CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago: Top three qualifiers press conference

An Interview With Dario Franchitti Alex Tagliani Cristiano da Matta Merrill Cain: We'll get started here Ladies and Gentlemen with our top-three as we wrap up qualifying for tomorrow's CART FedEx Championship Series CART Grand Prix of ...

An Interview With
Dario Franchitti
Alex Tagliani
Cristiano da Matta

Merrill Cain: We'll get started here Ladies and Gentlemen with our top-three as we wrap up qualifying for tomorrow's CART FedEx Championship Series CART Grand Prix of Chicago.

Alex if you could start off by telling us a little about what you were going through after losing the engine in the practice session this morning.

Alex Tagliani: Well, I was definitely a little bit worried because we didn't put the time on the sheet this morning. We do it usually. And I guess when you don't do the time, you don't have the confidence to go there and perform. And if there's a weather change, it's tougher to go in the front or just make those last minute changes for qualifying. So, the car was a little bit conservative, but the fact that the track was a little bit slower was good. It was just the way it needs to be on the front row, I guess, but I think the team worked so hard in the last two hours. We didn't have the time to change gears. We just changed engines and cleaned everything up. It was a big blow up this morning, so I think it's a great team effort.

Merrill Cain: Dario Franchitti is your polesitter for tomorrow's CART Grand Prix of Chicago. He qualified first in the #27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone. He wins the pole with a lap of 23.428 seconds, that's a speed of 158.118 miles per hour. This is his 11th career CART pole position and first since going back-to-back at Road America and Vancouver. That came in 2000. This is his second oval pole of his career and the first since winning the Rio pole in 1998. The pole also leaves him in possession of 11th place for the All-Time CART list, tied with three others. Obviously you talked a little about ovals. It has always been something that you've enjoyed to do and have not always had the success that you like, but it is certainly a great one here in Chicago.

Dario Franchitti: Definitely a good one. Any pole - it is fun when you are quick in any session but it really counts in qualifying, that means a lot. The car was very quick this morning. We did a 23.700 and the track heated up so we lost balance and started to slip. We made some changes for qualifying and the track was slower, so, we had to make some changes to compensate for that as well. I think we did quite a good job. It was a bit nerve-wracking at the end there when both those guys tried again. Either of them could definitely have had a shot at the pole. I am very happy. Great job for Team KOOL Green.

It's one of those things. You can start with the back or the front. It really doesn't make that much difference. You can win from either end, but it's certainly easier from the front. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow and it's going to be a tough race, and hopefully we'll have a good day.

Merrill Cain: This is the third pole of the year for Honda. That ties Toyota for the series lead through seven rounds this season. Let's open it up for questions for our top two qualifiers here.

Q: How has life changed in going from the Reynard to the Lola chassis over the course of the year?

Dario Franchitti: When [teammate] Paul [Tracy] jumped in the car in Japan, he thought it was amazing, from that point we started being competitive. The road courses are good of course. I said to my engineer this morning, I said I think we are 90% there with out setup on the road courses. We just need a bit more - certainly our test at Mid-Ohio we felt the car was great, but other tracks have not been able to replicate that yet. We'll keep working at it.

Merrill Cain: I did want to introduce Cristiano da Matta who qualified third this afternoon. #6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He earned his fourth top-three qualifying spot of the season posting a top lap of 23.443 seconds at the speed of 158.017 miles per hour. It's his best ever qualifying start in Chicago, his previous high of fifth; that came in the year 2000. That's also the year that he earned his first Champ Car win here in Chicago. Cristiano, go over your qualifying lap today and also your performance and your feelings in starting third tomorrow.

Cristiano da Matta: I am of course pretty happy considering the performances in the previous events. We have been improving a lot. Since the Motegi race, we were really struggling, finished the race 115 laps down. (LAUGHTER) It was a long way to go.

In Milwaukee we were running okay, we weren't running good but we ran in the top-six. I felt like I didn't have the best car in the road there, but I had a competitive car that was going to bring some points home. I feel another step in the same direction, we keep improving and at Milwaukee we had my best qualifying effort on the ovals this year. Also, of course, the car feels good to me. So I am happy - more than with the result, but I am very happy with the progression . It shows that the team knows how to turn a situation around. Of course, we're doing so bad that it takes a little bit of time. But I'll be relaxed when I see tomorrow that we have a decent race set up which is a very different game than what it was when we qualified today. And I think have a lot better understanding of the oval setup that we need to put in the car right now than we had in Milwaukee. So we're learning and we're getting better. We need to get more points on the ovals. I think only have two, so it's about time to get some more.

Q: With the two-day format now in place at some races this season, how has it effected your performance?

Dario Franchitti: I think we're lucky in the fact that the car rolled out of the truck quick this morning because if it hadn't, it would have been a little bit more difficult with the limited time we have. So that certainly helped us like any session because you don't know how you are going to compare things - you try and make things as quick as possible, you work with your engineer and you try and improve, and if it's good enough and you are looking good. But it's just not the sort of thing where you say, okay, I was on pole here two years ago, whatever, that is why I am this year, but it doesn't work that way. Every week it changes so much. If you watch a qualifying session on a road course, it changes really second to second. And you've just got to be on top of your game and for the first time in a while there.

But the format is great. It's been great for me. I like it. I think it is a good idea. We get a practice and get into the stuff that really matters.

Cristiano da Matta: I think anybody that you ask that qualified well is going to think it is good. If you ask the guys whose cars were not so fast.

Q: Did you see what happened to Andretti or why he came back out.

Dario Franchitti: Speaking for Michael's side of things, what happened there his valve came right open, so he had nothing to lose. Is it going to happen in the future? Who knows. I don't know that one. Qualifying is definitely of increasing importance, as the field closes up, gets closer and closer together, because it is more difficult to pass and when you do pass somebody, it is very important.

Q: You three guys have any opinion on the wing package. Is it moving in the right direction?

Alex Tagliani: The thing is the compromise between the corner speed is going to change in a place like this, with the package we have right now. I think they [CART] are stepping in the right direction. It was a good step. At least we knew it was a little uncomfortable in traffic than it was last year, but little difficult to pass and I think this track especially has a little bit to do with it because the streets are so long and the corners are so tight, so the track itself - not only the wind package - the tracks make it a little bit more difficult to pass. In Milwaukee, for example, there are wider turns and shorter straights, you could see maybe a little bit more passing than here. But I think here a little bit more difficult, but on the wing package, I think we're heading in the right direction.

Dario Franchitti: I agree. He is absolutely right. Is it going to make a difference, you know, on a flat surface, let's test it and find out. I think it's absolutely no problem to do that. I think with the road course wing it takes a little more finesse to drive with less down force and I think you'll see more passing.

Cristiano da Matta: I never tried the car, but I think we need to evaluate the road course wing. Some people would say the road course wing on the car will have two lines; they saw that in Milwaukee, it is improving the passing, but the people that are making the rules are concerned that if you lose the car at 25, 30 miles an hour, higher speed in the corner might be more dangerous, so, it's difficult to make everybody happy, but this wing is going in the right direction.

Merrill Cain: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations and good luck tomorrow at the CART Grand Prix of Chicago.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Tagliani , Dario Franchitti , Cristiano da Matta
Teams ART Grand Prix