T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference and thanks to all of you for being with us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motorsports who earned his first career...
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference and thanks to all of you for being with us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motorsports who earned his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Sunday's Target Grand Prix presented by Energizer at Chicago Motor Speedway. Cristiano, good afternoon, congratulations or your victory and thanks for being with us today. CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you. Good afternoon everybody, thanks for being here. T.E. McHALE: A little background on Cristiano, the driver of the No. 97 Pioneer MCI World Com Toyota Reynard. He recorded his first victory in this is 32nd career start becoming the ninth different race winner in 12 FedEx Championship Series events this season. He averaged 114.432 miles per hour while finishing 1.690 seconds ahead of Michael Andretti in the runner-up spot. Cristiano's victory was the first for PPI Motorsports, owned by Cal Wells III in the team's six-year history in the FedEx Championship Series. Cristiano became the fourth different first-time winner of a series event this season, joining Max Papis of Team Rahal at Homestead, Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske at Detroit, and Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing at Cleveland. Cristiano has finished fifth or better in six of his past ten FedEx Championship Series starts, including a podium finish of third at Cleveland in addition to Sunday's victory. With his win, Cristiano took over fourth place in the Championship. He heads into the August 13th Miller Light 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with 82 points, seven behind third place Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske, who has 89. The Miller Light 200, round 13 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised on ABTC TV on Sunday, August 13th, beginning at 4 p.m. eastern time. With that we will open it up to questions for Cristiano.
Q. Although you've been with the team a short time, this is the middle of your second season, you can see the team gelling like it hadn't before. When did this start and what effect has Cal Wells being involved in his other venture had on the team? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, first of everything, we start to get better, it was from last year, from last year mid-season. Since I join the team, the team was in huge curve getting better. So we kept on working. We made a huge step on performance on the Detroit race this year, was the first time probably that we got everything right. I was running fifth on the race, qualified sixth, but couldn't finish the race because of mechanical problem. And since then, we've been improving a lot every single race, and since the race in Detroit, which I think was the beginning, middle of June, we've been running strong every weekend, on the Top 5, on the Top 3, like in Cleveland we were, always being fast in the practice sessions, qualifying sessions. So it's not from Chicago that we got that. We've been doing better since Detroit. For Cal being involved in other business, like the NASCAR and Atlantic Series, he knows what he's doing. He's a very smart man. He's not going to do anything that will compromise the other one of his teams by running another team.
Q. What were your expectations? What did you think victory would be like? When it finally happened, was it everything you expected? Was it more than you expected? Did it live up to your expectations? CRISTIANO da MATTA: It was not the first time I win a race. I won many, many races before, so I knew what it was like. I didn't know what it was like to win it in CART. It's not a whole lot different. I mean, the winning feeling is the same, you know. The feeling you get everything right. Your working is being rewarded, you know, all the hard work is being rewarded. So it's a feeling - I cannot say it's emotion, but it's a lot of happiness, but a lot of happiness.
Q. Was it more than you expected, though, when it finally happened, given the circumstances? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I thought that if I win, I would be very happy, and I was very happy. So it was about more or less what I expected.
Q. What do you remember most about the day? Was there a particular moment maybe a couple hours after the race when you were alone or anything like that where it all dawned on you? Was there some moment during the day that was more meaningful than any other? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, my best moment. The time I remember in the day, when I for me, I won the race, not when I took the checkered flag, was right after the last stop, I got back on the track and I run as fast as I could to beat Michael and Montoya out of the pits. So for me, those laps were when I win the race. And I ran really hard and didn't make any mistakes, the car was running good. When they finally came out of the pits, they were running traffic. I was running so fast, so I made some time over them, and they come out behind me. So those laps is the part of the day I remember the most.
Q. You obviously made the sponsor, Pioneer, pretty proud. They have a full-page ad in today's USA Today newspaper. CRISTIANO da MATTA: I heard that. I still haven't seen it. It was good because all the president, the global president of Pioneer, all the Japanese were there, our American president for Pioneer was there, too. It was the only race that the global president was there this year. I glad I won it at the right time.
Q. You talked earlier about getting better over the past couple of months, racing better. Now you have won here in the CART series. What do you need to do next? What does this team need to do next to carry this momentum on for the rest of the season where maybe you can visit the winners circle again? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think all we have to do is work the same way we're working right now because these guys here are very hard workers. They haven't been in motor racing from yesterday. It's been now six years the team is together. They are very tough guys because they've been through a lot of bad moments. If you think way back in '95, '96, even '97, when the Toyota program was still starting, they had really all kind of problems, reliability, you know, all kinds of problems a new team would have. Then they had the problem they had like losing Krosnoff as a driver. So they've been through a lot of hard moments these guys. And now I think to be able to get a reward from all this hard work, all these tough moments, it's very pleasant for me.
Q. Now comes Mid-Ohio in two weeks. Basically what are your thoughts about that particular track? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, it is a track that I definitely enjoy a lot driving over there. Is a very technical track. I like a lot driving that track. It's just a track that gives you a lot of pleasure just by driving. The track definitely needs a few upgrades to support our cars and the speeds they are going now, on the safety part. I know they're being made, I mean slowly, but they're being made. But it's a wonderful track. On the driver point of view, it's a wonderful track.
Q. You mentioned safety problems. What in particular concerns you about that at Mid-Ohio? CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's not one particular problem. Gravel traps, like a few of the curves are a little too high for our cars. The gravel traps needs to be a little smoother, sometimes a little bigger, too. It's just a few little things, but they're being taken care of.
Q. Wanted to get your opinion on the whole thing about the engines, reducing of the horsepower. You guys, bringing up the Toyota the way you have, the hardships you've been through in the last couple years, now people are saying the thing to do is cut the horsepower. Just curious as to what you felt about that? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think I work all my life to get to drive a car that has 900 horsepower, so I don't like a lot the thing they are thinking about on cutting the horsepower down. I think the people come to our race to see cars that have 900 horsepower going around, you know, and going very fast. I think cutting the horsepower, maybe -- I don't think it's too much right now. I think we have good horsepower right now. I think the engines are very good. And I think what needs to be improved in our series is especially the racetracks. Some of the racetracks we go is some of the racetracks we used to go like ten, even five years ago. The cars are just going a lot faster. The cars, everything has been upgraded, but not the tracks.
Q. What kind of things would you improve if you had the power to upgrade those tracks? CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think if you look at the tracks Formula 1 race at, you look at the tracks we race at, I just think the thing here should be made the way -- like the tracks should be have the same kind of safety that European tracks have right now because our cars are as fast as their cars - and even faster in some of the tracks.
Q. Would you do anything at all to the cars to make them more competitive on the short ovals aerodynamically or do you think it's all in some things in the tracks that need to be improved? CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, no. I don't think the series has a problem with racing. I think they were passing in Chicago. It wasn't that there wasn't any passing on the race. I think in this point of view, maybe we can -- some drivers complain about the Handford device. I think we can make it little better to help overtake a little bit. I think the tracks are fine in this point of view. I don't know why people keep on saying there's no passing in our racing, but there is. If you watch the race, I'm sure you were able to see many passing. It's not easy passing. It's difficult passing, you know, hard work passing.
Q. I was thinking back to the early '90s where we were watching it from the edge of our seat like it was a go-cart race, and where there were many more passes than there are today, but that was with less horsepower. CRISTIANO da MATTA: But the biggest thing I would say is at that time the competitive side of the series, it wasn't as competitive as it is today. Today you have on the track cars that were going a second, two second, three seconds slower than the cars. They were going fast. When you have these huge difference on performance is when you have passing. On single seats, I am saying. On touring cars, it's not the same. But today you look at all the teams in the paddock, all the teams are good. You look at the drivers, all the drivers are good, which in the early '80s, it wasn't exactly like that. You had maybe three, four good teams, and like seven, eight good drivers. It's just the not the same as it is today. Today, there's nobody that is sleeping. Everybody is there because they worked a lot. They've won in other series, they were before they got there. Everybody is good, all the teams, all the engineers, everybody on the crews, everybody is good. You know, everybody deserves to be there.
Q. Certainly the success you and PPI attest to that, your improvement. Are you looking forward to the team moving closer to North Carolina? Closer to home for you. CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, for me, to be honest, it's not going to make a big difference because I would spend a lot of time in the shop at the beginning of the year, January, February, when we're making seats, getting the car ready to race. But after the season starts, because the team is never back to California, because so far we don't have time to go back there between races. So I think in a team point of view, it will be good, because everybody will get to go home between races, which is not happening right now. I think overall the change will be good. Of course, California and North Carolina are very different places. There are some guys that like going to North Carolina; some other guys don't like it. Everybody is still making their minds. I just wish everybody goes because we have a very strong group right now and we are doing well. I think the many more guys we lose, the more possibility we break our momentum we have going right now.
Q. Going into Mid-Ohio, can you give us your view of a lap around the track and where you think passing opportunities will be? CRISTIANO da MATTA: Around the track, we go through turn one in fourth gear. We pass the start/finish line in fourth gear, go through turn one in fourth gear. After turn one, we change to fifth gear. We get to the keyhole, we change all the way down to third gear. Get there in fifth gear, change down to third. We're in third gear through the keyhole, then we all the way down the back straight, all the way up to six again. Breaking at the end of the back straight is the biggest overtaking opportunity we have right there. Turn three is a third gear turn. Turn four, you can take it in second or third. It depends on how the rubber in the track is and of course how the races you're running at. Then turn four to the right again. Most of the people take that turn in second gear. Then you accelerate through gear second, third, you go over the bridge, the car jumps a little bit, the rear wheels come off the ground a little bit. Then you're braking to that turn, I lost the count, I think that's turn seven. Braking into that turn, you just brake, you don't downshift, hold the third gear in. On the exit of the turn, there's like an elevation change again. The wheels come off the ground a little bit again. You accelerate on third gear to fourth gear, coming up the hill into that fast left-handed at the top of the hill. We are still in fourth gear. There is a pretty fast turn. We just have time to put a little bit of power after that turn, then you have to brake to the carrousel. In the carrousel, you are in second gear. It's a very long turn. The car always tends to push a lot there. You accelerate out of second gear out of the carrousel to that left little kink before coming to the front straight again, and there you are. It's one of my favorite racetracks. I can say that it's Mid-Ohio and Elkhart.
Q. Obvious it looks like you're going to have a good opportunity there with this win under your belt. CRISTIANO da MATTA: I hope so.
T.E. McHALE: Cristiano is testing at Road America. I promised him I'd leave him enough time to get some lunch before he has to be back in the car. Thank you, Cristiano, for joining us. Congratulations again for your first victory. CRISTIANO da MATTA: Okay, TE. Thank you very much to everybody that was there, too. T.E. McHALE: Best of luck at Mid-Ohio. CRISTIANO da MATTA: Bye.