MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Motorola Honda Reynard), on the FedEx Championship Series stretch run: "We've been quietly scratching our way to the front in the championship fight, and we can't afford to finish out of the points this weekend in Houston. It ...
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Motorola Honda Reynard), on the FedEx Championship Series stretch run: "We've been quietly scratching our way to the front in the championship fight, and we can't afford to finish out of the points this weekend in Houston. It would be nice to be on the podium and stay up front for the championship."
KENNY BRACK (Shell Ford Lola), on changing his luck on FedEx Championship Series road circuits: "We've had good cars on the road circuits this year but we haven't had the best luck. But I feel the Shell team has a good shot at winning on the road. We knew we had a good oval car and the results have shown that. But the Shell team and the engineers have worked very hard to get the car better for the next three road races. I think we'll have a very competitive car at Houston. We had a good trip to Europe as we took over the point lead. It's fun when you are running well and leading the points. We are down to the tough stretch now. Four races in five weeks. Houston is a very tight circuit. It is mentally draining. You cannot make a mistake on that course. Plus passing is very difficult. So qualifying up in the front will be a key. We have qualified pretty well on temporary circuits this year with a pole at Mexico, a second at Long Beach, third at Toronto and fourth at Vancouver. We just haven't got to the checkered flag. I hope that will change at Houston. A win at Houston would be big for our Shell team. We want to get a win on the roads. With Shell based in Houston, it would be a great place to win."
GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on the challenges of racing at Houston: "With a lot of ninety degree corners, Houston is a place where you cannot make a mistake. The street course is a little bumpy in places as well, which makes it difficult to drive and to get the right set-up. I knew last year's race would be a key to the championship and it was important for Marlboro Team Penske to take the pole and finish on the podium [de Ferran finished third after starting on the pole]. Once again, with the points battle so close [de Ferran is six points out of first place in the championship], Houston will play an important role in the fight for the CART championship."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on the demands of the Houston street course: "The Houston street circuit is tough on brakes and equipment. There is only one straightaway with a top speed of about 175 miles per hour, which does not allow for a lot of air to cool the brakes, so we have to make sure they don't overheat. The track is bumpy at the braking points which makes it a challenge for both the driver and the engineers to find the right set-up. Marlboro Team Penske has been doing relatively well on street circuits so we are hoping for a good result this weekend. Last year, I had a good run for the pole but got held up in traffic on the last turn of my last qualifying lap. In the race, we lost time in the pits when the Team had to recock the fuel valve, which cost us track position. We were able to bring it home in the points [Castroneves finished fifth], which we need to do again this year to stay in the hunt for the championship."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Kmart Toyota Lola), on the importance of the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston to Newman/Haas Racing: "We have been more competitive on street courses this season so I am looking forward to racing in Houston, not only for that reason but also because it is a Texaco/Havoline event and [team owner] Carl [Haas] is involved. Our chances of winning the championship are slim to none right now but we are working toward being more competitive the rest of this season and possibly getting a win, as well as focusing on next season. I think we will be strong in all four of the remaining events. I have run in the top five or six in all of the [previous] events in Houston, but it would be nice to finish on the podium and keep improving our car. We need a good finish but first we need to finish in general because we have not done that as much this year."
CRISTIANO da MATTA (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), on the Newman/Haas team's improvement on road and street circuits: "We started off the season strong with a first- and second-place finish and then had some things out of our control happen and were not as competitive at a few places mid-season, but have made a huge improvement with our road and street course set-ups, so I think we will run well in Houston. The Newman/Haas cars have run well in Houston the last couple of years and I look forward to going anywhere their cars run well. It is an important race for me because I am the Texaco/Havoline driver and you always want to do well for your sponsors everywhere you go, but racing in their hometown at a race in their name pushes you even harder. I don't think it is extra pressure so much as it is extra motivation. The championship is not in my mind right now, although we are still mathematically in it, but it would take a lot of luck and other guys not finishing races. Winning the championship depends on so many factors other than just my performance, which puts everything up in the air. We will take each event separately, race by race. Finishing in the top five is my goal right now. Being that it was my first year with this team and we have scored three podium finishes, including a win, is good, although we are nowhere near satisfied with those results."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on Team KOOL Green's success in Houston: "The streets of Houston have been pretty good to Team KOOL Green over the years and I hope it turns out that way again this weekend. We've had good cars and bad luck this year, but I think we've got a good shot at success here. This is also the fourth race [of five] where we're raising money for the 100 Black Men of America, so it would mean even more if we do well. Dario [Franchitti, teammate] and I have both won here before, and we finished one-two in 1999, so it could be a nice donation for the 100 on Sunday."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on the keys to a successful performance in Houston: "Qualifying up front and avoiding mistakes is the key to success in Houston. You have to be on the top of your game at a street circuit like this because it challenges you on every lap. Team KOOL Green has had a lot of success on the streets of Houston and I've qualified in the front two rows every year. So maybe we can turn our luck around and come out of Houston with a great finish. Another win this season would be great not only for the team, but it would also mean a nice bonus contribution to the 100 Black Men of America program."
SCOTT DIXON (Enron Powerware PacWest Toyota), on rebounding from a tough European trip: "We're coming off a pretty difficult two weeks in Europe so this final stretch of races, beginning with Houston, will prove to be very important to us for several reasons. We definitely need a good showing in Houston to strengthen our position for a final run at the championship, but I would also like to maintain my hold on Rookie of the Year, which I think would be a great accomplishment for my team and me if we can win it. A good result on a street course would really help me since three of the last four races are on street or road circuits. The weekend is also very important from a sponsorship standpoint. Enron Corporation has signed on to be the primary sponsor on my car this weekend so I really want to put on a good show for them since they are headquartered in Houston and maintain such a high profile in the city. Because of Enron's involvement with us this weekend, we will also proudly display United Way and Houston Astros signage on the Number 18 car. Enron will have a lot of employees and guests in attendance, so I plan on representing them well and hopefully we can continue our relationship with them in 2002 and for years to come."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on the assorted challenges of racing in Houston: "You have to be prepared for everything in Houston. In the three years I've raced on the Houston street circuit, we've had to contend with all the elements - rain one year and hot, humid conditions the next - so you have to make sure you're in peak shape, both mentally and physically. Fortunately, the week off after we got back from the races in Europe has done a lot to get me re-charged to tackle the Houston course. I'm still looking to finish my first race on the Houston track. Team Player's has been unlucky there in the past, but this year the car has been consistently reliable, so that's a good sign we can turn our fortunes around in Houston.
"The last time Team Player's ran on a street course was in Vancouver before the two races in Europe, and we were one-two on the starting grid. It would be nice to do that in Houston. That's certainly the goal going into the race, and we'll be helped by the fact both Alex [Tagliani, teammate] and I will be in the faster qualifying group. Because the track in Houston is a temporary street course, there's quite often a lot of oil and dirt that work their way into the surface from the street cars that use it year round. That makes it quite slick if you're in the slower qualifying group, before a lot of rubber is laid down."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), "It was good to get back home after the races in Europe. I was able to catch my breath, rest up and now I'm focused on the race in Houston. The way I see it, we're into the final sprint of the season, with four races to go, and I'm going to give it everything I have to come up with a win before it's over. The Team Player's crew has given me a great car on road and street courses all season long and I'm convinced that in one of these last four races, everything is going to fall into place and we're going to take that checkered flag. Houston is probably the slowest of the street courses we've raced on this season. At least, it's the only street course where qualifying [speeds] will be under 100 miles an hour. It's a racing surface that changes almost from minute to minute, so you really have to keep your wits about you and be able to adapt to these changes. You also have to be patient because you'll get some opportunities to pass, especially on the long backstretch between Turns 4 and 5. But it's the type of circuit where good pit strategy and the ability to gain on re-starts after cautions are key factors in being able to finish at the front."
TONY KANAAN (Hollywood Honda Reynard), on returning to competition in the United States: "Well, it's back to business in the States. I never felt so good to get back home as I did after Germany and England. That was one of the most frightening and heartbreaking two weeks in my life, first with the tragedies in New York and Washington, and then with one of the most violent accidents I have seen in my 15 years of racing ending the career my teammate and one of my best friends [Alex Zanardi]. The President says it's good for America to get back to work, to get everything back to normal after the terrorist attacks. That's the best medicine, just like it will be for our team to carry on. I welcome my new teammate, Casey Mears. I drove against him in Indy Lights [in 1997] and he's going to be a good addition to our team. My other teammate was 'Uncle Alex,' but now it feels like I'm 'Uncle Tony' to Casey, although I'm not too much older than he is! I have to say I hope it doesn't rain in Houston on qualifying day. It was a shame in Germany and in England that I had the fastest car in practice and in the warm-up session, but we had to start according to the point standings [because of rain in Germany and water seepage on the track in England]. The result in England would have been much different, for sure. I really wanted to win that one for Alex. Hey, he's going to be okay and that is motivating all of us to win one before the end of the year."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard), on competing in Houston, near his native Mexico: "I have had a lot of support from the fans in Houston over the years which is always nice. I also have a lot of friends there. When I was a little kid, I was in an exchange program to learn English. I would stay with a family in Houston for a month and their child would stay with my family in Mexico. I always enjoy going to Houston. This will be a busy weekend for us. Most of my sponsors - Tecate, Quaker State and Telmex - are coming this weekend. I am really looking forward to finishing this race. Unfortunately, we have had a few engine problems recently that haven't let us earn any points. Hopefully, our time will come at Houston."
MAX PAPIS (Miller Lite Ford Lola), on the demands the Houston road course places on cars and drivers: "Last year's race was very hard on the cars and drivers. The Houston track is so tight and hard to pass. A driver can't place a wheel wrong or his car is in the wall. I think you've seen that the past few years on the Houston track. I wish the track was a little wider for some more passing. But it's a street circuit and you have just enough room for two cars. So qualifying well is very important. Houston is a great race for the fans. They are very friendly and excited about our racing. And I like the town a lot. I've had some good runs there in the past. I took the Toyota car to its highest finish [fifth at the time] in the rain in 1999. And I just missed the podium in 2000 [fourth]. Now it's time to get to that important podium."
CASEY MEARS (Pioneer Honda Reynard), on making his inaugural appearance of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season this weekend: "Right now, I have to say I'm going into this with an open mind about everything. Obviously, we haven't had the opportunity to do any testing. But I feel really good about this weekend because I won at Houston last year [in Indy Lights]. I can't wait to get to the track and get started. But, realistically, it's going to take some time to get up to speed in a Champ Car and get to know the team better. Tony [Kanaan] ran really strong here last year despite being down on horsepower, so I know the team has a good feel for set-up there. I go into every race with the intention of winning it. But, given the timeframe, I think a realistic goal would be a top-10 finish. I haven't run a temporary street course in a Champ Car. But I have run on road courses. I tested at Mid-Ohio with Walker last year. I also ran Putnam Park twice with PacWest. And I ran at Firebird with Ganassi last year. So I definitely know my way around in a Champ Car. I got to spend some time with Morris [Nunn] in Indy over the [last] weekend and we hit it off really well. I'm excited to work with him. I've heard so many good things about him from so many drivers. It'll be great to experience it for myself."
MAURICIO GUGELMIN (Nextel PacWest Toyota), on the importance of qualifying well in Houston: "It will be nice to get back to the streets. Houston has always been a tough track for me, and aside from a sixth-place finish in 1999, I've really struggled here - as have a lot of others. The track is very bumpy and it's important to qualify as high as possible although it's not impossible to pass or charge to the front from the back. I think we have a pretty reliable street course set-up, so it will important to put up good times early and build off that over the course of the weekend. The reliability of the Toyota engine will certainly help me this weekend since I haven't had that here in the past. Keeping the car intact is also key since this track has always seen a lot of 'off's' in the past. Even though I'm not in the championship battle this year, I still need to gather up as many points as I can, and with Nextel's interest in this market, I would like to represent them well and put in a good effort for them since they have been so good to me."
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR. (Herdez Ford Lola), looking forward to a return to street-course competition: "I am excited about returning to the streets of Houston. The last street course we ran on [in Vancouver], I had a good car and I was pretty happy with my sixth-place finish there. I feel we have a good car on the street courses so I'm looking forward to Houston. The way the schedule finishes works out pretty well for us and I think we'll have a very strong end of the season. All the tracks we have left in the series suit us and I'm confident we'll do well on all of them."
SHINJI NAKANO (Avex/Alpine Honda Reynard), on his enjoyment of Houston: "I like Houston, both the circuit and the city. My best race last year was at Houston, so I have good memories from there and a good feeling about this weekend. Houston is a street circuit, so you need to find a setup which gives you good traction and braking stability. Those are the most important things."
TORA TAKAGI (Pioneer/DENSO Special Toyota Reynard), looking forward to more practice time in Houston : "I am really looking forward to racing in Houston, as the European races were frustrating as far as the schedule for practice was concerned. I finished in sixth place in Germany, but things could have been even better if we had had proper practice or qualifying time, but our car has been performing really well nonetheless. In Houston, even if we have rain, we can go out to the track with wet tires, and if we have a good setup like at the last street race at Vancouver, we should go quite quick early on and finish even better than the seventh place we had there."