CHAMPCAR/CART: Christian Fittipaldi interview 2000-08-15

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest is driver Christian Fittipaldi, defending champion of this weekend's Motorola 220 at Road America in Elkhart Lake,...

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest is driver Christian Fittipaldi, defending champion of this weekend's Motorola 220 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Good afternoon, Christian, and thanks for joining us today. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Good afternoon. Thank you. T.E. McHALE: Christian, the driver of the No. 11 Big Kmart Route 66 Ford-Lola drove to his first career FedEx Championship Series victory last season at Road America, one of three top four finishes he's recorded in the past three appearances at the venue. The others were a third place result in 1998 and a fourth place in 1997. This season, Christian has scored championship points in 7 of 12 FedEx Championship Series starts and comes to Road America off a podium performance of third in last week's Miller Light 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He also finished third at Portland and owns a top qualifying performance of second at Nazareth. He's also qualified among the Top 10 drivers 10 times in 12 starts. Heading into Sunday's Motorola 220, Christian stands 14th in the Championship with 52 points. The Motorola 220, Round 14 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised via taped delay by ABC TV this Sunday, August 20th, beginning at 4 p.m. eastern time.

Q. Were you wearing the HANS when had you your crash at Chicago? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Absolutely, yes. I'll never step into a car on an oval without the HANS.

Q. Do you feel it prevented you from being hurt more? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It's very hard to say. I'm not educated enough to know that, let's put it this way. I think even like a doctor, someone that really designed the HANS, would be very hard to say that. The only thing I can say is that I think it's the best available out there in order to keep you safe. I will go for it. I was for it ever since the beginning. I will use it all the time.

Q. How did you feel come race day last weekend? I know you were kind of stiff on Friday. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Friday was very bad. Like thank God they had Mr. Herta there on hold in case I couldn't hop into the car. I managed to go through Friday morning, and then I got out of the car, didn't say anything, but it was bad. Friday afternoon it was okay. I went back home, it was really bad. Then on Saturday, it was a little bit better. Then Saturday qualifying was even better. Then Sunday it only got better. Only like improved during the whole weekend. T.E. McHALE: To clarify, what the acronym H-A-N-S stands for Head and Neck Support System. It is just what it says, a head and neck support system, which Christian and several other drivers have worn this year during oval events. It's been mandated by CART for all oval events in 2001.

Q. I wanted to hear what Christian had to say about how he was feeling. Are you doing anything special between this race and Road America to help heal you a little quicker? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I'm doing some needles on my back. That's the only thing that I'm doing. Apart from that, I was feeling a little bit junk on Monday.

Q. You expected that? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah. Plus I didn't sleep very well because I lost my flight, and I couldn't get back home until Monday morning. I only slept about four hours. So that didn't help me a bit. After that, it got better. I went through the needle session yesterday. That helped a little bit. I don't see that I will have any problem in the next race.

Q. Even with all the G's that are generated at a place like Road America where you go from top speed down to nothing like at Turn 5, for instance? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, I must think that that is very wise what you said, especially over there. You're going a lot quicker down the straights. Mid-Ohio is also tough. I think if you manage to go through the whole race without any huge problem, I don't see where you can have a problem. Like Mid-Ohio is, amongst us drivers, I think, one of the worst places to go to as far as really physical. I honestly don't see why I should have a problem there.

        Q.  It's not as physical as Mid-Ohio is?
        CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI:  No, for sure it isn't. 

Q. First of all, your thoughts on going to a track where you are the defending champion, especially a track where your uncle Emerson has done so well. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, let's divide your question. As far as going back there, a track where I went well there last year, honestly deep inside me, it doesn't add any pressure because I love the place and I always went well there. It's not that I'm going to do a little bit better or do a little bit worse because I went well there the last couple of years. I have to give it my very best all the time. This is what I'm really striving for. As far as the track is concerned, it's very quick. I would say a little bit on the really not dangerous, but because of the speeds and everything, it's like you really don't want something to go wrong in a place like that. As far as Emerson is concerned, the days he was racing there, I really didn't follow Indy cars much. I don't remember if he went that well over there. The only thing I can say is I always went well there. As I said before, I like the place very much. Every single year I went there, I always ran in the Top 3, apart from '97, I went from 20th on the grid until fourth.

Q. The track seems to offer a lot of passing zones to a driver. In its history, it seems rare that the winner comes from anywhere else from the top two rows. How difficult is to qualify well at Road America? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think it's always important for you to be up there. It makes your life I wouldn't say easier, but less hard (laughter). Elkhart, pit strategy basically doesn't exist because the lap is so long that you can't pit like two or three laps later, you can't run lean to do this or that. Very seldom you see people pitting a little bit earlier or later, something like that. You basically have to run together with the guys that are really running up there. I guess that if you start in the Top 3, Top 4, there shouldn't be any problem.

Q. Since your win last year at Road America, do you feel you and the team are in a better position to capture the win again this year at that track? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think, believe it or not, if you ask me like "Compared to last year, how is your season going," I think we're stronger than last year. We have done very well qualifying. We definitely have the speed. I think my average qualifying performance is like fourth or fifth, something like that. We definitely don't lack any speed. Unfortunately, for a bunch of different reasons, we haven't been able to put the races together, and that cost me a lot. I think that I am stronger than last year, but last year I was going very, very well. I finished a bunch of races. This year the fact that I can't really -- or I couldn't, let's put it this way, I couldn't finish a bunch of races has been very, very bad for me.

Q. With all the (inaudible) season stuff going on, correct me if I'm wrong, you have another year in your contract? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. It's up at the end of the year.

Q. Is there anything you can talk about for next year? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah. We're open to other things. We have been also talking like to other teams. Other teams came over after my works. Let's put it this way. I'm very happy where I am. Maybe I can move on to some other place, but I would be a little bit surprised if I did. My deal is not carved in stone yet. But if I went somewhere else, I would be surprised.

Q. Regarding the HANS device, Christian, you said you use it at every race. Does that mean you're going to be using it on the road courses as well as the ovals? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. Right now I tried it in the Detroit race, but it was really cramping up my shoulder after like a couple of laps. I didn't like it very much over there. I'm really using it on the ovals. It's very important to use it everywhere, but I think the ovals are really critical. On the ovals, you don't have the same physical stress as you do on the road courses. It's a lot easier for you to use it on all of like maybe oval racing as opposed to like the road courses.

Q. Can you tell me, are you working at all with Dr. Hubbard and the HANS people to maybe make some changes so it would be better for the road courses? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: We haven't started that yet, but he already knows about the problems. We talked about them already. We came up with some like primary solutions, but we don't know if those are the correct solutions yet. Answering your question, we haven't really started. We're at a point right now that we're really happy that it's working on basically half of the tracks and the places where it's really critical. I think that we came a long ways. Believe it or not, last year in early November when I sat in the car, I wasn't comfortable sitting in the car statically in the workshop. Just to make it work like on a full race, it's something very good.

Q. How do you feel about starting next season possibly in Brazil? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I really think it's going to be the same as anywhere else. It's not because it's Brazil it's going to change anything. What I can say is it's going to be unbelievably hot. You guys don't understand how hot it's going to be (laughter). I think it's going to be the first race of the season, really hot, road course. It's going to be one of those real survival races. If you go reasonably well and your car doesn't do something really wild, you survive until the end of the race, the chances of finishing in the Top 3 are very big.

Q. What do you see as the advantage and disadvantage of off-season testing, how the new testing schedule is going, November 13th through March 1st? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think it's important for everyone to have a lot of testing prior to the first race in order to get everything ready for the year. At the same time I think that we should limit our testing or have very small amount of testing during the season and really concentrate on everything, as you said, like from the end of the year until early February or March of like the next year.

Q. What do you see as the most demanding part of this season's schedule? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Is when we're going through those batch of three races together and testing in the middle of the way. It's really demanding. I'm not 100% sure, but I'm almost sure that up to my Chicago race, I had been inside a racing car for the last 15 weeks, something like that, for at least two to three days like every single week inside the racing car. That's really, really hard on us. It's very hard on the boys also.

Q. You have an incredible ability to bounce back from injury. How do you maintain your physical strength or your mental strength? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I hope I don't have to use that anymore (laughter). I hope that you guys saw the last of that, like in the last race. I think a lot of it is in your head. Obviously, the physical is involved. But when you lose only one race, it's not that critical because it's only one race that you're off. You're still physically very fit. The problem is when you're losing like a bunch of races, like when you start losing five, six races, you have to come back in real top form, then it can sometimes be a problem. But as far as the rest is concerned, as I said, it's all in the head. If I wasn't motivated anymore, you would be sure that I would be hanging up and doing something else.

Q. How has the response been on your helmet contest that you have posted on your website? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Pretty good actually. What can I say? I'll have to pay for the winner and a guest, provide them tickets from whichever part of the world they come from, hotel rooms. The site has been something that has really picked up this year. I put a lot of effort into it. Sometimes I think we could do some things that would make a difference, but as far as right now, I think that we got to a pretty good level. We're already thinking on some great things that we're going to do like for the next season. But if you guys want to check it out, Fittipaldionline.com. T.E. McHALE: We're going to wrap it up for the day. I want to thank Christian Fittipaldi for being with us this afternoon. Thanks for joining us, best of luck defending your championship in the Motorola 220 at Road America. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much. I hope I'm here next Tuesday to talk to you again. You know why. T.E. McHALE: Thanks for being with us this afternoon, all of you. We'll talk to you next week.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi