CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi: Top three qualifiers press conference

CART Friday Qualifying Media Conference Bridgestone Potenza 500 Twin Ring Motegi April 26, 2002 An Interview with: Bruno Junqueira Tony Kanaan Paul Tracy Merrill Cain: We'll go ahead and get started with Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan as we...

CART Friday Qualifying Media Conference
Bridgestone Potenza 500
Twin Ring Motegi
April 26, 2002

An Interview with:
Bruno Junqueira
Tony Kanaan
Paul Tracy

Merrill Cain: We'll go ahead and get started with Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan as we await our pole sitter Bruno Junqueira.

Paul Tracy, driving the #26 KOOL Honda/Lola Bridgestone. With a best lap of 26.059 seconds he had a speed of 213.953 miles an hour. He's looking for his 19th career victory, his last victory came at Vancouver in 2000.

If you would take us through your qualifying. Obviously it was very opportunistic for you to go last today; track conditions improving throughout the course of the day.

Paul Tracy: Yeah, it was good to know what time we had to do. Bruno, obviously he did a great lap. You know, we left a little bit on the table. I was a little bit conservative warming up. Really was too conservative on my first lap and started out the second lap a little slow, kind of picked it up in the last corner.

You know, it's so critical, just fractions of a second. But all in all, I'm happy with the car. I mean, it's our first weekend with the car, so we've only just started to scratch the surface and understand it. So I'm very pleased.

Merrill Cain: Tony Kanaan qualified second today, driving the #10 Pioneer World Com Honda/Reynard Bridgestone, with a best lap of 26.051 seconds for a speed of 213.919 miles per hour. He's looking for his second career Champ car win, his first win came in the U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan International Speedway, back in 1999. This is his best qualifying performance since he won the pole for the race at Chicago Motor Speedway last year.

You've been quick here all weekend.  I know you really wanted to get that
pole for Honda.  You came so close.  Talk to us about your day.

Tony Kanaan: Well, we worked hard all weekend. I think we did the best we could. A lot of pressure on us, on the Honda side, a lot of pressure on myself on the Pioneer side. Both Japanese sponsors. I really wanted to do well. I just work on this pressure to help me out, not to slow me down. I try my best.

But obviously my fellow Brazilian [Junqueira] driver here did better.  I'm
happy for him.  But it was close.  We're in the first row.  It's a long
race, five pit stops.  Anything can happen.

So it's a good starting point. I'm confident that we have a good race car and I'm looking forward to the race. First, obviously we're here to win, but I want to finish a race. I haven't done that this year. To win, you must finish, so that's my goal for this weekend.

Merrill Cain: Bruno Junqueira is the pole sitter for tomorrow's Bridgestone Potenza 500. Driving the #4 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone, with a best lap of 25.907 seconds for a speed of 215.108 miles per hour. It's his second career pole position, his first pole came at Nazareth Speedway almost one year ago, looking for his second career victory. His first win came at Road America in 2001.

Obviously, it has to feel pretty good for you. You also have been quick pretty much all weekend. It has to feel good to get that pole for Toyota in front of the Japanese crowd.

Bruno Junqueira: I'm really pleased with Team Target because since it start running yesterday, the car was really good - it has been fast. And now the weekend, I think for sure today Toyota gave me a very, very good engine. I knew that you needed good power to be on the pole. The car was perfect, the balance was perfect.

It's really good to get the pole and start in front, but I still have to try to win this race. And we'll look tomorrow to have a good race car in the warm-up.

Merrill Cain: Bruno, you talked about it a little bit, Tony mentioned a minute ago the most important thing is finishing the race. Last year you qualified fifth but fell out in the earlier opening laps after an incident with Cristiano da Matta. How important is the start for you tomorrow?

Bruno Junqueira: For me it's important to finish the race, as well, because I didn't finish Long Beach. Last year I had no experience, and it was my second oval race

I think this year I have more experience, but on the other hand, last year I didn't really want to finish the race. This year I want to finish and win the race, or at least get a good result.

But for me is important to get out on the first lap, it's really difficult because it's a little bit cold. The first two or three laps of the race will be difficult.

A lot of people are doing the same lap times, it will be really difficult tomorrow during the race for someone to breakaway. I think it will be a group of five or six cars that are going to be together the whole race. You have to be really patient because it's 201 laps and keep a good car for the last pit stop. After that, you really race and try to win it.

Merrill Cain: We'll now open it up for questions for our Top three qualifiers.

Q: Bruno, you got the pole here today and you ran very quickly all weekend, been very competitive. Your team owner Chip Ganassi is not here. You don't have him to coach you. Maybe it's best that Chip stays home. What do you think?

Bruno Junqueira: No comment (laughter).

Paul Tracy: His contract doesn't allow him to answer that question.

Q: Paul, can you talk a little more about your first qualifying run in the Lola? I heard you briefly mention you think it's gotten so competitive, obviously Dario did very well in the Reynard, do you think it's just a matter of driver preference? Can you talk a bit more about that?

Paul Tracy: Yeah, I mean, you know, the engines in the cars are so equal to each other now that it really comes down, I think, to the way you drive, how your style is, and what suits the car.

For me, the Reynard, I've always - although I've won races in it, I've always had to kind of compromise the way I want to drive and approach a corner.

I got in the Lola for the first time, and within five laps I was comfortable in the car. It just really suited the way that I like to drive. So, you know, I'm still learning the car. I felt I could have done better in qualifying. But to be third with so little time in the car and so little experience with the car with my engineer, we're very happy.

Q: Both Honda drivers. I've heard that this weekend all Honda drivers have picture of Mr. Michihiro Asaka [Executive Vice President of Honda Performance Development] somewhere on their car. Some drivers say they have the stickers on their steering wheels. Did you actually have his picture on any part of the car and do you think that worked and was a good effect on your result in qualifying?

Paul Tracy: I didn't put it in my car, but [Team KOOL Green teammate] Dario [Franchitti] did. I put it inside my engineer's notebook so every time my engineer opens up his notebook to look at his notes, there's a picture of Asaka. They're telling us we have to win this race or else he's going to be sacrificed by the company (laughter). A big motivation.

Tony Kanaan:  I put it on the top of my engine, just to tell my engine that
he must be good.  I'm going to kiss Asaka before I jump in the car.

Q: Whose idea was it to bring his picture into the car?

Paul Tracy: His idea.

Tony Kanaan: His idea. His own idea. He has too many girlfriends in Japan. The in-car camera is going to see him, they think he's famous, so he gets all the girls (laughter).

Paul Tracy: He gave it [the picture] to everybody.

Q: I wonder if all three of you could talk a bit about the racetrack. I guess the bump down here has been removed, it's been improved. Bruno was saying he thought it would be kind of a five or six car grouping in the front. Is the racetrack improved enough to have a little more racing room?

Paul Tracy: I think these wings allow us to run closer behind another car. It doesn't upset the car so much. You know, I think there's room now in turn one for side-by-side racing. The turbulence isn't as bad with this wing.

I think it will be a good race.  I know for sure that my car's feeling a lot
better than it has in previous years.  I'm looking forward to a good race.

Bruno Junqueira: The first thing is, I think all the drivers like to come here to Japan. At least I like to because it's a very nice country. The people treat us very well. I love Japanese food, I like sushi and sashimi. I'm really happy to come here.

The track is good because it's a high-speed track, it's not flat-out like some other tracks. You have to brake and downshift. We have to really work a here. That makes the track exciting.

They have improved turns one and two a lot. As Paul said, it's going to be side-by-side racing. It's going to be a great race for the fans. You can race side-by-side and try to pass. That's going to make the race really close and really exciting.

On other hand, the commentators and the Japanese people, they can say my name right. That's going to be good, you know (laughter). If I win, they can pronounce my name right. It will be good.

Tony Kanaan: I think you're going to see a very close race here. I just believe that. Expect a lot of passing. When you have like 20 cars within a second, we are going to see more people following each other. Then when we get to lap cars or something like that, you're going to see people taking the advantage of it at that time.

I think people are going to get loose, people are going to push. It all depends on the balance on the car. People are running that close, but in the race people have such a different setup, somebody's going to go off or somebody's going to get better . Somebody who is starting behind is going to have a better car than the guys in front.

It's going to be exciting. A long race, I think five pit stops. It's something that we haven't experienced before besides the super speedways - I mean, in a normal race. People do five stops in a three-stop race - obviously they're in bad shape. So we have a lot of time.

The track is going to change a lot with rubber down. We're going to have to keep adjusting the car. The guy that's going to get the car more consistent through the day, that's going to be the guy that's going to be in good shape.

The wings are definitely much better than the other ones. We can race now. We can keep up and follow people, which is going to make it exciting. Before it was exciting for the fans, and not for us. Now it's exciting for both of us.

Q: Question for Bruno. We heard a new Toyota was brought in for the qualifying. How is it different at the top rpm? Are you going to be using this engine tomorrow for the race? What was the discussion between the team among the team?

Bruno Junqueira: For the race, because it's a very long race, you change engine just to get a fresh engine. But it's going to be the same spec engine for the race. As for the revs, expect something like 5,000 to 25,000 revs (laughter).

Merrill Cain: Thank you very much. Congratulations. Good luck in tomorrow's Bridgestone Potenza 500.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta