CHAMPCAR/CART: Elkhart Lake: Top three press conference, part II

An interview with Cristiano da Matta Alex Tagliani Bruno Junqueira Part 2 of 2 Q: Bruno, how did you get in the position of pitting a couple laps ahead of Cristiano? You had been on the same sequence. How did you get to the point of coming...

An interview with
Cristiano da Matta
Alex Tagliani
Bruno Junqueira

Part 2 of 2

Q: Bruno, how did you get in the position of pitting a couple laps ahead of Cristiano? You had been on the same sequence. How did you get to the point of coming in earlier?

Bruno Junqueira: It's difficult to say because my engineers, they change the strategy according to the race. But I'm not going to blame them. If you look historically here, and for the last five or six years, apart of yellow flags on the first lap because of first lap incidents, and last year because it was wet, every year they race has been dry here without a yellow. I believe that they had to short fuel a little bit on the second pit stop. Instead of doing all the 14 laps, maybe they did 12. I'm not sure how many laps because I was just worrying about driving. If you do 14, 14, 14, on the last pit stop is just going to be four laps to go. That's what I think happened.

Merrill Cain: We are joined by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Havoline/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, who takes his sixth win of the season and extends his series points lead to 42 points today over Bruno Junqueira and Patrick Carpentier. With his win, the fifth on a road course this season, Cristiano becomes the first driver since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win as many as six races in a season in CART. The victory is the 10th of his career moving him into a tie with such CART greats as Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Juan Montoya for 10th on the all-time CART victory list.

Some great pit work keyed the victory for you this afternoon. You had to hold off these guys here. Talk about your win and about what it means to you in the points championship.

Cristiano da Matta: I'm very pleased with the way everything went today, of course. I think the strategy we played was very important. We went a couple of laps more. I think me, Bruno and Tag were the three quickest cars on the track. Some other guys tried to keep up with our pace. They had to short fuel to try to run lighter and try to run in the best conditions possible to run our pace. When you short fuel, you have to stop earlier - then you pay the price.

I think it was very, very important that I was able to - even on the third stint when Bruno was running a little lighter than me - keep close to him. We were doing very fast laps and we were able to keep close together. He pitted two laps before me. I was able to stay on the track and do one very quick lap, then the next lap the yellow came out and I was able to pit in. I was actually concerned because I had [Shinji] Nakano in front of me. I couldn't drive back to the pits as quick as I wanted.

But still I think was better than being out there on cold tires and full tanks and everything. Of course, it worked for us. This way we were able to get the lead. This way we were able to pass Kenny [Brack] and Paul, just by going further than everybody else. It's a very similar strategy everybody used to race when it was a fuel race, but some guys were forced to do that because of performance, to try to up the pace. Our car was very consistent. It didn't put a wheel wrong. I didn't want to repeat Mid-Ohio. Of course, I was quite worried because after you make a mistake like that, you put a little bit of pressure on yourself just not to make it again.

I was a little concerned about that last couple of laps. It wasn't a good feeling having Alex behind me, and Bruno also behind him. It was just a lot of pressure for myself not to make a mistake. Fortunately, I had a little bit of an advantage. I was able to take it. So instead of going 100%, I was able to do the last two laps at 99%, just giving myself a little bit of a margin. Everything worked great.

Merrill Cain: You obviously have had a lot of victories this year. How important was this win for you after the struggles you've had in the past three races?

Cristiano da Matta: Very important. Well, before the race with my engineer and the crew, we decided that we really needed to finish this race. We knew there was going to be tough opposition, as usual. But I think we were thinking anything we could bring home today better than a fifth, we're going to take it and it's going to be a very good result. We just needed to kind of jump-start our rhythm again and get going again.

Of course, during the race I knew that fifth place, if everything ran perfectly well for us, was a pretty modest result. But we wanted to set our targets low. We had to finish and forget about everything else.

During the race, I was feeling good. The car was running very well. I had the pace to win. Actually before Bruno stopped, I saw that I still had four or five laps to go and I saw on his board that he was pitting two laps before me. I thought I had a pretty good chance to win if he really pits two laps before me and I can put a couple of good laps together. That was the key for everything.

It was very rewarding and very important to finish the race today. To win was even more important.

Q: Did the tires play a part in you deciding to stay out longer?

Cristiano da Matta: The tires were a little bit of an issue but only in the first stint when the track had a lot of rubber still from the Atlantic cars. After the second stint, they were staying pretty good. The more you ran, the faster you were going. It was pretty consistent. After the first stint on the last two laps, you would feel a little bit of wear, which is pretty natural. But I was pretty pleased with the performance of the tires here.

Q: Bruno, you're 42 points behind and tied with Patrick [Carpentier]. With seven races to go, how tough is it going to be to catch this guy?

Bruno Junqueira: Oh, for sure, it's going to be really tough. I mean, everything can happen. I think it will be really difficult because he's been fast everywhere. But on the other hand, I've been fast everywhere, as well.

As I said, a person who makes less mistakes is the one who wins. Unfortunately, I made three - not mistakes that I made, but I had three races that I didn't finish, and he had two races that he didn't finish. I think I lost the chance to get close to him.

I don't wish him bad luck, but that's the only way I'll get him. I know if I win a race, he is always going to be second or third, then it will be really difficult to get close. I need him not to score points in one or two races, and I need to get two good results.

But I will look at the next race. Montreal is a new track for everybody. I'll try to get a good qualifying result, and try to get a good race result. If I have a chance to win, I'll try to win. But I take each race one at a time. I think I'm having a very good season. I think I finished 14th or 15th last year, and to be at this point in the championship, in second, and running pretty consistent, it's been good. I think Team Target has given me a good car.

It's been tough to get Cristiano, but I'm trying hard.

Merrill Cain: Cristiano, how do you feel now with a 42-point lead after recovering from the last couple races?

Cristiano da Matta: Well, with points lead, it of course feels very good. But we have several races to go. I almost have two races to my advantage. It's a good lead. The lead, the more you extend it, the better it's going to be. There's no limit for that. But I'm pleased being 42 points ahead. But we have several races to go. There's still more than 140 points on the table. Anything can happen. There's a long ways to go still.

We cannot get caught off guard again like we did the last few weekends. We saw how quickly things can change. I believe I had the lead up to 48 or 47 points. It almost disappeared up to this weekend. We have to be really switched on and play really smart. It's not even close to being decided yet.

Merrill Cain: Thanks to Alex, Bruno and Cristiano. We'll see you in Montreal next week.


Top three press conference, part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Bobby Unser , Cristiano da Matta , Johnny Rutherford