CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Friday qualifying press conference

CART Provisional Qualifying Press Conference April 12, 2002 An Interview With: Cristiano da Matta Christian Fittipaldi Jimmy Vasser Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're going to get started with our top three press ...

CART Provisional Qualifying Press Conference
April 12, 2002

An Interview With:
Cristiano da Matta
Christian Fittipaldi
Jimmy Vasser

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're going to get started with our top three press conference this is afternoon. Obviously we're joined by Christian Fittipaldi, Cristiano da Matta - we will wait for Jimmy Vasser. He is on his way to the pressroom.

We will start off first with Christian Fittipaldi, qualifying second today, driving the #11 Eli Lilly/Toyota/ Lola/Bridgestone with a best lap of 1:09.220 seconds and a speed of 102.352 miles per hour. Christian is looking for his second career pole position, his first since Rio in 1999. He joins teammate Cristiano da Matta on the provisional front row. Last time Newman/Haas teammates were on the front row was in Long Beach in 1995 when Paul Tracy and Michael Andretti shared the front row.

Christian, we will start with you. Obviously very strong day for the team. Both for you and Cristiano as well. Tell us a little bit about your day. Take us through your afternoon.

Christian Fittipaldi: Actually, it was a pretty trouble-free day. I am very happy because of that. We left Mexico with a very good car. We went to Sebring. We did a very good test there in Sebring. I left the place really happy, and the last time I had a run in Sebring was before Mexico, it was right in the beginning of January. The car wasn't exactly to my liking. Then Shorty went to Sebring (LAUGHTER) and he made the car a lot better. Then we went to Mexico and obviously it went very well there.

Today we didn't have any major problems in the morning. The only thing that was different to the morning is that the car was understeering a lot more this afternoon. I think we improved the back end more than what we really thought we would have done and I had a lot of push this afternoon. The only complaint I had - it was a shame, like the second set I got a lot of traffic. I did like 72, 72, 73, 74 (seconds) and then I did one quick lap and basically that was it. But I think we're on to a very good fight tomorrow and my man here is obviously going to keep on going very strong tomorrow. He's going to try his best. I am going to try my best. He did a good job today, but overall I am really happy.

Merrill Cain: Cristiano da Matta is your provisional polesitter for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach driving the #6 Chevron/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He had a best lap of 1:09.092 seconds, a speed of 102.542 miles per hour. Cristiano was looking for his first career pole position. His previous career best start was second at Fontana, Portland and Monterey all occurring last year. He earns a Championship point for his provisional qualifying effort today giving him 22 for the season. He now leads the second place finisher Dario Franchitti by six points in the overall championship standings.

Merrill Cain: Cristiano, obviously a very strong day for you. You are looking to tie the CART record for four consecutive wins in a row - let's take it one step at a time, of course - a very good effort today in qualifying.

Cristiano da Matta: Yeah, I am not looking to tie the win streak record, but of course, if it happens I will be very happy, but it's not the major thing for this week. And I think it is very important we got the point today.

As I said, I have never been on pole before, so I am very happy that at least I have a shot for front row for tomorrow. I am guaranteed the front row, and I know that Christian is going to be very difficult, but I feel pretty confident, me and him we're going to battle all the way through the end of the race.

I think Christian did a very good job on the test that he had at Sebring. I wasn't able to do the same in the test I did at Homestead (laughs), but the car is definitely better than the car I drove in Mexico and I think with this kind of teamwork, we're going to be able to progress more and more.

We were really concerned before coming here about how much closer all the other openings would be compared to us because in Mexico we didn't have a big advantage but we had a comfort advantage among the other guys. So it is good to see that we're still in good shape; that our testing - at least our road course testing - went so well this month and we are just happy, very happy.

Merrill Cain: We are now joined by Jimmy Vasser, qualified third today, driver of the #8 Shell/Ford/Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone and a best lap of 1:09.373 seconds, a speed of 102.126 miles per hour. He's looking for his eighth career pole position; first since Michigan in 1999. He has a good record of success here in Long Beach. He's finished in the top 10 in 7 of 10 career starts including a victory in 1996.

Jimmy, if you would, tell us a little bit about your day today.

Jimmy Vasser: It's a little bit crazy because of the new system. It was kind of exciting at the end. I had fans yelling at me from across the track, you know, "get in the car," I felt kind of bad there, then "this sucks." (Laughter) I think that the first 20 minutes we needed some jugglers or fire eaters to keep the fans happy, but then we all tried to be real smart with what we're doing and we went out.

The car was working really well. The guys did a great job. I think the Shell car has done well in testing in the off-season at Monterey, but it is a just a matter of putting it altogether and not having any glitches in qualifying in the race.

In the qualifier, I came up on somebody - Tagliani - who was just going around slow on colder tires and trying to get some speed and it really cost me on one lap. Then I had one lap then I had to back off and waste a lap to get some room for my last lap. Since it was my last lap I was probably a bit conservative on the first two, three corners. I noticed my splits weren't that great. Then it came together at the end in the section that I got kind of screwed up in the hairpin on. So if I put the two together it would have been a bit better. It's only Friday and both my car and my teammates' car, Michel Jourdain's, they are both running well. We're pretty happy off the trailer.

Merrill Cain: A quick note on qualifying: The top 13 qualifiers qualified within one second of each other today.

Let's open it up for questions.

Q: How has traction control affected you thus far?

Cristiano da Matta: It's definitely a bigger help in the race but there was a test - I didn't participate in it. Christian did at Sebring in the middle of March. I feel the traction control working a lot better. It was definitely working a lot better today than it was working in Monterey, for example. There's still room for improvement.

I think in a track like Long Beach it's starting to make a little bit of a difference as far as lap time, but I think very little. I don't think you ever get to a point where it gives you a lot of lap time because we're not that bad of drivers, we know how to drive.

Q: Cristiano, where specifically on the track were you able to get some of the provisional speed up and reduce your time?

Cristiano da Matta: Through the turns (laughs).

No, there were a couple of areas there I was real happy with my car in the morning, Turn 6 and 7, Turn 5, a little bit of Turn 1 and a little bit at the hairpin. We made a couple of changes there and I thought they were going to be better.

I had a very good run, a clear run. But I was happier with my car in the morning than in the afternoon. But, of course, the car is very good, but I think with we have a couple of areas we have to keep an eye on.

Q: How many actual fast laps do you get in 15 allotted qualifying laps?

Cristiano da Matta: It means 11 timed laps. Then you have traffic in every other - probably eight or nine laps because you also have the laps to warm up the tires at the beginning, so between 7 and 9 laps, 9 laps if you are lucky.

Jimmy Vasser: I'd say probably two real good laps on each set of tires each run, maybe you can bring it up to 5 laps, 6 laps probably would be the smart way of doing it. It takes a few laps to get the tires to the temperature. Really looking at maybe four, five or four, so everything is perfect, you have to make your time and during those laps, you have to not counter any red, any traffic, or make any mistakes.

Christian Fittipaldi: I think basically they said everything, but a lot of it is like you have to be really lucky out there. Like on my first set of tires for example, I did three consecutive laps in a row which I did 69.5, 69.5, and 69.5 (seconds), then I finally gave up because I said, I am just wasting my lapse here and it is not getting any quicker. Then on my second set I only had one quick lap because of all the traffic, so, according to what they said I think it's perfect. You really have to be very lucky, warm up the tires, and maybe get like two, three laps in one set and then get two, three laps on the second set and that's it.

I think it's a lot better than last year. The only thing is I am still confused, I don't know, if we as drivers and I am talking about everyone in general, it's not anyone specific, if we didn't get the hang of things yet. But for example, there was one guy that was right in front of me on one of my runs and he crossed the start finish, he went by the start finish, he was going to come in. So it would have been very easy for him to pull down to the inside of the straight to let me by on the straight, and that was okay because he was going to come in any way because they called him in. And apart from that, he went through Turn 1, Turn 2 and when he got to Turn 2 he went very slowly in Turn 2, it screwed up my lap, and then on the exit of Turn 2 he pulled to the inside and he waived me and I said, oh, thank you very much, but like what does that do? I am talking about all the drivers in general. Like if you know that you are going to come in, if you look in your mirrors, there's someone behind you, just get out of the way like as quick as possible. I just think that everyone in general we're just not used to the new system yet. I hope so.

Jimmy Vasser: You are giving everybody the benefit of the doubt. I think they are doing it on purpose.

Christian Fittipaldi: Then maybe some guys are doing it on purpose. It is very easy to do it on purpose, like they want to play smart ass, we know how to play smart ass also. (LAUGHTER)

Q: What is your strategy for qualifying?

Cristiano da Matta: When the track is better, especially of end of the session, everybody tends to wait the longer they can, then you have the race to get more traffic. It's a game, I think, but everybody wants to get the pole, especially today in that you don't have a lot to lose, especially when the weather forecast is good for Saturday. You can wait until the last minute. If you don't get a good lap you don't get a good lap then try to do it on Saturday. I think that's the way everybody is thinking. Saturday is a little bit different because if you don't get a lap, if you get screwed in a red flag or something, then you lose a lot because you can - if you don't put a good lap together you can end up 14th with a good car. Then you have to think a little bit more in the compromise between how good of a racetrack you are going to guess and just putting a lap together because the more you wait, the more the likely a red flag is going to be out there.

Q: Can you take us through the incident at the end of the session?

Cristiano da Matta: I am sure he (Carpentier) wasn't getting out of my way. He had cold tires. I was catching up to him. He had already messed up my lap because I was catching up to him, so I went slower through the two turns before that. Then he tried to go very deep at the end of the back straight with cold tires and he just went straight. I saw his wheels; he locked in the rear wheels. I don't know why he did that. If he would have let me by, it would have cost him a lot less.

Q: I would think that tomorrow's driver's meeting would be an interesting one?

Christian Fittipaldi: Well, I think it can be an interesting driver's meeting tomorrow, but above all they need to start acting and punishing people because if they start doing that then maybe things can change. While they are only saying, oh, okay, be careful, this and that, I have been hearing this for the last six or seven years, so I don't think a lot is going to change. To be quite honest if you look at Formula One qualifying - I want to keep something very straight here - I am not comparing both series in anything, I know that they race on much wider tracks, and a lot of things are a lot easier for them. But Formula One qualifying is completely different to ours. Maybe because of the fact that they run tire warmers, also they can really go slow on the out lap, and when they are about two corners from the start finish. Maybe if we had the same situation it would be exactly the same for everyone over here. The problem here is that you have to build up a little bit, it takes about two, three laps for you to put a good lap together, but we definitely need a little bit more, I would say, collaboration from our friends, everyone in general.

Q: Things have been going well for Team Rahal. Michel finished fourth in Mexico and you were third today and Michel qualified fourth. Can you talk about the team?

Jimmy Vasser: Cars have been quick, and testing at Sebring went real well. We have been happy with performance of the cars in the off-season testing, and I think the cars showed to be quick in Monterey and while I'm not very surprised, I hope most of you aren't either, Michel Jourdain has got to be surprised with the season so far. He's never been in the situation that he has been in. I've got to tell you he's doing a fantastic job, he's very quick, and so we're nurturing him along too. He's going to win some races this year, I really believe that. There's a really good energy in Team Rahal right now underneath the tent, and everything is going real smooth. So we have got high expectations and we're having a good time.

Merrill Cain: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Best of luck in the final qualification session tomorrow.

--CART--

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain