CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Friday top-three qualifiers press conference

CART Champ Car Friday press conference. Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Michel Jourdain Jr. Eric Mauk: Let's get started for our Friday press conference for our first round of qualifying for the GI Joe's 200, round eight of the Bridgestone...

CART Champ Car Friday press conference.

Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Michel Jourdain Jr.

Eric Mauk: Let's get started for our Friday press conference for our first round of qualifying for the GI Joe's 200, round eight of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. We are joined by our second and third qualifiers for the day.

We'll start with the third place qualifier, Jimmy Vasser, driver of the #12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone, third on the speed sheets today with a best lap of 59.433 seconds, 119.267 miles per hour. This is Jimmy's best qualifying result of the season. If it holds up tomorrow, he would earn his best starting spot since winning the pole at Long Beach last year. Congratulations. Tell us about your day.

Jimmy Vasser: Fantastic day for American Spirit Team Johansson. Obviously, both Ryan second place, my third place, for a Friday start, a weekend, not even close to what we've experienced. We're very pleased. We thought we might have a pretty good car here. Ryan came and tested a day. Seemed like the car was pretty good off the trailer. You know, the Reynards were pretty good here last year with Townsend Bell driving. We were optimistic that the starting setup would be good, and we went out and put up some good times.

So, you know, it's a great way to start. You know, it was a little bit tricky out there trying to play the raindrops and all that. Ryan timed it pretty good. I think he had a quick lap going, but Tracy decided he was going to ruin his lap and get in his way. That's the way it goes. There's always tomorrow. I guess Tagliani got a little taste of that, too. I feel like I could push harder with more laps. We probably left a little time on the table. I was done with my 15 laps before anybody started their second run. We were a little bit worried about the rain coming in, so we played it a little cautious. I think it played out for us a bit. Some guys got caught out, not finishing their laps, we lost a little time by going early. But it's a great day for us.

Eric Mauk: Were there any slick places out there or did the track dry out pretty well?

Jimmy Vasser: We went straight out on the first set of tires. It was probably a little bit early. It was a little bit slick. It wasn't wet too much, but maybe it was a little greasy from the track just having got rained on and then dried out. But after the first laps the pressures did come up a bit better than on the first run. Other than that, the track conditions were pretty good.

Eric Mauk: Congratulations. Best of luck tomorrow. Our second place driver today is Jimmy's teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone. Ryan was one-thousandth of a second quicker than Jimmy, posting a best lap of 59.432 seconds, 119.269 miles per hour. This is also Ryan's best qualifying effort of the season and would be his best ever Champ Car starting spot if it holds up tomorrow. Ryan, congratulations. Tell us how your day went.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Thanks. It's great to be here. The day went well. We gradually worked on things, found some things that didn't work in the beginning of the day. Kept our heads up, kept going. We kept on a set of tires for both sessions, practice sessions. We ended up having 41 laps on our tires at the end of practice, which may have led to some of the slower times in practice.

You know, we made some great changes. You know, we all worked together in the room up there. Jimmy helped me out, and that side of the team helped me out. We made some great changes to the car, went out. It was a bit dicey here with the rain situation. You know, you could see the raindrops on your visor. You never know. Last year testing in Portland last time, there was a few raindrops on the visor, hit one of the curbs and snapped like a top, went right into the tire barrier.

So I really had to really build up to it and kind of, you know, get out there and get a good time. We did right away. We waited a bit. Jimmy went out a bit earlier, which I think was to his disadvantage. I waited a little bit longer and went out, put in some great laps.

Then I was on my last lap, I had a lap that going to be close to two-tenths quicker. Tracy decided to screw it all up for whatever reason, didn't move over, just parked it right in the middle of the corner. I couldn't have been any madder about it.

But sometimes you get those things, sometimes you don't. That's racing. So I'm happy to be here. We'll make a few little changes to the car for tomorrow. I think Jimmy and I, with those two things in mind, will go that much quicker. So I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to wake up tomorrow morning and go out again.

Eric Mauk: Jimmy talked about the test you ran earlier. Did that give you some confidence? Did you know you were going to have a good car coming in?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: This is the only place that we race that I've ever tested that. So, yeah, it did. I finally knew what to do with the Champ Car, I mean, when I first started driving, you know. But, yeah, that did. That definitely helped. And, you know, like Jimmy said, we came off the truck, we were pretty quick. Had a few problems because of the rain, going off, stuff like that. But, yeah, we got some stuff done and it definitely helped my confidence.

Eric Mauk: Congratulations. Welcome to the table. Good to have you up here.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Thank you very much. Very proud to be here.

Eric Mauk: Our qualifying leader, also our championship points leader, Michel Jourdain, Jr., Driver of the #9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. Michel put up a best lap of 59.397 seconds, 119.339 miles per hour, to lead Friday's session. He clinches a front-row starting spot and a championship point, extending his total to 90 for the year and widening his series lead to seven points over Bruno Junqueira. Michel, congratulations. How does it feel?

Michel Jourdain Jr: Thank you. It's great. The car was very good since we tested here after Long Beach. It feels very good. We learned some other things in Laguna last week for these tires. The car seems to be working very good since we unloaded it this morning. So I'm very, very happy. Gives me a lot of confidence knowing tomorrow we have the front row start for sure. So it helps hopefully we can keep it in pole tomorrow. I think the most important thing is Sunday hopefully we can get another point, some more points for the championship.

Eric Mauk: Qualifying session tomorrow, if it rains, do you even go out?

Michel Jourdain Jr:  Of course.  You want to get another point, you
know, for sure.  If it rains even more than right now, I don't care about
causing a red or something because we are  -- we have  -- in that case we
would have pole for sure.  So I wouldn't mind some rain tomorrow.

Eric Mauk: Congratulations. We'll open it up to questions from the media.

Q: This has been your strongest run in your career, how do you keep from getting overconfident?

Michel Jourdain Jr: Well, it's what I told the guys, you know, last weekend when they took our pole position. I told them, you know, things happen for a reason. Maybe we didn't need to win that race to not get overconfident. Maybe we needed something like that, you know. After Saturday and Sunday, the guys want to win so bad. Everybody knows that five pounds didn't make the difference for pole position last weekend, but it made the difference for us starting in 13th. So I guess we just -- today we -- we forget about today and just start think about tomorrow, no matter what happens today. And Sunday, we just stop thinking about the past. It's what I said a couple of interviews today.

The main thing for this year, was to improve our qualifying. That's what killed us last year. We qualified pretty good so far, but we have to go into go into Cleveland thinking that our qualifying has been terrible and just need to improve it the whole year, not thinking that because we have been doing well that the problem is solved.

Q: You guys, Haberfeld and Manning seem to be doing pretty well here, is this a better track for the Reynards?

Jimmy Vasser: I think the track is a little better for the Reynard for some reason. The Reynard drove better on the road course. Showed a little bit last weekend at Laguna. Reynard wasn't bad here last year, like I said, with Townsend Bell running fourth with my engineer Ed Nathman. Tagliani qualified third here last year in a Reynard. I think you're right, the Reynard is a little bit better.

Q: The Reynards are better on smoother tracks but this one is not particularly smooth. What is making the difference?

Jimmy Vasser: Well, the corners are smooth. The one back straight is a little bit bumpy. But since you know the theory of the Reynard, it makes decent downforce at low ride heights. So if you can stiffen it up and run low ride height., keep it close to the ground in the corners, it's not bad.

But the car hits on the ground quite a bit on the straightaway, and when we're propping it up with ride control so we can try to gain as much. Basically, the Reynard, as it comes up off the ground, it loses downforce. I think the way the Penske was and the way the Lola is aerodynamically, when it comes off the ground, when you go slow around the corner, it actually gains downforce. That's kind of some of the things we fight in the Reynard on a street circuit, on tracks that the corners are very bumpy.

Q: The first session this morning you stopped early?

Jimmy Vasser: Yeah. We came, unlike we are now, with a few components of my car. I guess we were definitely testing pieces. I could tell right away the thing was not going to be a platform which I could build on for the weekend, so we quit early so we had enough time to make the changes for the second session. I think we came straight out in the second session, and the car was much better, much better. But it's basically -- you know, it's pretty a familiar setup with us from last year.

Q: This is a startup year and its been a bit difficult getting going, but is this an indication that things are beginning to jell and come together more?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: The team, we just -- I don't know if everybody knows, but we've just gone through a complete personnel change. I just started with a brand-new engineer that came over from the IRL at Laguna. My engineer has moved to team manager. So, you know, it may have taken a second for that to get going, like you saw at Laguna.

But, yeah, things are starting to jell. The team needed to get into a rhythm, at the shop, everything. Things were a little bit confused with not having our right trailers, things all over the place inside the trailers, everything was disorganized. Now we have our trailers, everything put away in the right drawers. All those things help more than you can put your finger than. It's all a good thing. I think Jimmy would agree. Hopefully this will be an upward trend. We still have to fight the Reynard itself with front grip on the street circuit and some of the places we could.

Jimmy Vasser:  I would agree.  It's just one day, though. We screwed
things up this morning and last weekend.  We still have a long ways to
go.  But there are glimmers of shine on it from time to time.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: We just want to keep making it better one step at a time. Like in the race and stuff, we need to work on pit stops and stuff. It's just one day.

Q: The basic Reynard that you are driving is a bit older than the Lola and with the aero freeze, what can you work on to improve the car?

Jimmy Vasser: There are a few areas that are open for us to try to work on. But, yeah, just a well-balanced race car that you can have confidence in and hustle, is first and foremost is the most important thing for a driver. And we haven't even had that. We're kind of carrying our team down a bit from where we were a couple races ago, trying to just do the basics right. We've been messing up on the fundamentals a bit. Now we got some more direction, and we still have a lot of the basics to do to make the racing team better. So, you know, over time we'll get some of those in mind. But that doesn't mean it's going to get better and better all the time from here. You know how racing is. Just when you think you got it figured out, you know, so...

Q: Last week, how important was that race for you. You drove a great race to come up to fourth.

Michel Jourdain Jr: Hard to believe that fourth place was a great thing and we could have won the race. What would have happened, we don't know. We all know how hard it is to pass there and our team did a fantastic job in the pits. We passed a lot of cars for sure. For sure, it was good, what happened last week and on Sunday. What happened on Saturday, it's very hard to look at it positive because we will never know what would have happened.

But I just tried to think that for sure something -- it had to happen that somebody was going to take me out in the first corner or something. You know, that's what I'm trying see. For sure what happened on Sunday was good. We drove a great race, passed a lot of cars. I mean, I never thought fourth would have been possible. If we're in that position again, not because we are disqualified but because we have a problem. Hopefully we are going into Sunday thinking it can be done.

Q: Did you guys leave some time on the table for tomorrow?

Michel Jourdain Jr: We made a little change in the car there, you know. I think, of course we have another second that we can get faster.(Laughter). I don't know. I mean, we made a little change. We could make the car better, if we made a change, you never know. We felt comfortable that the change would have been a little better. Hopefully we would have gone a little faster. I don't care if it's for one thousandth of a second to be in the front, it's enough. We just have to make the car better for tomorrow because everybody else is making theirs better. I think you approach it different knowing that you have a spot in the front row.

Q: Ryan, could you explain the incident with Paul Tracy?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: You mean, with my lap getting messed up? It was in the second outingand we had seven laps to do. I kept going faster and faster each lap. Get on the radio, it was my last lap. Actually, two laps prior to the end, I backed off because I saw the Player's car come out, and he wasn't going too fast, I thought maybe he was on new tires. They're always a pain in the ass to get around, I don't know, they think they're supposed to be there or something. I backed way off. You know, I had huge distance, huge distance. Had a great run going, had a great lap going. I looked down coming out of the fast bit over here. Most of our times get gained over here. Looked at it, it was down two-tenths. I came up to Tracy, and he slowed down. I saw it coming. He was slowing down, slowing down, slowing down. Coming up to the last right-hander, coming up the last straight, he had gone slower than I think it's possible to go through there. I don't know why. He didn't move out of the way, didn't take the high line. I couldn't believe it. He just parked it. And then I jumped on the brakes and ruined the lap.

Eric Mauk: Thank you guys. Final qualifying tomorrow starting at 1:45 here.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Townsend Bell , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Michel Jourdain