I personally believe that the level of driving and the competition is pretty tough. Just as you can see, Will is coming on strong. You've got Neel Jani, who seems to be adapting pretty well, and Doornbos, quite a few guys. It's funny to see a lot of Europeans coming over, and it definitely seems to raise the level quite a bit.
Simon is not a surprise. Obviously he did a great job last year. He went and grabbed the thing by the neck and earned his place in the Champ Car World Series. So I'm very happy for him. At the beginning I tried to help him as much as I could, and now he's flying with his own wings. It's great to see he's actually performing as well as he does, and I'm very happy for him.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to our press conference today. We set our final grid tomorrow with final qualifying which begins at 2:25. Thank you.