CHAMPCAR/CART: Ford Racing Christian Fittipaldi Rio Preview

Big K Ford-Cosworth driver Christian Fittipaldi and the rest of the Newman-Haas crew headed south last week to Rio de Janeiro for the FedEx Championship Series annual event at Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International ...

Big K Ford-Cosworth driver Christian Fittipaldi and the rest of the Newman-Haas crew headed south last week to Rio de Janeiro for the FedEx Championship Series annual event at Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway.

Fittipaldi, who still searches for that elusive first career Champ Car win, talks about what it would mean to win in Brazil, racing in front of his countrymen, and his plans during the few days of vacation he has tacked on to the beginning of the trip.

Christian Fittipaldi -11- Big K Ford Cosworth - THIS WILL BE YOUR THIRD VISIT TO EMERSON FITTIPALDI SPEEDWAY AT NELSON PIQUET INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY. YOUR BEST CAREER FINISH IN RIO WAS A FIFTH PLACE IN 1996. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY AT THE TRACK NAMED AFTER YOUR UNCLE? "It would mean a lot, there's no doubt about it. We are definitely capable of winning there and we ran very strong last year. We were as high as second before I had to stop (with fuel system problems). The first year we ran in Rio was another good showing for us. I was not able to qualify there and had to start the race dead last and we ended up finishing fifth. Definitely we are all pumped up for the race, no doubt about it, and I am definitely looking forward to it."

LAST YEAR YOU HAD SOME FUEL SYSTEM PROBLEMS THAT FORCED YOU OUT OF THE RACE EARLY. UP UNTIL THAT POINT YOU WERE RUNNING STRONG. HOW DISAPOINTING WAS THAT? "It was very disappointing. You wait a whole year to go down to Rio and when the race arrives something happens. It's tough, but I guess that's motor racing. Sometimes it's your day and sometimes it's not."

YOU HAVE A HUGE FOLLOWING IN BRAZIL AND IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT FITTIPALDI IS THE THIRD MOST RECOGNIZABLE NAME IN BRAZIL. DO YOU FEEL ADDED PRESSURE TO PERFORM WELL? "Not really. I don't feel added pressure to perform well but there is added pressure in the sense that there are a lot of people cheering for you and you want to do good because of that. It's not like I am going to freak out because I am racing in Rio, it's not like that at all."

SO IT'S ALMOST LIKE A CONFIDENCE BOOSTER FOR YOU THEN? "Oh yes, for me it is. And believe me, there is already enough pressure each week. So I don't want to add any extra pressure."

IF YOU HAD TO COMPARE RIO TO ANOTHER CIRCUIT ON THE FEDEX CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE? "There is not one. Rio is two long straights and two slow corners. It's almost treated like a road course but yet it has the layout of an oval."

DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL ACTIVITIES PLANNED WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY BACK HOME THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO? "I am going to go out to our farm and stay there until Monday and then from there I am going to Rio. I have not been down to Brazil since December believe it or not. I only have three day's off to stay there but it should be nice. When I go to Rio for the race I am going to stay at my mother's place which it ten minutes from the track."

SO, ARE YOU GOING TO GET SOME HOME COOKED MEALS? "Well, not many because she is also working. She works at the track coordinating and organizing the event. She works with CART and Emerson (Fittipaldi) so she is going to be busy. Maybe even busier than me, so I won't be seeing her before ten or eleven in the evening."

SO FAR IN 1999, YOU AND THE #11 NEWMAN-HAAS TEAM HAVE HAD SOME VERY STRONG RUNS AND CURRENTLY ARE IN A VERY TIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT THAT SEES YOU SITTING IN SIXTH WITH 34 POINTS, ONLY 11 BEHIND PPG CUP LEADER MONTOYA. WHAT HAS BEEN THE DIFFERENCE WITH THE TEAM THIS YEAR? "I think that my crew has worked very hard over the winter to put all the things together. We are a lot stronger and the crew is a lot stronger than last year. The car is performing okay, but, right now we don't have that top-level performance but at least it is running to the end and finishing all the races and that's important."

HOW MUCH OF A PLUS IS IT FOR YOU GUYS TO CONTINUE THE MOMENTUM THAT YOU REALLY BEGAN LATE LAST YEAR? "It's really important to have that momentum all the time. It keeps everybody revved up and that counts a lot."

YOU HAVE BEEN VERY CLOSE TO WINNING YOUR FIRST CHAMP CAR RACE ON MANY OCCASIONS. TO DATE YOUR BEST CHAMP CAR FINISH HAS BEEN SECOND PLACE TWICE (INDY 1995 & DETROIT 1996). HOW CLOSE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TO THAT FIRST WIN? "I think it could have happened a long time ago. It's just the way it is. For a couple of people it happens earlier and for others it happens later and I just have to keep trying. The day I think it won't happen is the day I should stop driving the race car. I just have to keep trying and if it happens in Rio it would be beautiful."

ARE YOU FRUSTRATED THAT YOUR FIRST WIN HAS NOT COME SOONER? "In a way, yes. But at the same time I have had some pretty rough times such as my accident in Surfers. At the same time I am frustrated that I have not won yet but I am happy that I have gone through some very tough moments and everything is okay with me physically. I could be in much worse shape. So there are both sides to that story."

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR RACING CAREER SO FAR? "I would say my second place in the 1995 Indy 500, I reckon, is my biggest."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Emerson Fittipaldi