An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'll get started with our press conference. We'll start with Neel Jani.
Neel, you made a pretty strong move here in the rookie standings in the last couple races, moving up to second. Strong run today. Ended up third on qualifying.
NEEL JANI: Yeah, it's getting better and better slowly. I think today we counted the last five races together. If we would have started the championship then, I would have been second, behind Robert six points, two points in front of Sebastien, so that looks okay.
But today, after this morning's practice session, was really bad. I was 2.4 seconds behind Sebastien or behind pole. I was a little bit worried. This afternoon we improved the car quite a bit.
I'm actually surprised I'm still third actually because I didn't feel that comfortable. I was sliding around. I had one or two little mistakes. But I wasn't too happy because I got quite a bit of understeer.
But, I mean, one second? I don't think we can find one second. I don't know what he did on this lap. Will is in our reach. But we need to work for tomorrow, improve the car, get rid of that understeer, and then maybe I can move up to second position.
But I'm not too sure about tomorrow because it could be hotter, because the session is 2 to 3 o'clock. So maybe the track is slower.
THE MODERATOR: What has the team done to turn it around for you, especially going to your home continent in Europe?
NEEL JANI: I think it's two things coming slowly together. First of all, it's me. In the races, I learn more about the fuel economy, how to save fuel, qualifying, how to use the tires a bit more. On the other hand, we just improve the car more and more and more. I think we still have quite a bit of development to go on to really race against Newman/Haas. But it's step by step. I hope we get quicker there.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Neel. We'll open it up to questions.
Q: What is your feeling about Sebastien going to Formula One?
NEEL JANI: Well, obviously I know Toro Rosso from last year. Let's put it that way. I think it's a very good opportunity for him. I wish him definitely best of luck.
It will be tough because I'm sure it will be different than here. Here he's used to running up front. I guess with Toro Rosso it will be a little bit tougher. It will be interesting how the management will treat the drivers next year.
Q: This year have your cars been consistent or has it been you that are improving?
NEEL JANI: Well, last week we get quite close to a win in San Jose. It slipped away in the last part of the race. We are definitely we getting closer to a win. But I think we still need to work a bit. I need to work on fuel economy a bit more and we need to overall improve the car a bit more to really push to really get that win, since it seems like our best shot is when Sebastien doesn't have a problem (laughter).
Q: Are you aware of this track history of producing unexpected winners?
NEEL JANI: It was actually last year I watched my very first Champ Car race from beginning to the end on TV because just before that race it was getting clear that I would most probably move to Champ Car. So I was watching that race. My athletic trainer was in Austria and me at home. So when we called each other, Oh, shit, did you see that accident? That's where we'll be next year (laughter).
I know that this is the best racetrack, from what I hear, in America - next to Laguna Seca. I admit, it's a very nice track. It's very long. So it's very easy to make mistakes. And on the other hand it's also very easy to lose this one second a lap because each turn 1/10th and you're over a second.
THE MODERATOR: Now we're joined by Will Power, second quickest in today's qualifying.
You had that Aussie Vineyards car up near the front, but still didn't have much for Sebastien.
WILL POWER: No, I think everyone was a little bit confused with their cars because the different compounds of rubber from all the category of cars that's here. I went out in prequalifying, I thought the car felt really weird. Didn't really know what to do with it. I didn't make many changes. I just went out, tried to put together the best lap possible.
The last session, I sort of worked out where we'd gone wrong. I think we'll be stronger tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: You've been in a battle with Sebastien all year long. How has that been to battle with him?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, there's been some pretty strange races this year. You know, hasn't been very straightforward. So, yeah, it's been good. We haven't had many just outright battles on the track. It's sort of been strategy. It seems as though if you knock your front wing off on the first corner, you're guaranteed a win at the moment (laughter). I mean, that's how it's been.
I think at this track it's going to be a little different. People make less mistakes because it's a pretty wide-open track and you can afford to make a little mistake and come back on.
Yeah, looking forward to a good battle with him this weekend and also everyone else.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go back to questions.
Q: What do you think of this track in general?
WILL POWER: I think this is one of the best circuits we race on for sure. It's just like Spa. Really nice, flat, great for these cars. Got a lot of downforce. Yeah, it's probably not so bad for racing either. You got a lot of long straights that you can tow up and pass people using 'power-to-pass'.
It's probably the best road course we race on.
Q: Are you becoming more comfortable with the standing starts?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think everyone's sort of catching on to the best technique to do it. You know, eventually everyone will be getting better starts. Sometimes you see some pretty awesome starts. But, yeah, I think it's a good thing. I think it was a good idea for the series to do it. It's more exciting. In fact, it's less mayhem on the first corner because the cars are more spread out.
NEEL JANI: I agree with Will. Slowly everybody gets the hang of it and there are no stalls any more. Still it's quite hard to get a good, good start. But off the line now everybody gets and sometimes the better one and sometimes the worst one. It's just how you are on the throttle.
Well, I guess most of the guys here have done standing starts in the past, like Sebastien, like Will. Wilson, too. So I don't think it's really an advantage. Most of the guys have done it in their time when they've drove in Europe also.
Q: How does the long delay between practice and qualifying effect your set up?
WILL POWER: It didn't really change anything. You know, it's pretty normal. It's just you had to wait five hours between. I went and had a sleep in the truck. You know, I could have gone home and had a sleep (laughter).
Yeah, the only thing was there was a lot of rubber down, and different sorts of rubber, so it made the car a little bit strange to drive. That's, I mean, no different. I'd much rather have it at 2:00, plenty of time to debrief and get home or back to the hotel.
Q: For each of you how do you like this track with the black and red tire compounds.
WILL POWER: I think because they're such long, loading corners, for sure you're going to get some good time out of red tires, yeah. Track like this is always a good half second. But sometimes it creates a bit of an imbalance in the car because of the different compounds and you don't go any quicker. But if you preempt that, yeah, you get going.
NEEL JANI: Yeah, definitely you get more grip with it. But the imbalance, that's the big question always: how big is the understeer you get?
Q: You were watching the race last year. Coming here now and actually seeing it, driving on the racetrack, does it look that difficult or that dangerous as you drive it or is it very different from what you thought you saw on television?
NEEL JANI: On television, the track looked a lot tighter. It looks always different on television. But now when I'm here, it looks like a normal track, a European-style track, I would say, and that's the style I like.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys. We'll have Sebastien Bourdais, who was fastest today, come on in now for the press conference. To let you know, Sebastien is participating in the Tour de Road America, so we'll try to go quickly with him this evening.
Sebastien, probably the questions you're going to get asked most today is the announcement about Toro Rosso, going to Formula One next year. How is that going to affect your focus here going for your fourth straight title?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think we've got to keep things in perspective. It's a Champ Car weekend. So for my team, I want to first thank them for all the efforts and hard work they put together. This Newman/Haas/Lanigan team has given me a great car. The McDonald's car performed extremely well today. I couldn't be any happier.
I think the main target of the weekend is to win here at Road America, which obviously has been denying us the win for quite some time now, so it would be great. And that's it.
We'll start about Champ Car, and if you want to talk about Formula One, we'll go with Formula One.
THE MODERATOR: How did you go out and put a whole second on the field out there in qualifying today?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know, to be honest with you. The way the car was, I'm actually very surprised it was that quick because it was very, very far from being easy out there. The car was good. It's really very on the edge. I've had much easier cars to drive not going quite as fast. So I guess maybe it's the key, the best car to drive. No, the conditions were pretty tricky. It feels like the rubber that everybody's trying to lay down on the racetrack is actually not staying. There seems to be some incompatibility on the racetrack. With the zillion cars that went around the racetrack, there should be a load of rubber. There's actually nothing. Every time we go out, it's like green track. We lay out our own rubber, which when we come back to it, it's gone. So somebody is picking it up. We don't know who that is, but it does seem to make the track conditions quite complicated to follow and to read.
We were very surprised with the performance this morning, and it was pretty much the same thing, back to square one in the 15 minutes.
Yeah, it's challenging, but in the meantime it's the same thing for everybody so we'll try and make the best of it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q: What is it about this place that has kept you from winning?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think we could go on and on and on and about how the race unfolded here for us. We typically have quite, you know, surprising winners at this place. You do not have to have a great car, because you cycle back to the front when the yellow falls at the wrong time. Since nobody gets a lap down, because it's a long lap enough, but nobody gets lapped, you know, it allows a lot of people to just try things and sometimes benefit from it.
Obviously it's one place where you have as many yellows as anywhere else, and that just puts the win for grab for many people, and not necessarily the fastest car. I think we've had pretty dominant cars two years here, last year being the case, I think we had like 15 seconds on the field before a yellow, and then 12 seconds on the field before another yellow, and still managed to finish third.
It doesn't take much sometimes here. It's one place where every time you go back after a yellow on the racetrack, you know, people are towing around. It doesn't matter how fast you go, they get your draft, you're done, they're going to pass you. So it's a pretty tough place to race. And sometimes having the fastest car overall doesn't mean everything. You need definitely a fast car in the straight to be able to just defend yourself.
Q: Is there a big difference this week with the red tires and how they are performing? How do the black tires compare?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, obviously we have very limited information, but it doesn't seem like there was a big, big deal out of it. For us, we made the change, and it wasn't successful. You know, it's tough for me to quote what we would have done. But definitely I didn't really feel like there was a huge, huge deal in it.
Q: Talking about the car being a handful, is it caused by the rubber or the lack of on the track?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think it's always a combination of things. Obviously the track is not extremely well-rubbered in, which really doesn't make any sense because it should be, but it isn't. Every time you go out, it's green. And just for us and for myself, you know, the back of this car has typically not been as solid as the Lola, which is exactly the opposite of what most of everybody else is saying. I guess that might be the reason why we had a very good feeling with that Lola, and we had found something that maybe the others didn't.
But I'm definitely struggling a little more with the entry of that car compared to the Lola. When the conditions add to that factor, it definitely puts me in the situation where I'm not necessarily very comfortable. But, you know, today it really wasn't about being comfortable, it was really about pushing hard and just driving to the limit of the car. Probably also a nice shot of the car driving around.
Q: Would you say signing your Formula One contract is an advantage for the rest of the season, because you will more relaxed.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, I mean, maybe people are going to tell me, you know, you look really stressed out. But I don't think it really was the case. Like I said, you know, many times, I think at some point in my career I just thought that it was over. So everything I did this year and the test last year was kind of a bonus for me. Obviously I was going to be very glad if it was to make it, but if it wasn't, you know, I would have still driven a Formula One car in three instances. It was pretty cool for me.
I don't think it's going to change anything I had in mind anyway, just to give it the very best for the Champ Car season and hopefully finish on a high with the team. It's not going to change the intensity level, but we will keep trying to win that championship.