CART Media Teleconference Presented by WorldCom Tuesday, April 16, 2002 An Interview with Michael Valiante Part 2 of 2 -- The first turn, the first lap. Q: You had a good view of the first turn of the first lap. Can you tell us anything...
CART Media Teleconference Presented by WorldCom
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
An Interview with Michael Valiante
Part 2 of 2 -- The first turn, the first lap.
Q: You had a good view of the first turn of the first lap. Can you tell us anything about that?
Michael Valiante: The green flag was thrown extremely late. I think we were really bunched up by the time we did get the green flag. I didn't have the greatest start. So Jon Fogarty who started fourth alongside of me got in front of me. Basically we all went into turn one much too late. I was just trying to gather up the car. I think Jon squeezed down the inside of Joey and Ryan was on the outside. It's really difficult to go through turn one three abreast, especially with that much speed.
I think it was hard to see what happened to Ryan, but I guess he hit the tire wall. I was just able to squeeze on the inside of Jon Fogarty. I thought I was actually going to come out in the lead. I looked on the inside, Alex was on the inside of me, and we were in the same situation, going three abreast.
We just squeezed through there with inches to spare.
Q: Certainly I know you held your breath after that for a bit. Did you hold your breath when you made the move on Alex or was that something you felt you had in hand and could do?
Michael Valiante: Well, I had followed Alex I think it was almost for 20 laps. I knew that he wasn't too strong in the braking zone of turn one, so I knew if I had the chance to pass him, it was going to have to be at the end of the straightaway.
The hard thing was at Long Beach you really have to get behind him off the hairpin to get the draft in the Atlantic car to have the chance to pass him at the end of the straightaway. Alex is extremely good at coming off the hairpin turn.
On the restarts, it was the closest I had ever been. I got a great draft. I was thinking about going to the inside first, but Alex was right up against the wall. I had so much momentum going.
I just decided to take the outside line. I had a little slide going. Probably wasn't as dramatic as it looked because the car wasn't completely sideways, it was just enough where I could hold it through the corner.
By the time I was at the exit of the corner, I realized how close it was.
Q: Does this win now give you extra confidence for the season or did you already have this confidence being with the Lynx team?
Michael Valiante: I think it all gives us -- has given the whole team extra confidence because we have a few new people on the team now. Like I said, Steve Cameron, the team manager, was my manager last year. Rick is my team manager this year. I'm still getting used to working with new people. Obviously we're doing something right because we had a really good car and were able to win this race.
Q: Last year you ran in the series, this year. Can you talk about the different level of competition this year versus last year?
Michael Valiante: Last year was extremely competitive. There was quite a few good drivers. But I think with the merging of Indy Lights and Atlantic, obviously you have three Dorricott cars who are a constant threat, three good drivers, the team is very good coming from Indy Lights and winning quite a few championships.
With the numbers now exceeding 25 cars, the competition level, any Top 10 driver can win an event. That's how I see it. It's really forced not only myself to raise my game but also the team as well, to make sure that in every single test day we're getting the most out of me and getting the most out of the cars.
I think it's extremely competitive, more than last year, because I don't think there were this many cars that could win a race. I think it's going to be extremely challenging all year long, although it will be -- I think we will get more recognition, the Atlantic driver will get more recognition if he wins an event because they're basically one stepping stone series into CART now.
Q: You have quite a layoff now. I think your next Atlantic race isn't until June.
Michael Valiante: Yes.
Q: What does that do to you in terms of what will you do during that time? Just having won a race, obviously you'd probably like to have another race in a week or two weeks to keep the momentum going. That's the way the schedule is. How do you feel about it? What will you do in the month of May?
Michael Valiante: I think it's critical to keep in good shape even though we're going -- we have almost a little over a month off. Basically I'll just be working out almost every day. We have some tests scheduled, as well. I also like to do a lot of karting. I have a long history of karting, so I do quite a bit of that while I'm down here in California. That just helps me prepare for the next event.
It would have been nice I think later in the season there's a series of events, almost four in a row. Like you said, it would have been great to keep this momentum going.
But it's also great to have a month off just coming off a victory, the whole team is happy. Basically the whole team is on a high from winning that event. It's a good way to have a month and a half break. I think it will only build my confidence for the next event.
Q: Do you feel an inordinate amount of pressure? The fact you have a Lynx seat, you almost sounded like you didn't do very well in Mexico, sounded like there was a real urgency to do well here. Do you feel that now? Last year you only had five rides, but now being one of their top drivers, because the history of Lynx, do you feel that pressure like you have to produce immediately, you can't even sort of have time to kind of acclimatize yourself to the season?
Michael Valiante: I mean, definitely the Lynx organization, it's great to be part of. They don't put the pressure on me. I mean, I put more of it on myself. The sport at this level, Atlantic, even more so in CART, it's all based on performance. The pressure is always there to finish on the podium.
Like I said, I think this year more than anything it's critical to finish on the podium and have consistent results if you're going to have a shot at the championship. You can just see from Jon Fogarty, who finished third this weekend, he has a first and a third now. I think he's going to be one of the main contenders because he's consistent.
Same thing for myself.
If we don't have the best car, we're not having the best weekend, like in Mexico, we were still able to finish fourth. That's what put us in the position right now where we are in the championship, a few points behind Fogarty who is leading.
Like I said, if we can't win, we have to at least finish on the podium.
Q: You finished fourth in Monterrey. Do you also feel, you not only have to win, you have to demonstrate you're a pretty aggressive driver, the manner in which you won? Is that just as important as winning?
Michael Valiante: Winning the way I did was it is was the best thing I could have done. I think a lot of people have taken notice to the way I passed Alex. He didn't make it easy by any means. I really had to push to get by him.
When you can win a race like Long Beach, because I think people say it's a real technical track, if I can win the way I did, it will really help my career. I think it will really help the team, to give them confidence as well, if I can do things with the car like that.
Q: Do you come home at all during this next stretch?
Michael Valiante: We'll be testing in Portland next week. I'm going to try to make it back to Vancouver within the next two or three weeks. I've been away from home for a while now, almost three months. I'd like to come home and see everybody.
Q: Atlantic events in Toronto and Montreal this year.
Michael Valiante: Yes.
Q: It's been unfortunate it's not in Vancouver. At least those will be big races for you, won't they?
Michael Valiante: For sure. Any time I come home for Canada, I think we receive a lot of publicity, as David did. Two great Canadian drivers, quite a few. We're all looking forward to coming home and competing in front of our home country crowd.
Q: How did you meet the Lynx ladies? I know you don't drink, but do you get carded very often?
Michael Valiante: Well, how I met the Lynx lady, the beginning of last year actually I didn't really know what I was going to be doing. I just finished the season. I was really looking for an Atlantic ride. I first started talking to Steve Cameron, team manager there. We tried to put something together. Took quite a few weeks before I got in the car. It was only a week before Long Beach. We finally came to agreement that Long Beach would be my first race. After the first test, I basically went and met Peggy, Jackie, talked. They were excited to have me on the team.
About getting carded, probably more so in the United States than in Canada. Like you said, I don't drink, so I don't have too many experiences with it. More so getting the mechanics beer, things like that.
Merrill Cain: One final question for you. We asked Michael Andretti about this before we let him go. If you could talk a little bit about the ladder system. You're a Barber Dodge Pro Series graduate. Now there is a clear track to the Champ cars. What does that mean to a talented driver like yourself who wants to reach the highest level?
Michael Valiante: I think it's great. It's been a long time coming. When I came out of karts, it was difficult to make the transition because you didn't really have any direction, didn't know if you could into to Formula 4, two-liter, Indy Lights, Atlantic. It was difficult to make a decision. I was one of the first ones to win the scholarship into the Skip Barber Racing School, receive a full free season, my first season. I was able to go from their two-liter series, then win a scholarship to go to Barber Dodge, and now to Atlantic, and hopefully CART.
There's a real defined path. It's great for up-and-coming drivers who aren't too familiar with the sport or how to even get up into CART or even Atlantic. I think it's great.
CART is continuing to do things for Atlantic drivers and all sorts of drivers like this new mentor program that they've introduced. I think you'll definitely see some Atlantic drivers making the transition into CART.
Merrill Cain: The mentor program was announced this weekend also in Long Beach where drivers like yourself will have the opportunity to meet with Champ car teams and drivers, get a feel for what's it's like to compete at that level, especially on a race weekend. How important and valuable do you think that's going to be to you?
Michael Valiante: I think it's extremely important because it puts your face in front of the CART owners or the CART teams. Anytime that you can have an introduction like that, you can always go back and talk to the team or talk to the engineers or even talk to the drivers.
I found one of the most important things in racing is to constantly keep your face and keep in contact with influential people that you know, not only because of the influential people, but I've met so many great people and have become friends with them.
Anytime you can basically network in motor racing, I think it's an advantage. I think CART is only helping the Atlantic drivers do that now. It's great to see.
Merrill Cain: Thanks again for joining us this afternoon. We really enjoyed watching the race in Long Beach. Congratulations again on the victory. We'll see you at the next Toyota Atlantic, in Milwaukee, early June.
Michael Valiante: Thanks for having me.
Merrill Cain: Thank you for joining us on the CART media teleconference. See you at the next CART FedEx Championship series event, the Bridgestone Potenza 500 from Motegi, Japan on Saturday, April 1227th. Have a very good afternoon.