CHAMPCAR: Long Beach: Top three starters press conference

An interview with Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and Franck Perera THE MODERATOR: Franck, as you know, is a rookie and is a graduate of the Atlantic program, which is racing here, as well, in Long Beach. Last year you finished every race in the...

An interview with Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and Franck Perera

THE MODERATOR: Franck, as you know, is a rookie and is a graduate of the Atlantic program, which is racing here, as well, in Long Beach.

Last year you finished every race in the top five, which actually was the first time that had ever been done.

(Audio malfunction here. Some text omitted.)

ALEX TAGLIANI: It was a good decision for us. We made an improvement from yesterday on the red tires. I think it was a good choice to try them because it gives us an indication where we need to go to improve the car.

Everybody did exactly what they needed to do and the car was much quicker. We were right behind Justin on that last tenth with the red, and the car was capable of doing a little bit better lap, and I missed one corner on that last lap. Justin had one extra lap and he got us by a small margin.

We're happy to be on the front row and showcasing the performance and the speed of the team.

THE MODERATOR: Alex, your time was 1:07.084. Tell me what it's like here in Long Beach to be in the front row, the key to being the first guy around that corner?

ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, what's the key of being the first guy at the end of the race, right (laughter)? Well, I mean, first of all, it's quite amazing to be here. First of all, it means a lot to me. I won my first professional Atlantic race here in '97, and finishing the last race in Long Beach for the Champ Car series is very emotional.

Obviously I have a lot of mixed feelings because we're carrying a little bit of frustration of what's been happening to a team that's been in racing for so long, and at the same time, you know, like showcasing what we're able to do, knowing that we're coming here in the last three days, and the team didn't test at all in the wintertime.

It's unfortunate to see a team like that not having the opportunity to have a ride in open wheel racing, and obviously I'll be there waiting. If there's an opportunity for them to go racing, I want to drive one of their cars because they're pretty quick.

I'm very happy and fortunate to be here with all the people, and hopefully the race will be a great show for everyone, and we'll come out on top.

THE MODERATOR: The three gentlemen here were joined by four others. We have seven drivers today that were faster than last year's qualifying time, which was 1:07.546. Justin came in at 1:06.902, obviously closed at the end there to get what amounts to his seventh pole as a driver and the 11th for the Newman/Haas/Lanigan team. Talk me through those last 60 seconds with Alex. Did you know Alex had eclipsed your time?

JUSTIN WILSON: No, I had no idea. You know, my car was working well and I was on a really good lap early in the race, we came into Turn 9 and the car spun in between 9 and 10 and it was quite frustrating because I know I was up four tenths on my previous lap, which was probably pretty good.

I was expecting to be in the mid 6s at that point, but there was a car in the way and I had to back off. After that I had overshot my tires and was sliding around a bit more. We had to push hard and the team was telling me there was a lap time I had to beat, so I was just very pleased to sneak one in there in the last few seconds and get my car in the front row again.

THE MODERATOR: Well, you have to be the heavy favorite, given what's gone on the last couple days. The fact that three years ago Sebastien won in that car, I think you might even have the same chassis. How are you going to keep that tradition up?

JUSTIN WILSON: By winning, I think (laughter). Isn't that what you mean? We're going to try the best we can to go out on a high, which is quite an emotional event for everybody, being the last Champ Car race. It's a shame, but

ALEX TAGLIANI: He'll have to push really hard because I'm right there (laughter).

JUSTIN WILSON: We want to do the best we can, and if good enough we'll be there, and if it's not good enough, maybe Alex will be there. It's going to be a fun race.

THE MODERATOR: You talked about the emotion and obviously some mixed emotions. The 20 drivers gathered this morning for a last photo. How did that kind of feel and what was going through your mind heading into tomorrow's race?

JUSTIN WILSON: I'm focused on trying to win. I want to win for myself and the team, McDonald's, and also Julia and Jane back at home. It's been an amazing week for myself, so I'm sure they're on top of the world right now. It would be great to see this off with a win tomorrow.

Q: (No microphone.)

JUSTIN WILSON: I feel like I'm performing well. I'm feeling good. It's also down to the individual lap. I think it was my fifth lap, I was not thinking about anything. My mind was completely blank, and I was up quite a lot. At that point I was in the zone and got into it because it takes a little bit to recompose yourself at that stage and go again, knowing that you've got to push hard to beat Alex.

Q: (No microphone.)

JUSTIN WILSON: Well, yeah, there is always some pressure from a guy who's won the championship four years in a row. But it's more so here and more so in qualifying than any other time. Now I feel like I've proved myself, and it's getting easier every day.

But once we go to the IndyCar Series, it's a totally different animal and it's a different set of rules. I feel like I'm starting with a fresh sheet of paper there.

Q: (No microphone. Question was about standing start.)

ALEX TAGLIANI: We've been practicing a little bit this morning at the exit of the pit lane. Obviously everybody has his own thing, and it's a great show for the fans. Hopefully we'll have a good one. It's not going to be an issue for us. But I think the cars are working well and everything is built for it, so I don't think it's going to be any issues.

FRANCK PERERA: I don't think there will be a problem. We just did two races in IndyCars, so we'll remember how to do it for tomorrow so we're going to try for sure one more time. Like, yeah, he said, it's good for fans. There will be more chances to overtake on the first corner, so that's great.

Q: Tonight the race at Motegi may or may not happen. Will that make a difference in how you race tomorrow?

THE MODERATOR: Just for clarification, IndyCar was postponed yesterday. They're planning on running tonight. There's obviously a discussion if that race doesn't get held that the points won't be available, but they are looking at possibly moving it to the next day, as well. So it probably will not be determined even by tomorrow's race time here. Do you still want to answer that question?

JUSTIN WILSON: I don't think there's much to add. We've got to wait and see what happens. Obviously from my point of view I want to score points for this race. It's a good opportunity for us all to do that. But at the same time we will race the same way no matter what the consequences are. As I said yesterday, you don't drive to get involved with other people and get tangled up. You're trying to get the best score you can. I don't change the way I make decisions.

Q: (No microphone.)

ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I think it's always helping a driver to look what's happening on the track with other series, you know, to see how the track improves and how much there is in all the cars in other series in certain places on the track. Sometimes you see a car jumping and then you realize there was a pretty nasty bump there. But mainly it was just to support the team, and the drivers had a couple of little issues and they've been improving a lot. One of the guys was in the top five this morning in qualifying, so that was a good improvement. But just to see if I can help a little bit so they can get up to the field.

Q: (No microphone.)

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's a little bit different, slightly less downforce, and the power delivery is very different. It takes a little bit of adapting to. It's not been too difficult. My car has raced good both in the IRL and in the Champ Car. So when you've got a good car, the transition is much easier, so I'm just very grateful to be in the McDonald's car.

Q: (No microphone.)

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, I think so. The goal is to do well on the road courses and keep improving on the ovals. We feel like we have already a good understanding of the ovals and are making progress. I think every time we go to one, we're going to be one step closer. There's many steps, but we'll be a step closer.

Q: (No microphone.)

THE MODERATOR: Franck, this is your first year but you were around it here in the Atlantic.

FRANCK PERERA: Yeah, it was, again, a new race. It was my first race in Champ Car, but I don't think it's the same in Champ Car. I was really glad to race in America, and I liked what people were doing with drivers, and the drivers are so different between each other and in Europe. I think in Champ Car I feel more like a family, and for sure I will miss that a lot. And also there's a lot of different things technical on the car and on the tires than IndyCar. So there's a lot of things I will miss from Champ Car.

But like you say, it's my first race, so I have so much to learn and also to know the drivers and all the stuff.

ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I think through the years they've built like an amazing concept with great events. You know, the fact that they lowered the costs, like all the ideas of making a series that is affordable with like what Oriol was saying yesterday, he was saying that comparing the two cars, the Champ Car is much faster, lighter, more downforce, quicker and more fun to drive. So I think they reached the point where they had like the perfect product, affordable and with the best event all over North America to go racing with. And for some political issue it's really unfortunate that it's not going to move forward and we'll have to wait a couple of years before the IRL series reaches where Champ Car was, actually.

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, I think the biggest thing we'll miss is the turbo. It's been great to have turbos again. It's very nice, and it's very fun to drive. It's something you have to learn to manage on the car. You have to control the torque in a different way than you would normally. So that, the people, the fans, you know, it's like Alex said, we've built quite a good package over the years. It's a shame some of the business side of it didn't work as well as the actual racing product.

Q: (No microphone.)

ALEX TAGLIANI: For me it was quite different because I was installing plumbing and tiles in my new condo, so I became a race car driver the last day (laughter). So he had problems with that from the IRL to Champ Car. My adaptation was a lot bigger (laughter).

No, I think when you're a professional race car driver you get back in the car, and it's like you never forget how to drive your bicycle or ride your bicycle. I think what I have this weekend is the chance to drive an amazing car that was developed all through the year last year by Walker Racing. It's difficult to describe, but for me being in this situation is something that I was craving for a long time, and I'm enjoying every second of it. You know, it's fantastic.

As soon as I jumped in the car yesterday morning, I knew this car was capable of doing great things around this track.

JUSTIN WILSON: Alex has a third job this weekend as a car salesman. He's trying to sell cars.

ALEX TAGLIANI: I'm trying to support Derrick. There's going to be a car for sale (laughter).

Q: (No microphone.)

FRANCK PERERA: I don't know. The best would be a winner for sure. The start will be important. The race is going to be very long and very tough, and for me the first race in Champ Car. So I will try my best, and I think we have the package to fight with both cars. And Power I think will also be good during the race. I will try my best and also get some points, so for the championship is also important. I will try to be in the best position I can.

JUSTIN WILSON: I think we've got the confidence to win and I think we have the ability to win. That's my goal. I don't expect to, but whenever you expect something, it always goes wrong.

We believe in ourselves, and I think we're capable.

ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, we're going to do everything to win, that's for sure. I think tomorrow it's going to be a totally different thing. A lot of guys are going to be surprised from the level of grip because a lot of the series, so physically we're capable of going flat out all the race, so there's going to be some strategy and fuel saving and all that stuff. I'm in the best position to be well supported by this team, so we have everything that we need to get it done, but no predictions because I'm a little bit superstitious.

Q: (No microphone.)

FRANCK PERERA: No, I mean, a little, because like I said, in Sebring we are very competitive for the first Champ Car test from my side, so I knew we could do something good this weekend. My engine, I also had a lot of experience from Forsythe, and so I knew it was possible to do something good. Conquest for sure is completely different from last year, and I have very good people and we're really showing in IndyCar, even in ovals, though I had no experience, that we can fight with teams like Newman and other teams.

I'm not really surprised, but from my side, yeah, because my first race and my first qualifier with the red tires, my team was different, and it was not easy, but it was good. For me it's important to perform with tires, but it's important to be on the front end and tomorrow to fight for the victory.

-credit: irl/ccws

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Alex Tagliani , Franck Perera