CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Top three qualifiers press conference

CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, WILL POWER AND SIMON PAGENAUD ERIC MAUK: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our post qualifying press conference, final round of qualifying for...

CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, WILL POWER AND SIMON PAGENAUD

ERIC MAUK: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our post qualifying press conference, final round of qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Round 2 of the Champ Car World Series campaign.

We will be joined by our top three qualifiers. We have two of those three with us at the moment. We'll start with our third-place qualifier, earning the best starting spot in a Champ Car event in his young Champ Car career, the reigning Atlantic champion, driver of the #15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Team Australia, Simon Pagenaud. Puts up a best time today of 1:07.883, 104.368 miles per hour. Strong run yesterday. Strong run today. Tell us a little bit about how you feel about it.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, again, the car was really good. I've been doing a very good job in the practice this morning with Will and all the team. The car feels very good to me. I did my fastest lap on my set from yesterday, the red Bridgestone tires from yesterday. So I guess we did a very good performance today. I'm very proud of the Aussie Vineyards team. Just very proud of all the team and what we are doing now.

ERIC MAUK: Last year in winning the Atlantic Championship, you had some good weekends, you won a race, you were consistently running in the top five. I know you expected to come in here and do well. But to have a weekend like this in just your second weekend in Champ Car, where you've been consistently in the top three all weekend, what does that mean to you?

SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, it means great. I can only say it's a good performance. You know, again, it's a big preparation before. I mean, I have not been just resting all the winter. I've been training hard, concentrating myself on this season. The whole team has been around me a lot. That makes me very strong. And obviously, as everybody said, I'm not very intimidated by anybody in this series just because I want to run up front, you know. The car is great. We are doing a great job all together. So it's just the way it is. I mean, I'm just driving the car as fast as I can and then I see what is the results after.

ERIC MAUK: Starting on the outside of the front row, driver of the #5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Team Australia, Will Power. Will is the series points leader, holding a seven-point lead at the moment. His quick time today 1:07.695, 104.658 miles per hour. As we alluded to yesterday, Will will start in the front row for the third time in the last four Champ Car starts. Will, tell us a little bit about your session.

WILL POWER: Yeah, in prequalifying, I think we got a bad set of tires or something because suddenly we had really unbalanced car. Really knocked my confidence a little bit. You know, we made a lot of changes before we went out and did a qualifying run on the red tires.

I wasn't sure what to expect in the car, so it took me a while to get back up to speed. You know, I got my best lap on the last lap on my first run. And then the last, the second run, there was the red flag. You know, our tires were almost up to temperature, so we were first out of pit lane. I think we were less than half a 10th off Sebastien's time, but I pushed too hard in the hairpin, I lost it all there.

You know, it was a good session. We start in the front row. We already have a good points lead. So we'll be looking for a good mistake-free race tomorrow and we'll have a good think about strategy. We got the opportunity, because we got the front row yesterday, to run on some heavy fuel loads, concentrate on race setup for tomorrow. So, you know, we're in good shape.

ERIC MAUK: We're also joined in the room by the co-owners of Team Australia, Mr. Craig Gore and Mr. Derrick Walker. Just to give you, Will, the chance to say it in front of the bosses so they can hear you, they don't have to read it on the transcript, tell us a bit what the difference is between the team now and the team maybe at the halfway point last season.

WILL POWER: Well, I think it's just progressed. I mean, it was my first year last year. So for the first six or so races, I was learning. It was impossible for me to give good input into the car and understand what actually makes it go fast. But then in the second half of the year, all the way up until the last race, I really started to understand what makes the car quick and also the team started doing more development. Have a very good sponsor there in Craig. You know, he's upped the budget this year so we could do more development. I think it's a really strong combination having a teammate like Simon, very similar driving style and a very similar setup. So it's just the whole package: good drivers, good team, good sponsors. Everyone really gels well together.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Good luck tomorrow. The polesitter for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the two-time defending champion here at Long Beach, the three-time and defending champion of the Champ Car World Series, driver of the #1 McDonald's Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. His quick lap today, 1:07.546, 104.889 miles per hour. He won here from pole last year. This is his second Long Beach pole, obviously his first pole of the year, the 26th of his career. That breaks a tie on the all-time list with Paul Tracy, moving him into sole possession of seventh, also making him now the leader among active drivers in terms of Champ Car poles. Sebastien, congratulations. Good, strong run. Tell us a little bit about it.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, well, I think it was a little bit of a better today for the McDonald's team. We were a little frustrated after yesterday. Obviously we had a very strong first run, then an happening on the second with the pit selection we had after the terrible mistake I made in Vegas. We just paid the price. You know, very costly. It was tough because we only got one lap, couldn't improve on the second run.

But today was a different day. We worked really well this morning. We found some improvements. And the track came to us a little bit, too. So I thought that second qualifying, I was pretty confident after the 15 minutes, we seemed to have a nice margin. But when we put the option tires on the car, the car got completely disconnected, lost the balance, and I was really not feeling comfortable at all.

So we decided to -- despite the fact that we were on pole, we didn't feel like we got everything out of it, and didn't feel like the balance was going to get there, so we switched back to the standard tires. That run really never happened. But the last lap was looking pretty good, and unfortunately I ran into some traffic.

I was pretty happy to see that Will made a mistake because it would have been difficult. It's tough, when you start like this, there's a last-minute rush after a red flag like this, and you start from the back in the pits, it's difficult. It makes life pretty stressful. So we hopefully are going to have a better weekend and better race tomorrow. We'll have a better pit selection so we don't have to go through this again.

ERIC MAUK: Looking at the scoring sheets, most of the guys put up their quick time of the session at the halfway point of the session. Are you surprised that the latter half of the session, nobody really seemed to make up any time?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, what I was most surprised of was the fact that we ran 7.45 on stickers and the Bridgestone tires in the 15 minutes, and 7.55 on options is pretty late in the session, too. So it really was a surprise. I think we definitely are going to have to give a good look at what we want to do for the tire strategy tomorrow because it doesn't seem to help our car to put the options on. So we'll see tomorrow how it goes.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, good luck tomorrow. We'll take questions from the media now from our top three qualifiers.

Q: All three of you, Tony Cotman said earlier this week they're thinking about having penalties for somebody who causes a first-lap crash. Do you think there should be penalties for that?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I guess it all depends if it's a blatant move. If someone makes something really obvious and really screws up, I guess it probably deserves a penalty.

But it's always a tough call. Sometimes it's just a chain reaction: someone reacts to somebody else, and it kind of snowballs from there. It's always a subjective judgment, and you've got to be a little careful with what you do.

WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, it's really hard for people because the concertina effect into a slow corner, and you lose some downforce when you get really close to someone. You can see that happened last year with Mario Dominguez hitting Tracy, then he hits someone else. It just caused a massive crash. It's almost impossible to prevent that. The only way is a single-file start, but that's not very fun for the crowd. I just think everyone back has to just be careful and be aware, you know, especially the rookies who haven't done many rolling starts.

Q: There have been some discussions about the standing starts. Do you think that would cause less or more problems?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think if the spacing between the rows is right, it's probably stretching things out some more, which would be a good thing.

But right now the problem is you've got a very tricky engine to do standing starts. It's not an easy task to do. We don't really have -- Cosworth doesn't really have all the electronics they need to set a very nice rev limiter, and that definitely causes a lot of problems - many of them being stalls. If you have five cars stalled on the grid, that's going to look pretty ugly and that's going to be very dangerous for everybody. I think it's a good idea, but it's definitely going to need a lot of work before we can get it done.

Q: Paul Tracy has a fractured vertebra. He's going to miss several races. Can you comment on how that is going to impact the championship?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I'm playing catch-up, so.

WILL POWER: No, I mean, it's terrible it happened to him. He's really good for this championship, a real character. Hopefully he's back soon. But as far as points go, I mean, anyone who's behind him, it's a good thing.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think for the series, you know, the only positive I see is it brings Oriol back in the field, so that's a really good thing because he deserves a ride. But, yeah, we can't wish anything like that to any drivers. It's definitely, you know, very surprising, but very sad in the meantime.

Q: There is a lot of other events going on here. Were you expecting it to affect your start, to get the rubber down?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's always a factor, but it's very difficult to anticipate it. So we'll see what happens tomorrow morning after the warmup, I guess. The ALMS is going to have the race now. If it has to change things, it's only going to change it for warmup. Then whatever race is before, it's probably going to be - what is it, the Atlantic? - so we kind of have some knowledge about this. They usually don't put too much rubber down. Actually take some out. It shouldn't be too big a problem, I think.

Q: Did you do your fastest lap on the black tires or red tires?

SIMON PAGENAUD: For me, I did my fastest lap on the red Bridgestones I had yesterday. The car went pretty good on the red Bridgestones.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'll follow the majority of the leaders, which is usually the plan is to use the options right off. We'll have a sticker set, so it's always a good thing.

Q: But your qualifying was on black?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, the fast lap was on the Bridgestone option tires.

WILL POWER: So was mine, yeah.

Q: Sebastien, if your confidence was shaken at all after Las Vegas, is it back now?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, no, I think we really kind of decided to forget about it. I guess that weekend's happen. If you're going to have bad problems like this, you better pile them on in the same weekend, that makes it easier to restart the season. I just hope it's behind us and kind of moving forward, and we're back on the groove. You know, let's hope it's going to be a solid weekend. It's been so far, so let's keep fingers crossed.

Q: Will, you talked about last year getting started, your first full year, that it took you a while to get into the groove, took the team a while to get into the groove. How impressed are you with what Simon has done so far this year?

WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, he's really quick and he's right on me all the time, which is good to have in a teammate. But, you know, he's come into the team when it's at its absolute strongest. So I think it's a bit easier for him this year than it was for me last year. We were struggling a lot with the car for the first half of the year. I wasn't giving input. But now we have a good car, Simon giving input, we're working really well together. Yeah, but he's impressive for a rookie.

Q: Simon, where were you able to find the extra speed yesterday?

SIMON PAGENAUD: I've been braking a little bit later almost everywhere, try to carry a bit more speeds through the corner. I was struggling with that yesterday. I mean, we did a pretty good change on the car, and I was able to do that. But it was just confidence in the braking. This car is all about braking. As soon as you can brake late, you're going to do a good lap time.

That's what I did. I picked up some times. But it's pretty weird because I thought the track would be a lot quicker today with the rubber down. But it's not much more quicker, you know. But for me it was just braking.

Q: Sebastien, are you getting the sense the early part of this season that you're going to be on your own more than usual in the quest for the Grand Slam championship?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think we've got plenty of competitors. Kind of surrounded here. It hasn't proved easy so far. Will is definitely showing quite a bit of speed and he's been very consistent through the first two weekends.

No, I fully expect Will to be the main contender. I'm a little surprised that Justin is not higher up the list, but it might take them a little bit of time to get the car figured out. I'm pretty convinced he's got a fairly big disadvantage on the weight, too, because we don't have much ballast in our car, and he's quite a bit heavier than I am. It is affecting things, you know. If you've got to be dragging 20 pounds more on the racetrack, that's not a very nice thing to do.

It does come into the game. But, I mean, it's still very early in the season. Obviously you can make some pretty sizable gaps after a few races like this. But I think more teams are going to get in touch with us - "us" meaning the three of us - as we go through the season.

Q: You are slower than the track record here a year ago, is the new car behind on development?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think we've had two fairly good road track tests and we only got Sebring like a few hours because the first day was a wash, the second day was a wash. We had so many problems figuring out the new car. And the third day, it rained in the morning, then we got a couple of hours of testing. Really we're kind of getting here with a very kind of baseline setup that's very basic really.

You know, we used to develop the Lola quite a bit on street courses. Obviously, it's got a long way to go. But, like I said, this car seems to be more right-eyed sensitive. It's probably going to be quicker on the road courses, but a bit slower on the street courses. We'll see that at the end of the season.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you, gentlemen. Congratulations.

-credit: ccws

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