An interview with Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta. Part 1 of 3 -- Monterrey reflections and series competitiveness. Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference.
An interview with Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta.
Part 1 of 3 -- Monterrey reflections and series competitiveness.
Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're happy today to be joined by two drivers for Newman/Haas Racing, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta.
Both of these talented Brazilians had impressive performances in the opening round of the CART FedEx Championship Series a few weeks ago, and they'll be looking for similar performances as the series gets back on track April 12th through the 14th at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
First, we welcome in Christian Fittipaldi, driver of the No. 11 Eli Lilly Toyota/Lola for Newman/Haas Racing. Christian is in his eighth year of competition in CART and he's posted two career victories, one at Road America in 1999 and in the 2000 season finale at California Speedway. Christian started the 2002 season strong with a third place effort for new sponsor Eli Lilly at last month's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Monterrey, Mexico.
Christian, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
Christian Fittipaldi: Thank you very much. I'm all set and ready to go.
Merrill Cain: We're also joined today by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Chevron Toyota/Lola for Newman/Haas Racing. To say that Cristiano enters the event at Long Beach as the hottest driver on the circuit would be a bit of an understatement. After finishing fifth in the final season standings in 2001, Cristiano posted his fifth career FedEx Championship Series last month in Monterrey, Mexico, and with two straight wins to close out last year, he's currently riding a three-race win streak. He'll be looking to tie the CART record of four consecutive victories when he takes the green flag in Long Beach in just a little over a week.
Cristiano, thank you for taking a few minutes to join us this afternoon.
Cristiano da Matta: My pleasure. Thank you. I'm ready.
Merrill Cain: We'll open it up for questions for both Christian and Cristiano.
Q: You have a very strong first race, both of you very competitive. You've had a good test program. Things have been coming together. How do you guys explain the level of competitiveness you showed at Mexico, what you're going to hope to continue into the season? Christian, could you start?
Christian Fittipaldi: I think we had some good testing in the beginning of the year. On top of that, we changed a couple things on the technical side in the team, and I think that that really helped us a lot. I think overall as a team we're looking a lot more on like the big picture right now as opposed to all the previous years where obviously we were also emphasizing that, but there was always a big internal battle like in the team.
With the changes we did this year, there still is like the battle. There's no doubt about it. I actually think it's very good because that motivates really both of the drivers, but at the same time I really do think that we're looking at the big picture a lot more than what we were a couple years ago, and I think that's really making a difference.
I had a very good test in Sebring about two weeks ago. I don't know. Coming out from Mexico, going on to Long Beach, I definitely feel very confident about that race.
Cristiano da Matta: For me I think the biggest reason why we've been competitive, of course, I think the changes that we made on the team during the off-season, especially in the engineering department, is one of the biggest reasons, probably the biggest reason why we started the year strong. We've been strong on off-season, too. We had a good off-season. Now in the last couple weeks, Christian had a great test at Sebring, so probably we will be hopefully even better for Homestead.
My only concern at the moment is our oval setup. That was probably the place where we struggled the most last year, and we still don't have a hand on it like a hundred percent. It's getting better, but it's still not probably what we want to have. We're fine with our superspeedway car, but with our speedway car and our short oval car, we're a little bit concerned. But we still have some time before we head on to Japan. We have lots of ideas.
I think with the way the engineering department is working, I think we're going to have a decent car over in Japan.
Q: Christian, you had a pretty interesting thing you said earlier. "I think we're looking at the big picture now." What is the big picture? What's changed from your previous perspective?
Christian Fittipaldi: I think right now we're definitely trying to analyze all the races before we really get to the week prior to the race. We're trying, as I said before, to look at really the big picture as the whole season. Before what I felt is that we were always trying our very best, but we were going on a race-by-race championship. We thought that the whole series was one race. If we did well at that race, okay, we won the whole series. If we didn't do well at that race, then we had to go on to the next year's series, for example.
I think right now we're really thinking about like all the races and concentrating to make our car even better on the places we know we are strong, and the places we know we are not as strong we're trying to understand why we're not going really that quick and do some changes in the team to make sure that once we get back there, we are going to be very, very strong.
Q: Cristiano, we have our index, dominator index. You are I think third in the index behind Sam Hornish and Michael Schumacher. You have the highest ranking of any driver without a championship in the series. Do you consider yourself a dominator in any way, especially with these three victories in a row and the potential for a fourth coming up at Long Beach?
Cristiano da Matta: No, because I think for you to say that you've dominated a series, you have to win it in a way that Zanardi won the championship or Montoya won the championship in '99. I think that's what "dominate" is.
I just had a couple of good races. If I have a bunch of other good races and eventually get to the championship, then maybe I would say that. But I'm still very, very far for dominating.
Q: For both of you, in the new year, the team has started off great. Do you think this is possibly the year that you can replace Penske, since they're gone, as the dominating force in the series?
Christian Fittipaldi: I hope you're absolutely right. There's nothing -- it couldn't be any better if it really happened that way. That's something that we have been fighting for, especially in my case for the last couple of years. I hope that you're absolutely right.
Having said that, the competition is hard. It's very competitive. I know we always say that in the beginning of every year, but I've been with the series for a long time and it seems that instead of getting easier, it gets harder every single year, maybe because I'm getting old (laughter).
Like, in my opinion, it seems that it's getting harder every year because the teams that maybe are not as strong, they really learn how to make the cars better the following year, so it becomes tighter, tighter and tighter.
Cristiano da Matta: For me, I hope you're just right. I just disagree with one thing that you said, that Penske dominated the last two years. I think they just won the championship. Dominate is another thing. Dominate is what Ferrari did last year in Formula 1, what Ganassi did in the previous years with Zanardi and Montoya. That's dominate.
They just won the championship, and they didn't win that many races, they were just consistent. It's a big difference.
Q: Do you two see the team has gelled well enough that the consistency is going to be there this year for you two?
Cristiano da Matta: For us it's looking like in the road courses and the street courses, it looks like we're going to have a pretty good car. I can say that due to all the testing we've been doing, the kind of circuits, it has been good with me and Christian everywhere we've been. Just we cannot say for sure right now it's about the oval car, that concerns us a little bit, but we still have time to get our hands on that. I hope we get the consistency right.
Interview Part II