JUAN MONTOYA (Target Toyota Lola), on defending his Rio 200 championship: "Last year, I only had three points after the first two races of the season. I have one point now, so I'm really not that far behind last year's pace. One important thing I...
JUAN MONTOYA (Target Toyota Lola), on defending his Rio 200 championship: "Last year, I only had three points after the first two races of the season. I have one point now, so I'm really not that far behind last year's pace. One important thing I learned in my rookie year is that it's a long season, so you can't panic and you can't get overconfident. It's disappointing that we haven't been able to finish a race, but the car has also been unbelievably good at times, so I know we'll be fine. (On last year's victory at Rio de Janeiro) Rio was one of my favorite races in 1999. It was my second straight oval win, so that's when I really started to believe in my ability and realize how talented Team Target was. It was also my third straight win. I still can't believe that. Rio is a great place to race. The fans really get into it, so I'm anxious to race there again. I'm confident we'll run well in Rio."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on his early success during the FedEx Championship Series season: "We're only two races into a very long season, but I've got say that I like the way things have gone so far for the #26 Team KOOL Green crew. Leading the championship makes you think about winning the title, but we know we've got a long way to go to reach that goal. We also know that if we keep working together as a team, and not make too many mistakes, we should be in the hunt heading to Fontana [for the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota]. But we're taking it one race at a time and we've got our sights set squarely on scoring more points in Rio. It's an interesting track and it usually produces an interesting race. We're on a bit of a roll, we think we've got a good setup for the Rio circuit and I've had some success there in the past [1997 winner], so we're not lacking any confidence heading down there."
JIMMY VASSER (Target Toyota Lola), on his adjustment to his new Toyota/Lola equipment package: "Our team is doing a lot of things right, and the results are beginning to show. I'm really getting comfortable with the new Toyota-Lola package, and I was extremely impressed with the Firestone tires at Long Beach. The whole team is excited about how we're racing, and I'm looking forward to continuing the hot streak in Rio. Obviously, it's way too early to be looking at the point standings but, as you learn pretty quickly, every point is important. I told Juan [Montoya, Vasser's Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate] yesterday, 'Be happy you have that point from the Nazareth pole -- it could come in very handy at the end of the season.' "
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), on the Brazilian fans' passionate interest in Champ Car racing: "Brazilian fans are unbelievable. They are great fans. Obviously, they have a good reason to be because they have a lot of great drivers. They are very emotional fans in general. They know everything about racing and it's great to race there because you feel their support and all the energy and I think it is really good for the FedEx Series and Texaco also, since it is one of their biggest growth areas. It's pretty important to race in Brazil. With so many Brazilian drivers and sponsors, it's important to race here. They follow our races on TV throughout the season as well. Our racing in Brazil has been tough. The Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline car has had a lot of problems and have only finished one race out of the four. We just keep plugging away, though. I figure the odds are on our side now. Sooner or later it's going to go our way. We need it to go our way this year."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on regaining the form that made him last year's runner-up in the FedEx Championship Series championship: "Obviously, I'm disappointed with our lack of results so far this season, but there's no reason to panic. We know we've got a good package in the Honda-Reynard - it's certainly working for Paul - so we'll just stay the course and continue to work on fine-tuning our setups. Fortunately, Team KOOL Green has always given me a good car at Rio and I certainly enjoy driving the circuit. It's fairly basic, but it's got some fun corners and a couple of decent passing opportunities. We'll be looking for every advantage that we can find to start up front because it's usually tight quarters once the race starts. It's a great show for the Brazilian fans, who without question are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. They have a passion for the sport and Brazil has produced a lot of quality drivers, especially the half-dozen or so currently racing in CART. They're very good."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), on the strong motorsports tradition in Brazil: "Brazilian fans are pretty fanatic about racing. They have been enjoying motor racing of the highest level for about 20 or 30 years. First with Emerson [Fittipaldi] and then with Nelson [Piquet] and [Ayrton] Senna and now with the new boys. There is a lot of motor racing tradition within the Brazilian culture and I think that is good for CART. Scoring my first pole in Brazil [last year] was a huge excitement, not only for myself, but also for the team and Kmart. They supported me a lot all these years. It was very close between Dario [Franchitti] and myself but I managed to pinch it three of four-hundredths of a second quicker than him. I can say it was a little more special because it was my home country but I would take it anywhere. It was such a happy moment for myself and the team because of all that we had been through over the years. It was definitely a sweet feeling to win the pole in Rio, but as I said I would take it anywhere for sure. I think it is important to do well in every race in the series especially if you are going for the championship. It's really important to keep up the pace at every race and not just when you are going to your home event you put in a little extra effort. You should always be driving to the max so that there is nothing else in your power to do."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), on holding the lead in the race for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award: "It's nice to be in the lead in the rookie standings after the first two races, but I think what is most important is that we are progressing well in our learning process. I've been able to build a strong rapport with my engineer, Alex Timmermans, and the entire Player's crew. We're all pulling in the same direction and I think that spirit of collaboration is evident in the results that we've been able to produce so far. The race in Rio will be a new experience for me, my first opportunity to drive on the Emerson Fittipaldi oval. I know that the Player's team has a history of success at that track, with a win there [from Greg Moore] in 1998. We'll try to use that formula of success and the things we've learned in the first two races to maintain Team Player's fine record in Rio."
TONY KANAAN (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard), on racing in his homeland: "Being a Brazilian, this will always be a very special race for us ... our homecoming. My first Champ Car race there (in 1998) I experienced one of those surreal moments during my qualifying run. I could actually hear the roar of the crowd building as I was making my way around the track. I qualified third, my best starting position to that point. And even though hundreds of horsepower were screaming away behind me as I went around the track, somehow the roar of the crowd got through and it felt very exciting. I'm looking forward to bringing my new teammates down to Rio. Our sponsor is Hollywood, and we really want to put on a good show for them. As we've shown in our first two races, this team seems to be competitive right out of the box. We had a good run on the oval at Homestead. At Long Beach, we were running well before we ran into some terrible luck. So you never know when we will finally break through. But we are a new team, and there are things about being a new team that you have to work through with experience. Wouldn't it be great if we could bring home our first podium finish, even our first win, down there? It would be the kick in the pants we've all been working so hard for!"
CRISTIANO da MATTA (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard), on regaining his form in Brazil, his native country: "My luck racing in Brazil was good until last year, when I lost the engine during the race. So I am hoping that this time things will be different. It's my second time to race on this track, so I'm more prepared. Our oval set-up is not where we want it yet, but it won't be as big a deal in Rio because the track isn't really an oval. The shape is different. The turns are more defined, so you're not just cruising around like at Nazareth. I think it's good for us to race in Brazil, because there are a lot of fans of Champ Car racing in Brazil and a lot of drivers for them to cheer for. And Pioneer and MCI WorldCom and Mitel all have businesses down there, so they will be there, too. Of course, I love being in Brazil, because it's my home."
ORIOL SERVIA (Telefonica Toyota Reynard), on building upon his strong performance at Long Beach: "Well, after such a good finish in Long Beach [sixth], I am definitely looking forward to Rio. It is a big event for my sponsor Telefonica, so I know I will be busy off the track as well as in the car. Plus it's my first time racing there. So far, I have already raced at all the tracks - Miami, Long Beach, and Nazareth - in Indy Lights. This is the first new one for me, even though they are all new to me in a Champ Car. We are still searching for the best oval set-up, but from what I can see, it might not be as much of a problem for us in Rio. There's still a lot of downshifting and braking that will take some of the pressure off the set-up, but not too much. I'm just happy to be ahead in the points so early in the season, and I'm going to give it my best to earn another really good finish in Brazil."
MEMO GIDLEY (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), on his return to Champ Car competition: "It felt great to be back in a Champ car again at Long Beach. I appreciate the opportunity that Team Player's gave me when it needed someone to fill in for Patrick [Carpentier, sidelined with a broken left wrist]. I'm determined to seize this opportunity to show what I can do in the CART series. I was really happy with how quickly I was able to adjust to my new surroundings at Long Beach. From top to bottom, Team Player's was outstanding, both in welcoming me to the team and providing me with a car that was certainly capable of running with the contenders. I have no doubt that will be the case at Rio, and I'm going to go all out to repay the team for its faith in me."