HONDA INDY 300 "QUOTEBOARD" GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his enjoyment of the Australian environment: "Despite the fact that I haven't completed more than a lap in the Australia race over the past couple of years, I really enjoy ...
HONDA INDY 300 "QUOTEBOARD"
GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his enjoyment of the Australian environment: "Despite the fact that I haven't completed more than a lap in the Australia race over the past couple of years, I really enjoy going there. I just wish we had time to see more of the country, which I have to say is one of my favorites. The track itself is probably one of the most challenging street circuits we go to, and it's definitely the longest and most intricate. Just like last season, Australia will be of vital importance in the outcome of the CART Championship. The situation is looking relatively good for Marlboro Team Penske but it's not decided by any means. Heading into Australia last year, we were also in a good position but didn't get through the first corner. Hopefully, we'll be more successful this year."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on the keys to doing well on the Surfers Paradise street course: "I think everyone from the drivers and teams to the journalists covering the CART series enjoys going to Australia. It's a huge event with plenty of parties and the fans really welcome us. It's a tough circuit and very fast for a street course. There are a number of chicanes and the curbs are very high. Some people think the best approach is to jump the curbs and be aggressive, but I think the secret is to be smooth and to try to carry a lot of speed into the corners. It's very important for Marlboro Team Penske to execute this weekend with the CART championship on the line. It isn't over until it's over, and I'm still one of three drivers with a chance at winning the championship, so it's imperative we perform well."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Motorola Honda Reynard), on the "electric" atmosphere surrounding the Honda Indy 300: "I love coming to Surfers. The city and all the fans really get excited about the Honda Indy 300 and it just makes it a great week. I do feel like we have a bit of pressure on us, being the new kids on the block with Team Green and this being the 'hometown' race of sorts for both Barry [Green, team owner] and Kim [Green, general manager and Barry's brother]. It's an added incentive to have a good weekend. It's just a shame that I've made mistakes in the last two races that cost us the opportunity for points. Somehow, we've stayed in the championship hunt all year, but now we need to focus hard to finish in the top three."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on his success at Surfers Paradise: "Right now, we have to focus on moving back into the top ten in points and Australia is a good place to start the charge. In my eight starts there, I've never qualified outside the top ten [including six top-four starts], I won in '95, and last year I was driving a car that was on rails before we encountered some trouble. I know Team KOOL Green will give me the car I need to get the job done, so if we can avoid any problems we should do well. I'm also looking forward to visiting the Gold Coast, it is an amazing place for this event and I really enjoy going there every year."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on his enjoyment of the Honda Indy 300: "I can't wait to get to the Gold Coast and start enjoying the Australian beaches and lifestyle. The Surfers Paradise race is definitely one of the highlights of the year - on and off the track. It's not a bad race course, for starters, with a couple of long straights with good passing opportunities at the end. And Team KOOL Green has traditionally done well there. I got pole in '98 and won from the pole in '99. I could use another weekend like that. I'm looking forward to running up front again in Barry's home race [team owner Barry Green is a native Australian]. This layout is very demanding because of the curbs and chicanes, combined with the fast straights. The atmosphere around the event is incredible and rivals any in the series. The Australian fans are very knowledgeable and they pack the grandstands all weekend."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Kmart Toyota Lola), on building upon his past successes at Australia: "I enjoy the whole racing experience in Australia. I really like the place and I think we put on a great show for the fans there. You have to try to be competitive everywhere you go, regardless of whether the track suits your driving style or not, but we have run well on the track in the past so I hope we continue to this year. "Surfers [Paradise] is a place of mixed feelings for me. I have some very good memories from there, especially in 1998. Although I only finished third, I think it was my best race of my career there. I didn't have a very good year there in 1997, though. I broke my right leg and my left foot but at the same time you could look at it another way. I had a pretty bad accident and I only broke my leg and my foot. [On why Australia is one of the favorite races for the drivers] "It's on the beach and it's in a nice place and we all like to go to nice places. The race attracts a lot of fans from all over Australia and Japan and they get a good crowd there. It makes you proud to be part of such a great event. I asked the most important question of my life in Australia last year. I proposed to my wife after the race on Monday evening, and about four months later we were married. I have good memories of Australia, both on track and off."
CRISTIANO da MATTA (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), on "unfinished business" at Surfers Paradise: "Last year, I had a podium finish that escaped from me but I'm going to go back and get it this year. Last year, I finished fourth in the race but I was actually penalized a bit. I was running third and had a podium-finishing car but they closed the pits when I was going to stop and it ultimately caused me to drop back to seventh place so I had to work my way back up and pass a bunch of cars. I had a quick car but I didn't have the fastest car on the track. I believe we will be competitive there but we will have to wait and see during the first practice session. The track is absolutely a fun place. It is a long street course that has long straights, fast and slow corners and hard braking areas. It has everything you want from a street course. The street course tracks in Australia and Long Beach are my favorites because of that. I finished second in Long Beach this year and would be very happy to finish one better in Australia. The whole atmosphere is good. We have a couple of days off so I plan to dedicate a lot of time to working out and enjoying the sun and Australian weather. [Jokingly] I'm going to have my girlfriend there, which is my bike, and I plan to spend a lot of time with her."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on the similarities between the Surfers Paradise street course and those at Toronto and Vancouver: "Surfers Paradise is a bit like the street courses in Toronto and Vancouver in terms of speed, because we're usually in the 106-107 miles per hour range for the fastest lap. I like the layout of Surfers Paradise. You have some real good stretches where you can pass and make your way up the field. That's how it was last year when Adrian Fernandez came from 17th on the grid to win. It's no coincidence that the race in Australia has had 10 different winners in its 10-year history. No team or driver has been able to dominate at Surfers Paradise, so this is basically a race that is up for grabs. Team Player's is looking to get back into the groove we had at mid-season, when we had a nice stretch of podium finishes. We've had a competitive car the last few races but circumstances prevented us from being able to capitalize on it. I'm convinced Team Player's can do well on the Surfers Paradise street course. We got into the top five [fifth] last year for my best finish in Australia, and I know the car is even better than a year ago. We're going to give it our best, that's for sure."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), looking forward to a return to street-course competition: "Despite the bad luck we had at Laguna Seca that put us a couple of laps down early in the race, I was very pleased with the way the car performed. We were able to pass quite a few drivers as the race went on, so it tells me that with all things being equal, we would have been right in contention. Team Player's has been particularly strong on the street courses this season, and that's another plus to take into the race at Surfers Paradise. We're due for a big race and with the great racing environment in Australia, I can't think of a better place for that to happen. The week off that we had after the Laguna Seca race helped me a lot because I had some soreness in my wrist and forearm. The soreness wasn't from any race-related injury. I just woke up with the soreness during our race weekend in Houston. It wasn't a factor in the outcome at Laguna Seca and I'm definitely ready to go at Surfers Paradise. Last year was my first time on that street course and we had the lead in the race when a fuel problem occurred about halfway through the race. It was disappointing, but at the same time, we showed that we can be a force on the Surfers Paradise street course."
MAURICIO GUGELMIN (Nextel PacWest Toyota), on the universal appeal of the Honda Indy 300: "Who doesn't like racing in Surfers Paradise? The stands are always packed with fans, and that just fuels the drivers and our teams. We've had a lot of bad luck the last two races so I would love to finally get some more points after this drought. I'm well rested and ready to go. Hopefully the rain will stay away, unlike it did last year, so we can really have a go at a top qualifying position. You absolutely have to qualify well here because passing is so difficult. Aside from Adrian last year, I don't think anyone had ever won this race from further back than seventh or eighth place. I think I have a pretty good handle on the circuit and my results have been reasonable there with four points paying finishes in the last six years [including two top-five results]. We'll see. Our luck is bound to change, so why not force it to change this weekend?"
SCOTT DIXON (Nextel Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota), on competing so close to his New Zealand home: "What can I say about driving again back in Australia? It's going to be a great event that I've been looking forward to all season. I know from speaking to my family that I'll have a lot of relatives and old friends attending the race, so putting on a good show for them is important to me. But most important is putting in a solid performance for my team. We can possibly clinch the Rookie of the Year award in Surfer's, and although we can't win the overall championship, finishing strong will lay some groundwork for next season. It's important to finish the season on a high note and with two races remaining, we have a chance to showcase our team on a street course and superspeedway. I'm anticipating a pretty busy weekend. I'm going to spend some time in New Zealand prior to flying to Oz [Australia], and I know there will be a lot of media attention focused on me since I was born in the area. The atmosphere in Surfers Paradise is unbelievable and I know it's one of the most popular stops of the season for the teams. The last time I raced competitively there was in 1998 with Formula Holden. So yes, I'm definitely ready to get back home."
TORA TAKAGI (Pioneer/DENSO Special Toyota Reynard), on the challenges of Champ Car competition at Surfers Paradise: "I've been to Melbourne three times for the F1 Grand Prix so I am familiar with Australia. But I've never been to Surfer's Paradise so I am really looking forward to visiting there. As far as the track is concerned, it looks very challenging since the race footage I've seen shows many contacts at the chicanes. Qualifying position will be important here, but we have to run in [qualifying] Group 1. Therefore, it will be automatically be difficult to get good lap times because Group 2 will have a better track condition naturally. But we have shown that we are competitive on any type of track so we will look for a good result here."