CART FedEx Championship Series July 2, 2002 An interview With Cristiano da Matta Part 1 of 2 Merrill Cain: Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART Media Teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We look forward...
CART FedEx Championship Series
July 2, 2002
An interview With Cristiano da Matta
Part 1 of 2
Merrill Cain: Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART Media Teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We look forward to hearing today from the current CART FedEx Championship Series points leader and winner of three consecutive Champ Car events, Cristiano da Matta. We will also be joined today by Kyle Krisiloff who will be making his debut in the CART Ladder System this weekend competing in the CART Toyota Atlantic Race in Toronto.
First off, we welcome in Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Havoline Toyota Lola Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing. Thanks for taking a few minutes to join us on the teleconference this afternoon.
Cristiano da Matta: No problem, thank you. Good morning, everybody. Good afternoon, everybody.
Merrill Cain: Cristiano has won three consecutive CART FedEx Championship Series races including Sunday's CART Grand Prix of Chicago which marked his second career win in the Windy City. With Sunday's victory Cristiano has won six of the last nine Champ Car races dating back to last year, and he extended his lead in the season points race to 25 points leading Bruno Junqueira by a count of 95 points to 70 points heading into this weekend's Molson Indy in Toronto. On Sunday Cristiano will also be looking to tie the all-time CART record for consecutive race wins equaling the accomplishments of Al Unser, Jr. and Alex Zanardi.
First of all, congratulations on another impressive weekend. You had an eventful Sunday winning the race, of course, but you also got to see your native Brazil team capture the World Cup soccer title and you and the other Brazilian drivers got your heads shaved like soccer player Ronaldo. I am just wondering, has the reality of the haircut sunk in yet.
Cristiano da Matta: (Laughs) Yes. It did yesterday. Actually I was -- I stayed in Chicago on Sunday night. I flew yesterday afternoon so yesterday morning I went walk around with my mom and dad because they stayed in Chicago because my mom didn't know the city. So I am walking around and I see a lot of people looking at me. I am thinking, wow, I am probably pretty beautiful, you know, really nice looking, and then I remember that it was my hair that was all weird and that's why everybody was looking at me. Then I said, geez, I have to do something. It wasn't a good experience going through security in the airport like that too.
Merrill Cain: You turned a few heads, I imagine. Let us open it up to questions.
Q</I>: Last year you seemed to kind of breakthrough a barrier, had a real good year. This year you just seem to be building on that. What's made the difference the last couple of years for you?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, I think the biggest difference from when I started, definitely is first the same experience with both teams I have driven for so far, PPI Motorsports where I started and Newman/Haas Racing.
PPI I had a first year that wasn't -- it was an okay rookie season but then the second year was a lot better. Same thing with Newman/Haas, I had an okay first year, of course a lot better than the one I had with PPI. The second year has been a lot better so far. I think that just shows how important it is when the team and yourself starts to understand what you need -- what kind of information you have to give one another, and when the team really start to understand what you want out of the car. So that's very important. I think it's like also how much teamwork motorsports is because if it wasn't teamwork it would go in a new team and do good right away. It's not like this. You always improve in the second year. I am sure if there's a third year it can be even better because it is just getting used to working together.
Q</I>: I was wondering about the point margin that you have, it's pretty big for CART Racing. I just wanted to know why -- I know you said that you were with your team for a period of time, but what else is it that separates your team from the rest of the competitors?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, this year especially we had a very good offseason. Of course in the off-season it always makes a lot of difference if you have a very good offseason or not. So we definitely had a very good offseason this year. And that, of course, we can show that on the results we have right now; how good the offseason was.
So I think that's the main thing. I think there's a lot of very good other teams there. And if I knew exactly the reason why we are doing so much better than the others I won't be able to tell to everybody right now. But it's just hard work, I think. It is like -- not that the other ones aren't working hard. They are too, but it is just -- we had a couple of good things, a couple of very good tests in the off-season. Now we're just collecting all the fruits that we were growing at that time.
Q</I>: It wasn't anything specific that you did in the off-season; it was just general testing?
Cristiano da Matta: No, the team had a couple of changes inside, but always small changes. We never changed anything big. We still have the same chassis. Still have the same Toyota engine. Still have the same crews, the engineering group changed a little bit. But we haven't made any major change. So it is just working together. Maybe the change on the engineering group it's a big factor because we brought in -- before the Newman/Haas engineers were all working together for a long period of time, so they were all used to think about, you know, on the ways of fixing a certain problems with the car handling, more or less in the same way, and one thing that was very good that the team hired a new engineer from other team and he came in with lots of new ideas, and I think that added a lot to the team. I think if I have to say, of course it is a combination of a lot of things, but if I have to name one thing I think that's going to be the biggest one.
Q</I>: How satisfying was it to win on an oval because I guess you hadn't been as successful on ovals as you have been on the road courses but to go out and dominate like that on Sunday, what did that mean to you?
Cristiano da Matta: It was, of course, very, very rewarding especially since we have had a very tough time on the ovals so far. Up to that weekend we were improving and improving but we never felt like we were in that good of shape up until qualifying. Then when qualifying came and we were able to qualify third, I thought, wow, we have a shot of winning this thing tomorrow. Of course, we were actually a little bit surprised because we didn't know that we had improved so much in the ovals. So it was very rewarding in many ways. First because of the engineering group, they did a great job, they did just a terrific job about setting up the car, you know, considering where we were at the beginning of the season and where we are right now, it is a long ways.
The first of all race of the season we finished 15 laps down to the leader just so you think I am not exaggerating. And now we're up to win the race, so it is a long way, so the engineering group did a great job on, you know, finding what was wrong in such a short period of time. And other one was my crew just, we had some terrific pit stops yesterday, so you add everything and it is just a great team win, you know, of course I wasn't doing as good on the ovals too and to conquer the victory yesterday, so it was just a good satisfying day for everybody.
Q</I>: What would it means, do you think, in Brazil to have a Brazilian win the Vanderbilt Trophy for the third straight year?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, the CART FedEx Championship is very popular over there. Of course, with Gil deFerran winning the last two years it became even more popular. Now I am getting -- there's a lot of people commenting about this season, especially that me and Bruno Junqueira are running first and second right now. So that's attracting even more press and more fans than in the past. So I don't know. It's a good thing. I think as long as the Brazilians keep on doing a good job, they are always have huge fans there, but we're still quite a long ways to get to where our soccer is right now.
Q</I>: Let me expand a little bit if I can on that engineering change you mentioned because I think that's pretty significant. You have got Rocky comes in, he's worked with Scott Dixon. He comes in with new ideas and new vitality to work with. Is it kind of you have an old dog at home and just bring a puppy home and watch the spring in everybody's step improve?
Cristiano da Matta: Well, I think that's for sure the main factor. What Rocky did inside the team that was very, very interesting was before the -- the team has lots of engineers inside the team. But all of them have learned everything they know with Peter, that has been there for a long time. And if not, with Peter with Brian Lisles which is another senior engineer we have on the team that has been there for a long time. So they all learned to think and approach situations in the same way. They are all very good, of course in what they do. But they all very used to doing everything in a very similar way. So it was the first time for the whole group that they were able to see different approach to different problems. I think that's what counted.
Q</I>: Let me talk to you about Toronto coming up here, the street race, very popular race with the drivers, Andretti has won this darn thing seven times. You come in as the points leader. It's bumpy, tight, narrow. It can be slippery. Your thoughts with the Lola coming into Toronto because Michael said we're going to have to wait and see; maybe that's the same situation with you. What do you think coming into Toronto right now?
Cristiano da Matta: I have a very good feeling about the Toronto race. This type of track, it's a type of course that we have been running really well. The car has been running really well. As a team we have been strong in the street courses and the road courses a lot more than in the ovals, so I am feeling comfortable going in. I think we have a very good chance to do very well. It's always such a tough series -- such a tough competition because sometimes you think you are in good shape maybe end up 10th or whatever but I think we have a very good chance to be inside the top-five and be fighting for the lead at the end of the race.
Cristiano da Matta part II