CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta's final press conference, Part I

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Barry Schmoyer and Carl Haas. Part 1 of 2 Adam Saal: We'd like to welcome to the stage for what will be his final press conference with Championship Auto Racing Teams, the 2002 FedEx Championship Series...

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Barry Schmoyer and Carl Haas.

Part 1 of 2

Adam Saal: We'd like to welcome to the stage for what will be his final press conference with Championship Auto Racing Teams, the 2002 FedEx Championship Series champion Cristiano da Matta. Cristiano will be honored at tonight's banquet in full formal attire. We want to spend a few minutes with our friends in the media.

Cristiano, it's your day. It's been your year from a driving perspective. Tell me how you felt when you woke up this morning, knowing that you're going to get the big check tonight.

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, first I felt like I wanted to sleep a little bit more because of the party last night. I got back a little late (laughter).

But of course it's a day that you remember. Not only this year, but also the whole preparation we had for this year, including last year, too. Since I started racing, Newman/Haas, we knew together we could make it through the championship. We knew it was going to take a lot of work because, of course, we have very tough opposition. But we knew together we could do it.

Like inside the team, I knew what I was able to do.  Last year we felt
like we could fight for the championship.  We weren't quite there because
of consistency.  We were quite good on some tracks, not very good at all
on some other tracks.  So we worked a lot on that.

During last year, I feel like even last year we thought we would be more competitive. It ended up it was a little more of a preparation for this year, too. Of course, all the off-season.

It's a day you remember. You go back on the time and think about everything, all the good moments, all the difficult moments we've had through the season, through the off-season, through the season that we had together.

It's a day that for me, I only have good memories. We had very, very difficult times during the season, but they don't come up today. I think today is just to remember the good parts of it and enjoy it.

Adam Saal: Your schedule is a very tight one. After you did the David Letterman show, you came back, took care of some personal affairs because you're heading out tomorrow. Tell us about what the next couple of weeks hold for you as you take your CART championship over to Formula 1.

Cristiano Da Matta: I'm not going to have a lot of time to celebrate this now. I'm actually flying to Europe for my first test for Toyota Formula 1 tomorrow afternoon. I'm going to be on the track this week Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Right after that I'm going to go to the Grand Canaries, doing the International Race of Champions. Next week I have another test, and the next week another test. The window for testing is going to be over for November and December, then I'm finally going to be able to go back to Brazil after that.

It's going to be busy, so that means from Tuesday on, out of the next 20 days, 14 I'm going to be driving a race car, which is pretty good (laughter). I'm looking forward to it. I think I'm actually a little anxious to get this thing started because, of course, I have so much to learn, so many new things, so many people to know, so many things to get used to.

Instead of just thinking about it, which I'm doing a lot, I'm going to be able to actually experience and taste it, know exactly what I have to do, how much work I'm going to have to do, so on.

I'm looking forward to it.

Adam Saal: Again, you're moving on to Formula 1 with the CART championship in the bag. That's the highest compliment we as a sanctioning body can be paid, as you go over to challenge the world's greatest, from a series you have said also has some of the world's greatest drivers in it. Juan Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Zanardi. Jacques and Juan have remained supportive of CART, always seemed to keep an eye on what we're doing here. Are we going to see you back here every once in a while?

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, definitely I think everybody here, all the media that has been to most of the races, knows how big of a fan I am of CART racing. One thing for sure, all the support I can give to the series, just everything I've learned here in the four years I spent with CART is something that there's no price. I think it's just the experience of a lifetime, what I've had these four years in CART. I grew up a lot as a driver. I'm going to be thankful for CART for the rest of my life for that.

For CART, for the two teams I drove for while I was in CART, of course, very, very more special with Newman/Haas because I've learned so much more, and they gave me the opportunity to collect so many results, but it's something I'm going to have in my memories. It's always going to be something good.

Knowing how much I've learned and everything, knowing how good the series is, of course I think the least I can do is support this series all the way I can.

Adam Saal: That's going to go a long way for us. We certainly appreciate it.

We'd like to ask Barry Schmoyer, Director of the Driver of the Year Award, from Legends Marketing Group in Miami, to come up. This year's award was the closest in the 35-year history of this award. I'm going to let him make the announcement.


Barry Schmoyer: Thank you. Chris [Pook], Merrill [Cain], everybody here, congratulations on putting on a great series this year. It was tremendous.

The Driver of the Year Award is enjoying its 35th year right now. The award is a bit different than most in motorsports. It covers all the various series of motorsports, World of Outlaws, NHRA, open-wheel, as well as NASCAR. It's a real pleasure to be here today because it's been since 1993 that we had the last CART driver win, Nigel Mansell, again in a Newman/Haas car. I believe this is the fourth time a Carl Haas team has won the award, going back to Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, and the 2002 winner of the Driver of the Year, Cristiano da Matta.

Adam Saal: Mr. Carl Haas, come on up.

Carl Haas: Thank you.

Adam Saal: Outstanding championship. From where we sat in our easy chairs in the press room, it looked like it was yours to win from the beginning of the season, however oftentimes only the team owner really knows what goes on behind the scenes. How does this effort compare to your other championships?

Carl Haas: You know, I really haven't thought about it in that way. It was a great year. You're right, we started off very, very well with Monterrey, Mexico. It was a hard season, too. You never know. You can't count it until it's over.

I guess we had everything together. We have a great organization, our engineering group, of course all of the mechanics, support people, on and on. I've got to give a lot of the credit obviously to Cristiano, who really came into his own.

I'm very proud to have had Cristiano for the last two years. Not to waste a lot of your time, but as a little bit of background information, I pride myself personally in being pretty good as being able to pick out racing talent. I watched part of Cristiano's races a little bit. I paid attention to him a bit when he did the Indy Lights Series. I paid rather close attention to him in the year 2000, where he drove for Toyota and Cal Wells.

Looking at that team, I thought he did an exceptional job, and I remember him winning a race. He beat us out in I think in St. Louis.

Cristiano Da Matta: Chicago (laughter).

Carl Haas:  But anyway, I really chased Cristiano very hard to come over
to our team.  It all worked out.  He works really, really well with our
people, with everybody.  Everybody loves him.

I want to thank the press for making him the Driver of the Year. He is a real champion. I think we'll be proud of him in the years ahead. I think we all will be very proud of him in the future because I think he will be doing very well. I think it will take him a little while in Formula 1, not from his driving perspective, but the team as a new team. It's a large team, well-funded team, and they'll eventually get there. I think Cristiano will bring a lot to the party. Thank you.

Adam Saal: Thank you, and congratulations on yet another championship. Outstanding.

It would be only appropriate to acknowledge certainly an important part of the Newman/Haas team.

Carl Haas:  One other thing.  I have to apologize for Paul Newman.  He
asked me to do that.  He's not here today.  He's doing a new play on
Broadway.  He's got a major affair I think with the press.  He gives his
regrets.  He wishes everybody well.  He's very sorry he's not able to
attend.  His spirit is here.

Adam Saal: We do want to acknowledge Bernadette Haas, who plays an integral role, congratulations on your championship, as well.

Before we open it up for questions, and speaking of Paul, after you did your David Letterman taping, they taped the show in the afternoon, you went over and visited Paul. Share with us exactly what went on when you spent a couple hours with Paul on Tuesday.

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, for me it was a wonderful experience because they are like in the final stages of rehearsal for that play, because it starts actually tonight. So on Tuesday we were able to go and watch the whole thing, with just a couple people in the theater. It was definitely like a lifetime experience.

I don't have words to say how great he was. It was a lot of fun. It's my first time watching something on Broadway, too. It's a very, very, very special first time. I just don't have any words to say how good and how thankful to him I am not only for the race team but for that experience. It was very special.

Adam Saal: Quite a send-off. It's not every day you get a private audience for a Paul Newman play.

Let's open it up for questions for Carl or Cristiano.

Q: I used to hear, "Cristiano is Formula 1 material." Did you ever think that? How much did you pursue that or was it more [father] Tonino [da Matta] and the people around you who pursued it?

Cristiano Da Matta: For me, to be honest, I never pursued it. It just happened. Once I left Europe in '96 and came over to race Indy Lights in '97, I forgot about Formula 1 because I knew you could not be doing one thing and your head on a different thing. So I concentrated a hundred percent. I gave everything I had to get to CART one day.

Once I got to CART, same thing. I never thought about leaving CART to go to Formula 1. I thought just about winning the championship in CART, being as successful as I can be in CART.

Of course, this year the opportunity kind of showed up in front of me. I had the opportunity to go and do a test. I think above everything, the success me and the whole Newman/Haas team had this year was really what brought me the opportunity to be driving in Formula 1 next year.

But it wasn't something I was like fighting for.  It's something that
naturally happened.  I was never racing here with my mind to go to
Formula 1 someday.  Carl knows that.  I always had my mind a hundred
percent in CART.  It just happened to be like this.
Of course, I'm very honored with the opportunity.  It's a great
opportunity for my career.  I really think it's going to be a very good
one, too.  But it's something that just happened.

Adam Saal: Just happened, just like that.


Part II

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Michael Andretti , Alex Zanardi , Nigel Mansell , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , Cristiano da Matta