CHAMPCAR/CART: Elkhart Lake: Friday top three press conference

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta Bruno Junqueira Dario Franchitti Merrill Cain: We will get started with our top-three press conference following provisional qualifying for Sunday's race here at Road America. We'll start out first with...

An interview with
Cristiano Da Matta
Bruno Junqueira
Dario Franchitti

Merrill Cain: We will get started with our top-three press conference following provisional qualifying for Sunday's race here at Road America. We'll start out first with Dario Franchitti, driver of the #27 KOOL/Honda/Lola Bridgestone. He takes third in provisional qualifying this afternoon. He posted a top lap of 1:42.990 seconds, that's a speed of 141.497 miles per hour. Dario started third or better in three of the last five events coming into this weekend. It's also the track we he earned his first Champ Car win in 1998.

Dario, if you would, talk a little about your qualifying effort today. You really turned it up toward the end of qualifying and put up a good lap.

Dario Franchitti: We felt we had a good car this morning. Then when we made a run, we discovered some discrepancy, shall we say, that shouldn't have been there. We put the car a bit more back to where we thought it should have been. The first run we were just adjusting the car for the changes we made.

The second run, obviously the track was in better condition. I planned to do a longer run because the tires seemed to be good for a very long period. We went out. I caught [Adrian] Fernandez on I think my second time lap. He was coming out of the pits. But he obviously felt he could do his quick lap out of the pits because he turned into me in Turn 1, which I felt was kind of an interesting tactic.

But, from that point, I mean, the next two laps I made small mistakes. Luckily, the tires were good enough for a longer run. Then the next lap we looked better. And the final lap, I just got it together. Everything was looking good up until the Canada corner. A lot of people have been going off there, dropping dirt on the tracks through Canada, not the next one, the bridge. The track was really like an ice rink. I could see why Jimmy [Vasser] went off there. I was lucky to keep the thing on the road going under the bridge. That was it. That was as good a lap as we could get.

So we're reasonably happy with the car.  We've got a bit of work to do
tomorrow to catch the two guys in front.  We'll give it a go.

Merrill Cain: Bruno Junqueira qualifies second today in provisional qualifying, driver of the #4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He finishes second with a best effort of 1:42.744 seconds, a speed of 141.836 miles per hour Bruno is the defending race champion here. He'll be looking for his second front row qualifying spot of the season in tomorrow's final qualifying.

Bruno, you were at the top of the charts for much of the session. It certainly looked as if it was going to end that way. I guess Cristiano [da Matta] has done this to a lot of people. In a sense, it's got to feel a little frustrating for you, but also satisfying because you're getting a lot out of the car.

Bruno Junqueira: I think it was a little bit in the first stint because Team Target gave me a really good car today. I knew a had a car that could go faster. Unfortunately, for the last outing, I got into some traffic. On my last clear lap, I improved a little bit. But I thought I had fuel to do another lap, and I had time. When I stopped, I was on the pole and with three minutes to go, I felt that I had chance to do another lap and improve a little bit because the difference between me and Cristiano was very small. I could have gone a little bit faster.

But it's a shame. But on the other hand I'm really happy to come back to Road America where I won my first race. I just love this racetrack - not just because I won here last year, but it has really fast corners and everything here. I just like to drive here.

Merrill Cain: We are joined now by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Toyota/Havoline/Lola/Bridgestone, winning the provisional pole with the fast lap of 1:42.640 seconds, a speed of 141.980 miles per hour. Cristiano had never won a CART pole prior to this season, and will be gunning for his sixth pole in Saturday's final qualifying session. He earns the championship point for leading qualifying, giving him 123 points on the season and extending his lead to 28 points over Patrick Carpentier.

Talk about that final lap. I know it was an interesting ride for you. You wound up on the pole. It's probably not the way you wanted to get there, but I know you'll take it.

Cristiano da Matta:  Of course, my two runs were actually pretty smooth.
I didn't have traffic.  I didn't have any sort of problem.  Actually on
the first one I had a little bit, but it was all my fault.  It was my
best lap.  But I was pretty impressed at Bruno's time on the first
outing.  So we made a couple changes for the second outing.  The car was
quite a bit better.  It takes a lot less adrenaline to drive the car on
the second outing than the first one.  The first one I had to push a lot
harder to go slower.  The second outing, the car was a little easier to
drive.  I had a couple very good laps.

But everything went well. This track is so much fun to qualify on. I didn't know Bruno's time, but last time I went by, I saw on my board that the best time was still 42.8. I had just done a 42.6. But I knew I had one more lap. But then I did him a favor and screwed up in turn two.

It's good to score a point again. Hopefully I can score some more this weekend.

Merrill Cain: Let's open it up for questions.

Q: Can you comment on traffic here? Is it less of a problem than usual because of the longer track?

Dario Franchitti: It's four miles here. Yeah, it's definitely less of a problem than at Mid-Ohio, for instance. But there are still a lot of guys out there that had some problems. The biggest problem here when you go by the pits, is that somebody comes out of the pits and turns in Turn 1 in front of you. That happened a lot. In fairness to the guys, it's difficult to look in the mirror up the straight and see what's happening.

As the guys said earlier, this is the coolest place we race at, for sure. What can you say about it? You got a smile on your face. This is what it's all about. You know, I think for the drivers, this is what we enjoy.

Q: What kind of shape is the track in right now?

Cristiano da Matta: A lot of people are dropping a wheel on the grass. It's a difficult thing for this track. The curves, usually on the corner exit, they finish very quick instead of continuing a little bit more. There are a lot of people running out of curve at the very end of the turn. There's dust on the corner exit, and people put wheels on the dust in very strange places and I don't understand why. Sometimes I'm pretty sure Dario and Bruno saw that, too. After the kink on the straight, people threw a lot of dust in one of those little kinks going through the Canada corner. I think somebody maybe cut it through the grass. On the last two or three laps, the track was all dusty over there. So I don't know if it saved him some time or not. It should have been pretty exciting, yeah (laughter).

Bruno Junqueira: I think the track is good. I think we can race here three times a year (laughter).

Q: Can you guys comment about what it is that makes this track so much fun for you to drive? Is it the speed of it, the length? What is it that you like about it?

Bruno Junqueira: I think this track has everything: high-speed corners, mid corners, low corners, long, short, every kind of corner, and long straights. The track is really nice to qualify on. But then when you go race, it's nice as well because you can pass. Like at Mid-Ohio and some other racetracks, they are good to qualify and to run by yourself. When you go race, it's not fun because it's difficult to pass. But here it is good in every single aspect.

Dario Franchitti: The one thing it doesn't have is chicanes, which Bruno and I were commenting on.

Bruno Junqueira:  The worst thing that can happen is a chicane because
you try to jab the chicane.  Cristiano likes it, (laughter).

Dario Franchitti: He's just better at it than you are.

Bruno Junqueira: He likes tracks like Australia.

Dario Franchitti: This is the way a racetrack should be. This is the same as a lot of the tracks 20 years ago, except they upgraded the safety at this place. As far as the guys in F-1, I think they're missing something by not racing here. We're lucky we get to come here and race.

Q: Cristiano, after three pretty struggling races, do you feel like things are starting to click again?

Cristiano da Matta:  I think every time was just something that can
happen in racing.  It was never a situation that we were really slow and
that's why we got involved in something.  Starting further back on the
grid, for example, it was just a situation.  You know, it's a 20-race
championship.  You're going to have engine problems or mechanical
problems sometime during the championship.  Drivers are going to make a
mistake sometimes.  I hope we don't make it again.

But I think it's just all pretty normal. If you look at the numbers, I think our average is still not bad for everything, for mechanical troubles and for everything team related.

I think it just hurt us maybe a little bit more because it happened three times in a row. I think we just have to go back and do everything normal. But it's not like when we had trouble we couldn't find speed and we were struggling to find speed. That's not that case. The speed and performance has been there all the time. It's just a matter of getting everything together, which is sometimes a little bit out of our control. Sometimes it's out of the team's control. When I make a mistake, it has nothing to do with the team or with the engine manufacturer, too. It's out of their control. I think we just have to not get too worried about those things that have been happening to us. We just need to play it normal.

Q: Last year you won here. Today you're up front again. What is it about this place that suits your style?

Bruno Junqueira:  This is a road course.  I learned how to race, and I've
raced all of my life on tracks like this.  These look like European
tracks.  I like it here a lot.  I've been lucky, as well.  Team Target
gave me a good car.  Toyota has been good.  You need a lot of power here,
as well, to go fast.  Then everything falls in the right directions.

I think we could have done better on other racetracks like Mid-Ohio. I did okay in Portland. I finished second. When I go to road courses, I always can do a little bit better.

Q: There's a threat of rain for tomorrow. Did anybody discuss that? Was there any more urgency getting the job done today because of the possibility of rain tomorrow?

Dario Franchitti: That's a complicated question. We just tried to do our best today. We can't do any more than that. If it rains, it rains. If not, we'll try to go out and get the pole from these guys tomorrow.

Cristiano da Matta: Well, of course Friday there's also the extra championship point, and a guaranteed place on the front row. That's all pretty important. I think this is important if it rains tomorrow or not. Everybody is trying to get the pole today because of that. So now if it rains, I don't mind.

Q:   There's been talk about standing starts for CART.  I know it doesn't
apply to this weekend.  What are your individual comments on that idea?

Cristiano da Matta: I support it one hundred percent. I think it would be a lot better for the series, for the general public. I think everybody would love it. I think our starts are good most of the time but sometimes they cause a lot of controversy, too. I think standing starts would just be the same all the time and there would never be any controversy.

Dario Franchitti: I enjoy the rolling starts, but for sure Cristiano is right. A standing start are much easier to police. If somebody moves, you know they've moved. Whereas with rolling starts, you get all sorts of problems. One guy is one car length behind, the next guy is on his gearbox, so one guy can jump the start much easier.

I do enjoy the rolling start, like I said. For the [CART] officials, it would be much simpler to have a standing grid.

Bruno Junqueira: I think I would do standing starts on road and street tracks, and rolling starts on the ovals. There is no way to do standing starts on the ovals. Everybody is going to do doughnuts on the start of the race (laughter).

Merrill Cain:  Gentlemen, thank you very much.  Congratulations on a good
run today.  Good luck in the final round of qualifying tomorrow.

-cart-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Dario Franchitti , Cristiano da Matta