CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND POST-QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH CRISTIANO da MATTA, PAUL TRACY AND MARIO DOMINGUEZ ERIC MAUK: All right, Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our top post qualifying...
CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND POST-QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH CRISTIANO da MATTA, PAUL TRACY AND MARIO DOMINGUEZ
ERIC MAUK: All right, Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our top post qualifying press conference. We have two of our top three qualifiers. Paul Tracy will be joining us momentarily.
First round of qualifying for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland presented by US Bank, round five of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Our third place qualifier on the day, driver of the #7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, Mario Dominguez. Mario put up a time of 58.546 seconds, 129.498 miles per hour. Mario started third this year at Long Beach, and it's his highest starting position. He has never started in the top five here at Cleveland, though he did finish in the top five back in 2003. Mario, tell us a little about how your day went.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for being here. Well, the day went well. We started fairly fast. We had a good setup to begin with. We just worked on some things that suited my driving. Paul was very fast right away. We just changed a few things on the car that was better for me.
Then obviously for this qualifying, we were pretty good. I thought I had, just like I said, everybody always thinks that, but I think I had a bit more time in me and in the car before the red flag came out. But I think it's good to begin with being in the top three. Hopefully tomorrow we can improve. Like Cristiano says, it's nice to be in the press conference, so hopefully tomorrow we can be here again.
ERIC MAUK: Any particular areas of the racetrack, any problem parts out there, any parts you really need to work on?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Not really. This track is really nice. It's a very fast racetrack. It's a real challenge for the drivers when you're going so fast through all these corners. I really enjoy driving around here. And when you have a good car, it's a very enjoyable experience. So, no, I have to probably work a little bit more in turn seven and eight. I have to be a bit faster over there. But other than that, it's coming better every time I go out there. The team and I are just gelling better all the time, getting to know each other better. So that's working out pretty good.
ERIC MAUK: The leader of the first round of qualifying here and the front-runner for this week's Bridgestone Pole Award, driver of the #21 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for PKV Racing, Cristiano da Matta. Cristiano puts up the day's best time of 58.436 seconds, 129.742 miles per hour. He guarantees himself a front row starting spot for Sunday's race. That will be his first front row starting spot in Champ Car since the Surfers Paradise event in 2002.
Cristiano gains a championship point, giving him 74 for the season, moving him into a tie for fourth in the standings with Mario Dominguez. Cristiano, you got a taste of victory last weekend in Portland, decided apparently you liked it. Here you are sitting on provisional pole. How do you feel about the way it went today?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: I'm obviously very happy about the way everything went today. It's, of course, a hell of a change for us in the team. I mean, we started showing some signs of getting a little bit better back in Monterrey. Then in Milwaukee we had a great qualifying for the team; didn't work so well for us in the race. Then Portland, we didn't get the qualifying right, but we got the race right.
I'm happy to see that we've been able to progress weekend after weekend. Hopefully we can keep on following, you know, all this pattern that we're going right now and continue doing all the development that we've been doing inside the shop and getting better and better every weekend.
But I'm very, very happy because we were quick in Portland, but we were never a hundred percent sure if we were going to be quick here in Cleveland again. Again, we're a new team. We lack a little bit still in the database from track to track to track. So now it seems like we're finding out more and more that we have something that will allow us to run strongly on this more flowing road course type of track. Even though it's not a road course, it's a little bit more bumpy than probably a normal road course, but the corners speeds and all the loads are more similar to a road course.
So we seem to be okay in these types of tracks. We still have a little bit of a question mark when we get to the street courses, that is a different type of setup. I think the way the team has been progressing, hopefully we'll have everything sorted out by the time we get to Toronto. Obviously, that's too far away. We have first this race to compete in. I'm just very, very happy.
ERIC MAUK: Cristiano beat Paul Tracy by four one-thousandths of a second today. That's the closest margin in a Champ Car qualifying session since the Long Beach qualifying session in 2002 when Jimmy Vasser beat Cristiano by three one-thousandths of a second. Cristiano had to start second that day. Tell us a bit about the close call you had at the end of the session there with Justin Wilson's car?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, I'm not sure if I didn't see the yellow flag the corner before. I'm not sure if I didn't see the yellow flag the corner before or if they weren't showing the yellow flag. When they showed the yellow flag, I was already going in I think it's turn six, the right-hander that gets you back into the runway. When I got in there, all of a sudden came around the corner, then I seen Justin's car. I had to go way on the grass to go around him. It was not that close of a call, but it was a little bit of a moment.
ERIC MAUK: No damage to the car?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. Just ran on the grass and came back. Just dirty.
ERIC MAUK: We are now joined by our second place qualifier on the day, driver of the #3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, Paul Tracy. Paul puts up a quick time today of 58.440 seconds, 129.733 miles per hour. Paul has four front row starts here in Cleveland, including each of last the two years. He is the defending polesitter here. Paul, tell us a little bit about how it went.
PAUL TRACY: Well, it went okay. The first set of tires went well. Then the second set we waited to go. Got out there and the tire that was in the last corner kept kind of sneaking itself out further and further on the track. I was able to do one lap that was close to my first run, and then came around for the next time and the tire was out further in the track. I clipped it with the front wing. It ripped the front wing off. That was pretty much the end of our qualifying run. Little bit disappointed that we weren't able to use the red tires effectively. I felt that my first qualifying run was a little bit of a compromised lap. I didn't feel I got the best of the car on that lap, was looking forward to the reds because I felt I could go quicker. Just weren't able to make it happen because of some of the circumstances of the track.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about just your feelings about running here at Cleveland. You've got a ton of miles here. This is obviously a place you have had some success back at, tell us a little bit about your feelings about this racetrack.
PAUL TRACY: Well, it's a great race. It's a race where you have to go as fast as you can possibly go. There's very few yellows in this race other than usually the first turn of the first lap. My only win here was in '93, so it's been a while. I've been a contender the last couple years, been up front, been on the podium, but had some bad luck. So we're hopeful that this weekend we can really capitalize on some of the things we've learned over the last few weeks with the car and learned with the test that Mario did at Sebring. I think if we keep improving, hopefully another win will come.
ERIC MAUK: Good run today. Good luck tomorrow. Paul is second in the championship points standings, 11 behind Sebastien Bourdais. We'll go ahead and take questions from the media,
Q: Last year you were on pole and Sebastien won the race, will it be the same this year?
PAUL TRACY: I hope not. You know, last year we had a good car. We were on the pole and got taken out in the first corner. So, you know, we've had a good car all this weekend. We just have to keep concentrating on what we have to do every session and then capitalize on what we learn and try to have a good race.
Q: Cristiano, how difficult has the transition from Formula 1 back to Champ Car been for you?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: To come back to Champ Car has been a little bit easier for me than the other way around because when I obviously went in from Champ Cars to F1, I was going for something I didn't know anything about. So I had to learn a lot more things. Coming back from F1 to Champ Cars, I'm coming back to a series I had raced before four years here, so I had some experience.
The car is the same. Some of the rules are a little bit different. The red tires are different. But the things come back to you a lot easier when you've done that before. So it's been -- it's a little bit easier. It doesn't mean it's easy at all. It's obviously still a hard transition. But it's not like I'm coming to a series I didn't know anything about. It's coming back to a series that I raced a couple of years before and had some experience. That makes the learning curve a little bit smoother, a little bit easier to go through.
Q: Paul, you mentioned that your car wasn't as fast as you'd like on the alternate tires, are you concerned?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, we're trying. I felt the car was really good this morning on standards and really good in the warm-up on the same tires we ran. Obviously I did a good lap on the standards. But we've been struggling a little bit to try to figure out why we don't get a time gain on the reds like other guys get. You know, my run, I think everybody would say there was a tire sticking out on the track at the last chicane for the last 10 minutes. You know, I was losing a little bit of time beginning of the lap. You know, I came around to finish that lap, then start the next lap, and the tire was out further and knocked the front wing off.
You know, it's hard to say whether we would have gotten a chunk of time because it was my third flying lap when the wing got taken out. The tires were just in at their best. Tomorrow we need to improve the car. For sure tomorrow it's going to be faster. We need to go in the five-seven's tomorrow. To do that we're going to need to make the car better to do it.
Q: Cristiano, you guys have done well in the last couple of weeks, is there one thing you can point to as the reason?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, biggest difference we had in the cars between, let's say, last couple races and these last two races, Portland and Cleveland, where the car has been running way better than before, is we've been doing a lot more work on the seven-post rig and we hadn't done any work before. So at the beginning, obviously there's like a big chance of improvement to take, to learn out of the damper program because we had never done anything like that before. So, obviously, we were way out there on the damper paddings.
Now we've done a couple days -- we haven't even done too many days yet, but I think the biggest part we've learned, I think that's what made the difference from our car, from what you see the way it's running, let's say, in Mexico, which was the last time in Monterrey, Mexico, which was the last time we were in a road course to these last few races.
Q: Paul, you have a lot of laps around here, is there one part of the course that you know you need to be fast on in order to have a chance to do well?
PAUL TRACY: You know, this is such a funny track because all the corners are so fast. I mean, you can't really afford to give up anything anywhere. You know, if I say you have to put one section together, the car's got to be right in one section, it's probably from the second fast chicane all the way around, all the carrousel corners. You have to be fast. The car has to be stable. If it's good through there, then pretty much the rest of the track should be pretty good.
Q: Paul was talking about not being able to make any gains on the red tires. How about you, Mario?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, the red tires I don't think are as quick this weekend. I should say it's not such a big difference from the red to the black as there's been in the past, I think, although they are definitely faster. When I had my reds, again like I said before, everybody thinks so, but I think I was going on a better lap before the red flag came out. They are faster. So I think it's unfortunate Paul didn't get to run them.
Q: In previous cases, were you also finding the reds faster than the black?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Oh, yeah.
PAUL TRACY: I just don't feel our team is getting the time gain that some other teams are getting. We do go a little bit quicker, but other teams are getting 3/, 4/10ths of a gain, whereas we -- at least from me, I don't seem to see that much.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I have gained when I used the reds in the past. But here, I don't think it's a big difference. I think they're very, very close.
ERIC MAUK: That will wrap it up. Thank you, gentlemen. Final round qualifying tomorrow. We begin at 2:00. Thank you.