CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH AJ ALLMENDINGER, JUSTIN WILSON AND NELSON PHILIPPE ERIC MAUK: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and start with our post qualifying press conference, first round of qualifying...
CHAMP CAR QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH AJ ALLMENDINGER, JUSTIN WILSON AND NELSON PHILIPPE
ERIC MAUK: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and start with our post qualifying press conference, first round of qualifying for the Molson Grand Prix of Toronto, round seven of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
Joined by our top three qualifiers in today's first session. We'll start with our third-place qualifier, driver of the #4 CTE Racing-HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for CTE Racing, Nelson Philippe. This is Nelson's best ever Champ Car qualifying result in his three-year Champ Car career. He puts up a quick lap of 59.203 seconds, 106.718 miles per hour. Strong run today. Tell us about it, Nelson.
NELSON PHILIPPE: After practice, I felt pretty comfortable with the car. Just changed a couple things to make me a bit more comfortable with it. I mean, it paid off. Finally a top three qualifying position. I've been saying for the last two years that was a place to start. Finally I'm here, so it feels great.
ERIC MAUK: This is your third Champ Car season, but only second time you ran here. Your rookie year you didn't run in Toronto. Tell us about how tough it is to learn a street track like Toronto.
NELSON PHILIPPE: You know, we're race car drivers, it's our job to acclimate to something new fairly quickly. You know, for the rookies, I feel their pain. I know how hard this track can be, how sometimes it's a bit uncomfortable to be close to the wall because it's really slippery on the concrete patches. I mean, I don't know what to say. I'm just so happy to be here finally. Was a long time coming. Today the team did an amazing job. It goes to them.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Good luck tomorrow. Our second place qualifier, driver of the #9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for RuSPORT, Justin Wilson. He is the defending Molson Grand Prix of Toronto champion, puts up a top lap today of 58.830 seconds, 107.394 miles per hour. Justin, you broke out the reds on the second stint. Tell us a little bit about how the Bridgestones reacted for you on the red compound.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, Bridgestones worked really well. Still wasn't enough for pole position. We took the gamble. We were pretty quick on the black tires. You know, things were working well. We saw AJ went red. We figured we had a good chance. Didn't quite work out today. But considering we had a slight fire this morning, so we didn't get much running in. You know, just really pleased the way that the CDW #9 crew have bounced back, given me a car that's quick enough for top three.
ERIC MAUK: How does one have a 'slight fire' in a race car?
JUSTIN WILSON: You look in the mirrors and you see little flames coming out the side of the car, and it's time to get out really.
ERIC MAUK: Justin, you won here last year. You've been around this track a few times. Tell us where you need to be fast here in order to post good times.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, the corners and the straights usually (laughter).
ERIC MAUK: Thanks for that.
JUSTIN WILSON: In particular, like Nelson said, this track is really tricky as far as getting over the concrete patches and still being able to get out of the corner. You know, you're trying to set the car up early on and make sure you know what's going to happen once you hit that concrete section. You kind of skate through the middle of the corner, anticipating the exits. Sometimes you get very close to the wall, sometimes you don't. It just depends on how the car takes those concrete patches.
ERIC MAUK: So far today we learned when the car is on fire, you get out, and you need to be fast on the straights and corners.
JUSTIN WILSON: I had a good teammate to learn from the last 18 months. I learned the wit from him.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I got nothing (laughter).
ERIC MAUK: Our first round qualifying leader, driver of the #7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, A.J. Allmendinger. His third straight race where he has led at least one qualifying session. Puts up a top lap of 58.621 seconds, 107.777 miles per hour. Guarantees him a front row starting spot for Sunday's race, gives him another championship point, raising his total to 136 on the year, just four behind Justin Wilson.
AJ, tell us a little bit about your day.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It was good.
ERIC MAUK: Atta' boy.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No, the whole Forsythe team, great job. It was probably the toughest day that we've had so far in the three weekends together. Obviously here in Toronto, it's a difficult course as the drivers have said. You know, I think as a team we still have a lot of to improve on. The Bridgestone blacks we're not as good on. But I knew we were fairly close to the pole. I saw Paul was going to put on the reds, I figure a couple people were. I knew they probably would make a lot bigger difference than, say, in Cleveland a couple weeks ago. We put on the reds. I held my breath for a lap, hung on to it.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about the difference in the blacks and reds. Expand on that a little bit. Seemed like guys on the blacks were getting six, seven laps and running quick laps on six and seven, on the reds, guys were getting four and five and running quick on two and three.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I can't say that because Nelson said he didn't run reds, so I'm not giving him any advice on them (laughter). No, I think for me, obviously the reds, especially on a street course that doesn't have a lot of grip, it's going to give you a lot more grip. The biggest difference for my car was it gave it a bit of a balance. On the blacks, we were having a lot of oversteer. On the reds, still too much oversteer. But it was able to give me just enough balance I could get a little more aggressive with the car, kind of drive it a little bit more how I wanted to.
For me, to be able to get that lap, as I said, the whole Forsythe team, we need to keep improving. I really don't think we have probably the strongest car right now over the long run, if, say, we had to race tomorrow. So knowing that we're starting on the front row no matter what, we can take some chances tomorrow and really try to learn some things, improve the Indeck car for Sunday.
Q: A.J. what has been the thing that has turned this around for you? You seem to riding a lot of momentum
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Definitely, when you're able to win, get the confidence in yourself, the team's got a lot of confidence, and they're working really hard, it kind of just seems like everything is falling into place. But the biggest thing is we know once you get a win or we have two in a row, it's not going to get any easier, it's just going to keep getting more difficult.
So if we can just keep improving every weekend, really come into the weekends with the same mindset, obviously that we want to come here and win, but just kind of stay consistent and try to be on the podium every weekend. Once you're near the podium, you can have races like where we were in Portland where we were dominant, or you can have a race like in Cleveland where it's so chaotic, you never knew what was going to happen, but we had a fast car the whole race. Just always improving and trying to focus on being on the podium.
Q: A.J., tell us about the strategy of going out on a clean track.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, that was just a great call from the engineering staff at Forsythe. My first run on the blacks, I was just in traffic the whole time. It was really hard to get a lap. I think we probably could have been a bit quicker on the blacks. So when we were sitting there, there was nobody on the track really. My engineer asked me, Should we go now or should we wait? Obviously, on a street course, it's probably going to be its fastest right at the end with more rubber getting laid down every time a car goes around the track. We just took a chance and went out there when there was nobody out there. I got three clear laps and was able to put a lap in there and just kind of wait for everybody to go out there and see if they could get a clear lap.
Q: Nelson, To what do you attribute the change in your fortunes?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I'll probably say it's hard work. You know, all the hard work I put in, you know. I think people don't give me enough credit for how much I've actually put in to get to this point. It's just so rewarding right now to have it, you know, all come back and pay off.
Have to give it up to the team and especially my engineer. I have an engineer I can actually work with and, you know, get some feedback from. I'm improving all the time. You know, I enjoy that he criticizes my driving. I think it's a good way to move forward. I mean, just finally, you know. The momentum for sure helps. My confidence is up. I mean, I said it going to Cleveland, I was looking for a podium. I think we were really close. I'm saying today that I want another podium here. I think we're going to be there.
Q: Nelson, the other guys were on the reds, you were on the blacks today, does that give you a little more confidence heading into tomorrow?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Actually, it gives me confidence definitely for tomorrow. But, you know, the reason I didn't put red tires on is I didn't feel confident enough that we would be quick enough to maybe grab the pole. So I said to my team, let's just put black and black and see what happens. Well, I wouldn't say it's a bad call on our part. I mean, I know that tomorrow we'll have two shots at the front row again, so we'll give it our best.
Q: A.J. are you looking forward to the San Jose race?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I'm just looking forward to every race now. Every weekend here at Forsythe, having a lot of fun, enjoying myself. Glad to see Justin is able to keep the comedy up there at RuSPORT since I've left. I don't know, I think you were overstepping the boundaries. You were a little too funny.
JUSTIN WILSON: Sorry.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No, every race that we go to, I enjoy getting to the track now, getting in the car, being around the whole team, just enjoying myself again. Glad Red Bull is kind of stocking the refrigerator there at Forsythe so I can keep drinking a ton of Red Bull and be hyped up as ever.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Is the Red Bull part of your success?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Definitely the Red Bull is part of my success.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Do you think I should drink some Red Bull before I go out?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: You should. The French drivers, you and Sebastien, what do you guys drink? Sebastien always has that bottle with that long tube in it. Maybe that's what you need, a bottle with a long tube that he's been drinking out of. I don't know (laughter).
All right, we've lost it.
ERIC MAUK: I was thinking, I better grab this here. Somebody save me.
Q: For all three of you, where are the toughest parts of the track and what are your favorite parts?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I think it's a very technical track. It's very scary. I scare myself every single lap, every single corner. Like Justin was saying, you don't really know what the car's going to do on the concrete patches. One time it's going to jump left, one time it's going to jump right. I mean, it's fun. I enjoy it. But I think turn one is a pretty tricky corner. Honestly, every time I go into that corner, I don't know what the car is going to be doing. That for me is probably the most technical part.
My favorite is the short chute after turn six leading to turn eight. I think it is really cool. Turn seven is kind of blind and you head towards a nice braking zone. That's my favorite part.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think I like they use really soft tires against the wall because I found that last year really comforting when you hit 'em. They allow you to bounce back into the middle of the track. No, I'm kidding (laughter). No, I think everybody said, it's a difficult track. I think it seems like they try to narrow it up every time we come back. Or is that just me? It seems tighter.
JUSTIN WILSON: That's just you.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It's me. I love the esses actually. The last section on the front straightaway, especially when the car is right, it's a great flow, you kind of grab a gear every time you get around a corner so you go from second to fourth coming onto the front straightaway. I really enjoy that section.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's probably the same thing as AJ. The last section is very quick and flowing. You build a momentum as you go through there. You know, for a street circuit, that's quite unique. Tight, bumpy corners, then that fast flowing section onto the pit straight. It's a unique place.
Q: A tough political question.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I'm ready, go (laughter). Is this a Robin Miller question? I was walking in with Robin Miller this morning.
Q: You hired a big-time Formula 1 agent to help you with some tough negotiations for your contract, what can you tell us about how the deal went?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, it's great. I'm on pole today.
Q: A.J., tell us about what happened with the near contact with Tracy.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It's a street course, so it's always close. Paul had I think overshot into the brake zone into turn eight or spun by the time I came around. He was just trying to get spun back around and take back off. I just caught him at the wrong part of time. At that point it didn't matter because I was on my black tires, and I wasn't going to be quick enough at that point. Even if we had all ran black tires at that moment, I still wasn't quick enough for pole. It wasn't that big of a deal. It was a bit of a shock as I came around, just to avoid 'em. It didn't really hurt anything. We weren't that close. We had already slowed down.
Q: Justin, you made some key passes here last year, what do you have to do to make passes on this track?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, I'm not going to give a lesson right here and now. It's very difficult. I don't know if the track has changed a little bit this year. As soon as you start to turn into that turn three, it gets very slippery. Seems like we're sliding around a lot more than previous years. That could make it a little bit harder this year, whether you can go down the inside and still make the corner. It's going to be very easy to overshoot that inside line. We'll see how the weekend turns out.
Q: Your thoughts on reunification and what kind of series you'd like to see.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think we all know it needs to happen. We're not going to kid ourselves and say it shouldn't happen. We want to race against the best in the world. You know, I mean, that's really what it comes down to. The schedule is for them to figure out, how to do it. For me, as long as Toronto is on the schedule, I'm happy.
Was that a good plug?
ERIC MAUK: Well done.
NELSON PHILIPPE: What he said.
ERIC MAUK: All right, Ladies and Gentlemen, that's going to end our press conference today. We set our final grid with qualifying 2:00 tomorrow. Thank you.