An Interview With: Jimmy Vasser Michael Andretti Patrick Carpentier Part 1 of 2 Merrill Cain: Let's get started with our top three press conference following today's 500 Presented by Toyota. We're joined by Michael Andretti, finishing second...
An Interview With:
Part 1 of 2
Merrill Cain: Let's get started with our top three press conference following today's 500 Presented by Toyota. We're joined by Michael Andretti, finishing second this afternoon, driving the #39 Motorola Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone. I'd like to welcome Michael to the podium. He led 37 laps today and scored his best finish here in six starts California Speedway, beating his best finish of seventh here last year. Michael also won earlier this year at Long Beach, ironically beating Jimmy Vasser.
Michael, talk about your race today. Obviously, it was an exciting race for the fans to watch, a great one here at California Speedway under beautiful sunny skies for everyone. The key I think obviously was the restarts. You probably weren't happy to see the red flag come out, but please talk about the last restart and your battle with Jimmy (Vasser)
Michael Andretti: Well, first of all, the car was pretty good all day. Team Motorola did a good job in the pits. Honda ran really strong. The only problem was in traffic, it was not quite the way it would like. I would lose the front end a lot in traffic. So that's where we would lose a little ground.
There in the end, we made an adjustment. I was coming on really strong. I think I ran a lap of 231 (mph) and I was catching the lead group, then the yellow came out. I think I was in second with the yellow. Then on the restart, Jimmy was a sitting duck there, and I was able to get by him on the restart. I thought we had the race won. I don't think Jimmy could have passed me at that point because my car was really good out front. I thought we had it won. Then Dario's car had a problem, they brought out the red flag, then I became the sitting duck on the restart.
Jimmy did a good job and got by me. I tried to get a little run, but he just took enough air that I had to breeze it a little bit that I couldn't get a run at him. He won the race.
But I guess what's fair is fair. That yellow came out and it hurt Jimmy's race, and then the red came out and hurt my race. It evens itself out. Jimmy's car was real strong today. He was probably the strongest car out there and probably deserved the win.
Cain: Patrick Carpentier, driver of the #32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone joins us. Patrick finished third today. It's his first top three finish at California Speedway after a previous best of 10th last year. It's also Patrick's second podium finish on a superspeedway in the last three races on superspeedways in CART, including his first career win, that came at Michigan last year.
Patrick, we were doing a little bit of research, I'm not sure if you led an oval lap this year, ironic if you came up and took the checkered flag, but you kind of nosed your way up through the field. Talk about the third place finish.
Patrick Carpentier: The guys did a good job. We started with a car that was pushing a lot. We couldn't keep up with these guys. But every pit stop we improved. The last three pit stops, we had a similar set of tires, and the car got really good on the one before last. We caught up to these guys.
Like Michael said, Jimmy was really strong, Michael was strong and they were up there all day. For the last pit stop, I don't know what happened. The car got really, really lose. The jacker was not functioning any more. Maybe something broke at the back. I couldn't give these guys a go. We were hoping to get some of the points because we're in the chase for the championship. We got third place. I'm really happy because these guys were faster than us today. Third place is good.
Cain: Here's a couple quick notes before we open it up for questions. Today's 500 was the fastest 500-mile race in history at 197.995 miles per hour. The previous record was set by Al Unser, Jr. in the Michigan 500 in 1990 with an average speed of 189.727 miles per hour.
Also another quick note here. Today's race featured 52 unofficial lead changes, officially we had 43 lead changes at the start/finish line.
Q: Talk about the wing package. It really seemed to work much, much better than the previous one. It wasn't so much the kind of racing we've had in the past, it was legitimate racing. Would you agree with that?
Andretti: I think it was two things that made the racing good today. I think the wing package made it better where you didn't have everybody all bunched up. Also I think the pit window worked. It allowed to us run flat out and not save fuel. You actually wanted to lead the race, which was a nice thing. The last few years, you didn't really want to lead one of these things. That made it a lot more fun for me anyway. I think it made it fun for racing, more of a driver's type thing.
Carpentier: For me for sure, you always like to see a lot of passing. But there was quite a bit of passing today. Racing is about speed. I think today the guys that had the fastest cars, like these guys, Jimmy and Michael, ended up at the front. It was a race of teamwork, who could run the fastest for 250 laps.
It was wide open all the way trying just to catch all the time and run fast, run fast. It's a good thing we got a couple of yellows because these guys would have probably lapped the whole field.
It was good. It was a fun race. I enjoyed it.
Q: Michael, I don't know if you could compare this to Michigan, with you and Montoya. You were wheel-to-wheel there. You might have even touched there. Just never got quite as close during this race.
Andretti: Like I said, I just couldn't get close enough to him. I would lose my front end too much, just enough that I had to lift a little bit. You really couldn't run like we did with Montoya at Michigan.
This track normally is also more of a one-line track, as well. Michigan allows you to run side by side. Here it's a little harder to run side by side.
Q: Michael, obviously it cost you, but do you think that the red flag was a proper decision?
Andretti: Well, it's the new rule. If it's in the rule book, it's not supposed to end on a yellow, then that's the right thing.
No, I didn't like it. I was in a different position. I think Jimmy liked the red flag rule today (laughter). Rules are rules, that's the way it works out. I can accept it.
Cain: We're now joined by your champion, Jimmy Vasser, driver of the #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. It's Jimmy's second win here at California Speedway, the first came in 1998. He's the first CART driver to score a repeat win at California Speedway. He led a record high 148 laps, breaking the 1997 record of 114 laps by Andre Ribeiro.
Jimmy, an awesome run for you, awesome run for the team. We were doing research on Team Rahal. Team Rahal has now led a record 397 laps here at California Speedway since 1999 by the team's drivers including Jimmy, as well as Kenny Brack, Max Papis and Michel Jourdain Jr., who led ten laps today.
Jimmy, talk about the effort for the team. Talk about the end of the race when obviously it was a shootout with Michael and the pass to get around him.
Jimmy Vasser: First of all, it's a great win not only for me but for the team. We've been trying all year long. You don't want to go a season without winning races. The guys worked real hard all year. They busted their butts to get our cars back together. The cars came back, a couple in a pile. We're out here to win races and to run good. When you don't for a long period of time, it gets to feeling heavy.
So all the credit to the Shell team members and Team Rahal. The car was great all day long. We really didn't have an opportunity to adjust our rear downforce level, so we opted for a little lower amount of downforce, little less drag. I think it was advantageous.
I found it easier for me to lead the race. My car felt much better out in clean air. I felt like I could pull out a little. The Hondas were struggling on fuel mileage and probably had to turn it down. I figured if I try to pull out, come around, catch some traffic, get a puff of wind, put some distance, there would be two or three segments without any yellows, maybe I could put some guys a lap down and make my pit stop a lot easier.
That was really our strategy. It was comfortable that way. All credit again to the guys. They won the pit stop competition on Friday. They gave us great stops all day long.
It was a really smooth day. It's great to win races, to be in victory circle again. It's been a couple years for me. I love 500-mile races. I think they're the most fun.
Michael was there all day long, as well as Cristiano (da Matta). I think (da Matta) had a little bit in his hip pocket for the last couple segments. He started playing around with me before those last pit stops, rolled up next to me a lot easier than he had done all day long. Then I let him take the lead. Then we were running 224s with me leading, then he slowed right down to 221. He didn't want to lead, I guess, or he just had tooo much wing.
I got the feeling he had something left for the end. He was going to be tough. We bobbled a little bit on our last stop, so he got out on us a bit. I think we may have been able to catch him, maybe not. He looked pretty strong at the end.