An interview with Kenny Brack, Michael Andretti and Cristiano da Matta Merrill Cain: Let's get started with our top-three press conference following qualifying for tomorrow's Sure For Men Rockingham 500. We are joined by our polesitter Kenny...
An interview with Kenny Brack, Michael Andretti and Cristiano da Matta
Merrill Cain: Let's get started with our top-three press conference following qualifying for tomorrow's Sure For Men Rockingham 500. We are joined by our polesitter Kenny Brack, driver of the #12 Target/Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He wins the pole for Saturday's Sure For Men Rockingham 500 with a new official track record of 24.908 seconds, that's a speed of 213.763 miles per hour, taking his first pole of the season, the seventh in his Champ Car career. Kenny wins a championship point for his effort today giving him a total of 75 on the season. He is the only driver to sit on the pole here at Rockingham, having started first here last year when the grid was set by virtue of championship points because of rain and the track conditions here at Rockingham.
Kenny, an awesome effort from you today. I know it's been kind of a frustrating season for you up to this point. You were outstanding on ovals last year and you proved again today you know your way around this track pretty quickly.
Kenny Brack: Yeah, I think it went well. Did that championship point bring me in the top 10 in the championship (laughter)?
Merrill Cain: Close.
Kenny Brack: It's been a tough year, of course, so far. But we've always had the speed, it's just been a question of putting it together. We managed to do that today. We had a good car obviously. The team did a fantastic job there. You know, it's a challenging track, this one, because it's very fast, kind of an unusual shape for an oval, too.
Merrill Cain: Kenny, you obviously know your way around the track, you finished second here last year, just a last-second past by Gil de Ferran. How much information did you use from last year? You got a lot of track time last year. You had to take advantage of what you had.
Kenny Brack: You know, it's two different teams, the setups we used last year, so a driver doesn't know all the details. So you might know some things, but it's not enough. You have to know the whole concept.
I think what we're using at [Team] Target is quite different from what we used last year. So I try not to get involved that much in the details. We try to talk more about the feel of the car and getting the car to where I want it because on an oval, it's very high speed. Every driver has his own style, his own requirements in terms of what you need from the car. I have to get the team to accommodate those things.
Merrill Cain: Cristiano da Matta joins us now, who qualified third this afternoon in the #6 HavolineToyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He's third on the grid with a time of 24.954 seconds, a speed of 213.369 miles per hour, matching his best oval track qualifying effort of the season. That ties his effort in Chicago. The run also marks the 11th time in 15 races that Cristiano will start in the first two rows in the grid. Our current series points leader joins us now.
Talk about your qualifying effort today. A lot has been made of the challenge for your team on the ovals this season. You do have an oval win in Chicago, you qualified third there. Are you pretty confident in the way the car is running here at Rockingham?
Cristiano da Matta: Yeah, I'm happy. Since the start today, my car was running good right away. It was a big difference feeling-wise and speed-wise inside for me from the car from what I had last year - like a big, big difference.
The qualifying round was good. I knew the cars were going to be very close. I think we went maybe a little too much, a little too aggressive on the front of the grid. It had a little on the oversteer in my qualifying run. But this track, you're talking about hundredths of a second and thousandths of a second. I don't think I had the speed to beat Kenny. I probably would be a little closer.
But I think on the race, I have a car that can stay consistent all the way to the end. I can hopefully follow his pace and Michael's pace, keep position for a very long race. It's important to be there at the end.
Merrill Cain: Questions, please.
Q: Kenny, in a 300-mile race, pole isn't crucial, but considering the luck you've had with the first laps, does being on the pole put you in an extra comfort zone?
Kenny Brack: Yeah, I don't know. Like you say, it's 200 laps or 210 laps, so it's a long race.
You look at the races so far this year, you see there's not a lot of overtaking. Someone is not going to come from 15th anymore in a CART race to win anymore because the cars are too equally matched, and the tracks we race on, they're too challenging basically.
You have to start somewhere up front, I believe. From that respect, it's good.
Merrill Cain: It's the third pole in the last four races for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
We're also joined by Michael Andretti, who qualified second this afternoon in the #39 Motorola Honda/Lola Bridgestone. He will start second on the grid with a time of 24.928 seconds, speed of 213.591 miles per hour. This is Michael's best starting spot of the 2002 season and best since he started second at Fontana in 2000. Michael, talk a little about your qualifying today. Team KOOL Green and the entire stable did well in the morning practice session. You guys at one point were 1, 2, 3. You turned out on top. Talk about the effort today.
Michael Andretti: Team Motorola did a really good job along with Team KOOL Green. I think together they came up with a good setup for the oval which was nice. I think the last few weekends have been a little bit of a tough time for us, so it was nice to unload quick, you know, be at the top of the sheets. So it was good.
You know, the car, we just tweaked it here and there throughout the session. In qualifying, I just closed my eyes, held it wide open, and stuck. It was almost good enough.
Merrill Cain: Almost good enough. We'll open it back up for questions.
Q: The fastest guys this afternoon were a little slower than the fastest guys this morning. Is that entirely draft?
Michael Andretti: I think so. I believe the drafts had a lot to do with the lap times this morning.
Q: What does that say about tomorrow?
Michael Andretti: I don't know. I think it's just going to be a bit of a follow-the-leader thing, because we are all so close together. If you look at the times, the whole field is, what, about seven-tenths of a second. It's hard to pass somebody when they're running that close of a time, so it's going to be tough. Track position is going to be king tomorrow, I believe.
Q: Which to you is the most difficult corner? Where are the passing spots on this track?
Kenny Brack: Turn 4 is the most challenging corner for the driver, of course. Passing, I don't know. Probably going into Turn 4. I think it will be tough this year because last year, we didn't have so much time to dial the cars in. This year we've had time to fine tune everything. I guess it's going to be a little more tricky.
There will be traffic situations where possibly there will be some opportunities. It will be tough.
Q: Kenny, you mentioned this track is an unusual shape. How does it differ from ovals in the USA?
Kenny Brack: Well, most ovals in the United States, they're like an oval, especially if they're one and a half miles. Of course, you have Indy, that's more of a rectangular shape.
But this track, I never raced on any track that's this shape before. Actually, the layout, if you look at the low banking and the track length, it's an extremely fast situation. We race on other types of one and a half mile tracks in the United States, maybe at Texas or something like that, but the banking is like 23, 24 degrees. Here, I don't know what the banking is, but maybe 10 degrees. You're still traveling like 213 miles per hour. It's a very challenging track for that track length.
Q: Has the track changed much since when you raced here a year ago? It's been resurfaced, but has it changed much? Kenny, is this a particularly important race for you as we're in Europe?
Kenny Brack: I think the track, when we came here last year, the track wasn't finished. If you drove in here, it was still mud and stuff. This year it's really a nice facility. Everything's done. It's a first-class facility.
When it comes to the surface, I think, if possible, it's got a little more grip than last year. Of course, last year we raced on a half done track, that may have had something to do with it (laughter). But this year it's got a lot of grip, the surface.
Cristiano da Matta: It's dry, too.
Kenny Brack: Dry, too, good weather (laughter). That's always nice.
The other thing, of course, it's nice to do well in Europe. There are a lot of European fans. Last year there were a lot of Swedish fans that chose to come to Germany. That race was canceled this year. Hopefully there will be a lot of Swedes here this weekend. That's always nice, instead of seeing all these Brazilian flags everywhere (laughter).
But CART has a strong following in Europe. It's a nice show for them, for sure. It's good for CART if we can have a good show here.
Q: Last year was particularly challenging for many reasons. You guys must be relieved that it's a fairly happy weekend this time. Can I get your views on that?
Michael Andretti: I think for sure last year it was hard to really even focus on the event because of everything that happened the week before. I think at that point we all just wanted to get home.
It's way different circumstances coming back here. It feels a lot different, a lot better now than last year. I don't think this place really got a fair shake last year because of all that.
Kenny Brack: I agree with that. I mean, it was very strange circumstances, the 9/11 thing, what happened with Alex [Zanardi] in Germany, all that stuff. You know, it's completely different circumstances this year.
Cristiano da Matta: The weather, too (laughter). Last year, yeah, there was a lot of waiting around. This year, everything happened so far as planned. It makes a big difference. Of course, what Kenny and Michael said, it makes a huge difference.
Q: A couple years ago, you ran races at ovals with trucks and complained about the truck rubber at the transitions. Any situations with the different tire compounds on the track this weekend?
Michael Andretti: I don't know. Maybe you need to talk to the guys that went out earlier. They're probably the ones that would have felt it. You know, I think by the time it got to where we were, most of that rubber was probably off.
Seemed like some of the times were a bit slow in the beginning of the session - slower than I thought. It might have had something to do with that, I don't know.
Merrill Cain: Thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate your efforts today. Congratulations on a great qualifying. Good luck in the race tomorrow.