CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Pre Race Quotes

Texaco Grand Prix Of Houston Pre Race Quotes Houston, TX (September 30, 1998) -- MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), on the anticipation surrounding the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "I'm really looking forward to...

Texaco Grand Prix Of Houston Pre Race Quotes

Houston, TX (September 30, 1998) --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), on the anticipation surrounding the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "I'm really looking forward to Houston. I think the fans will see a great race. It will be a very competitive street circuit, and we put on good shows on street circuits. We usually don't get to a race event until Thursdays, but I'm coming in early for this one. I travel to Houston for Texaco appearances, and I am amazed at the amount of fans CART has there, despite never racing there. People watch all of our races and I think our TV ratings in Houston are among the highest in the nation. The large number of fans, combined with Texaco sponsoring the event, makes for a special weekend. We've had winning the Houston race on our minds for over a year."

On his high expectations for the Houston event: "We have very high expectations, especially with Texaco behind the event. It should be a success. Racing at a track for the first time is always more challenging because the teams don't have any data to refer to. Therefore, a win in the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston would be even more of an accomplishment. I like racing on street circuits. They seem to suit my driving style. Hopefully, this track will as well. On paper, the track looks very wide, which will be good for passing. I think the end of the front straight will be a good place to pass. I've won lots of races before, but winning the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix would be extra special because of our involvement with the race."

On the stretch drive to finish second in the PPG Cup points race: "I really think we have a legitimate shot at winning the last three races and finishing second in the PPG Cup. There is a lot of money for second place, and the extra million dollars for winning at Fontana [in the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway] is extra incentive. I've been second five times [in the championship, in 1986, '87, '90, '92 and '96] and it's not something you shoot for, but in this case, it would be very good to end the season in second place. My philosophy is that if you keep hammering away at it, sooner or later, you'll knock off three in a row. We've been hammering away and hopefully, our time has come. There were only a couple of races that we weren't competitive. We had a podium [top three] car at the others. Hopefully, it will all come together this weekend."

ALEX ZANARDI (Target Reynard Honda), on the challenges of the new downtown street circuit at Houston: "I'm looking forward to Houston. It's going to be quite a challenge for all of us because we haven't raced there before, but I truly like these kinds of challenges. I think I learn pretty fast, and I think my crew is very good at figuring out the correct set-up for the car very quickly, so I think it will be an advantage for us. I have so much confidence in guys like Morris [Nunn, chief engineer] and Rob [Hill, crew chief]. We've always been able to determine the best set-up and make the necessary adjustments to the car when we need to. It's obviously very important in Houston that we find the right set-up very early on, then we can just do smaller fine-tuning as the weekend goes on."

On his mindset for the remainder of the season, having already clinched his second consecutive FedEx Championship Series championship: "I can assure you that I haven't lost an ounce of desire or determination. There are still three championships to be won - Houston, Australia and Fontana - and I want to win them all, and my crew wants to win them all. Even though we've won the PPG Cup, we're as hungry as ever and we're going to prepare for each race the same way we have all season. As for my future in Formula One, that is next year and won't change the way I approach the rest of this year. If anything, it might help, because now I won't have that issue as a distraction."

JIMMY VASSER (Target Reynard Honda), on adjusting to the challenges presented by a new street circuit: "It's fun going to a different city and a new circuit, and it's exciting to take on the challenges of a new course. A brand new course makes it a little more difficult, but it's not insurmountable. We're all in the same boat in terms of experience, so it's just a matter of who can get their cars set up the best. If we have a good car coming off the trailer, we can pick up the track a little quicker, so that's one of our goals."

On maintaining his second-place position in the PPG Cup points race: "Every race is critical the rest of the way. I think we've got the tools to put the Target car second, but there are five other guys who have a legitimate shot at second place. They're good drivers and have good equipment, too, so there's a lot at stake in the last three races, and it should be fun for the fans to watch."

TOM ANDERSON, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing managing director, on setting cars up for an unknown street circuit like Houston: "Obviously, two of the things we normally use in determining set-up - past track experience and on-track testing - don't apply in Houston. That leaves a combination of mechanical simulation, computer software simulation and good, old-fashioned gut reaction on the part of the engineers. CART has mapped the race track in terms of the length of the straight-aways and the degrees of the curves. Our chassis manufacturer, Reynard, has a computer simulation program, and their engineers will put in estimates on things like top speed and cornering force. Our engineers will study our data from other street courses like Long Beach, Detroit and Vancouver and figure out what they've learned at those places. Then we'll talk to Firestone about which tire they're going to bring and exactly what kind of construction it is. Through the tire manufacturer, who will have had someone down there actually studying the track surfaces, we'll get an idea of whether the Houston surface will be more like Long Beach or more like Vancouver. Basically, you just acquire as many facts as you can that way, and then it's essentially a best-guess scenario. You never really know how close you are until you actually run on the track. We've been relatively close at some of the places we've gone to, and we've been a bit off at a couple of places as well, like Vancouver. You'll see by the end of the first [practice] session who got the set-up right."

BOBBY RAHAL (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), on CART's inaugural visit to Texas: "Texas is a market we've coveted for a long time. We are fortunate to have a lot of loyal fans in that area of the country, and it will be nice to be able to race in front of them before I hang it up. This event is also of keen importance to our sponsors - many of whom have major operations and sizable customer bases there. I think it's going to be a great marriage for the city, the state and the series."

BRYAN HERTA (Shell Reynard Ford), on attempting to follow his first career FedEx Championship Series victory (Sept. 13 at Laguna Seca Raceway), with a second consecutive triumph, a la series rivals Greg Moore (1997) and Dario Franchitti (this year): "That's a trend we'd certainly like to see continue. There's probably a certain amount of confidence from winning that first race that carries over into the next few. It certainly doesn't make it any easier, though."

On the importance of qualifying at temporary street circuits: "There's little arguing the importance of qualifying on tracks like this one. It also happens to be something we've been doing quite well of late. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I think we've got the very best equipment combination right now. It also has to do with the fact that our team has really hit its stride."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Reynard Honda), on his special anticipation of the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "I'm looking forward to Houston probably more than other drivers. I enjoy the challenge of learning a new circuit quickly and I always seem to do well on street courses. From a car standpoint, [technical director] Don Halliday and the rest of the Team KOOL Green crew have developed a great setup for street circuits, so it should just be a matter of doing some fine tuning in practice and qualifying. I got a brief look at the street circuit when I was in Houston for a media tour and I think it could be a good race track. The streets were wide and smooth, and it looks like the best passing opportunity will be under braking for Turn 5 at the end of the long back straightaway [Austin Street]. Of course, like any street circuit, it will be hard on brakes, and you'll have to be constantly thinking about saving them."

PAUL TRACY (KOOL Reynard Honda), on preparation for the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "We'll do one more test at Firebird [Ariz.] on Monday and Tuesday of race week, so we should be in decent shape when we hit the streets of Houston for the first time on Friday morning. Then, it will be a race to see who can best adjust their car and driving to suit the track. Practice will be twice as important as normal, and if you don't qualify near the front of the grid, it will be a long, long race as you fight your way through the field."

On the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "There has been talk about racing in Houston ever since I've been in CART, so it's great that we're finally racing there. Houston race fans have waited a long time for this event and they won't be disappointed."

AL UNSER JR. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), on the Houston layout: "The Houston track looks a bit wider than other temporary circuits. There are narrow spots, but the majority of the track looks like it's wide enough for passing. The course seems to have it all - it's smooth, has fast and slow corners, as well as long and short straights. When driving my Marlboro Penske Mercedes on a new track for the first time, I know within the first 20 minutes if I can go faster in one area or if I've gone into a corner too deep. The goal is to maximize speed and learn which areas are tricky, and not so tricky, without overdriving the car and damaging it."

SCOTT PRUETT (Visteon Reynard Ford), on his team's battle to join the front-runners in the PPG Cup points race: "After a slow start, the Visteon team has worked hard to get back into the thick of the points battle. We have to continue to work hard for these last three races if we are going to move up. Houston is going to be a difficult race. We don't really know what to expect because we have never raced there. Qualifying will be important, because it is going to be difficult to pass. Getting a clear lap in qualifying will be key. As far as the race is concerned, first and foremost we have to finish the race and get some points. If we do that the rest of the season, the points battle will take care of itself."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford), on Houston as a "home" race: "It is going to be like a home race for me because so many people are coming from Mexico. Houston is very close to Mexico City, so my whole family and all of our sponsors will be attending the race. My biggest problem is getting enough passes. I don't know anything about the track. Obviously, qualifying is going to be key, but we have been pretty strong on the street circuits this year. The most important thing for the Tecate/Quaker State team is to finish the race and get some points."

GIL de FERRAN (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda), on "pushing the envelope" at street circuits: "I enjoy street circuits because they really challenge you. The limit seems to be a stretchable one. It's not a defined line. There's always a little bit more you can get out of it. First of all, you have to study the track layout and try to get some prior knowledge of the track surface. You study that a lot with the team engineer [Bill Pappas] and try to decide what will be the best approach for the setup of the car. You begin the first practice session with your best estimation. Typically, you have most of the morning practice session [Friday and Saturday] to get on with it. I make the job of getting the most out of the track and the car fit in the time available [usually 75 to 90 minutes]. If I have only three laps to learn the track, I could do that, no problem. Going to a strange track and needing to do a [quick] time in 15 minutes; if that's what you've got to do, that's what you do. However, it must be said, you incur more risks doing that. Sometimes, you can try to go too fast too soon and end up in the wall, which is very easy to do on a street circuit."

On cultivating the mental toughness required to compete on temporary street circuits: "The sense of purpose in your mind has to be pretty strong, no doubt about that. Don't allow yourself to get sidetracked. Make a plan and stick to that plan. No matter the circuit, you've got to make the best time, stick the car on the pole and win the race. That's the way I approach it. That's what I've got to do. I'll use everything in my power to try to achieve that, including everything from driving techniques to technical knowledge to try to set up the car."

DERRICK WALKER, Walker Racing team owner, on the importance of racing in Houston: "I think everyone involved in the CART series has been looking forward to our race in Houston. We've been talking for many, many years about the importance of a race in Texas. It's a key market area for our sponsors and, until now, an untapped region of fan support for CART racing. My view is taking the series to new markets, such as Houston and the race earlier this year in Japan, is very important to CART's long-term success."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Kmart Swift Ford), on his inaugural race in Texas: "I can't wait until the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston! The fans can really expect a lot because they can see what Champ Cars are all about. They can see how tight the racing is. The track has a neat layout that will attract a lot of race fans and it will be my first time to race in Texas. Because our team has been working with Texaco for years, it will be special for everyone. Because of our involvement with the race [with Texaco as sponsor and team co-owner Carl Haas as promoter], we are going to put a huge effort into finishing well in the race. Obviously, with so many connections to the race, we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to finish well in Houston. I have big expectations for all 19 races, but if you can have a win where your sponsor is based everyone is happier because so many people are counting on you. Apart from my home race in Brazil, the Detroit and Houston races are the most important to me because [sponsor] Kmart is based in Detroit and [sponsor] Texaco is based [in Houston]. Street races are very important to our series because they expose people to our sport who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to get to a race. Instead of them coming to us, we bring the race to them."

On his first impressions of Texas: "My first trip to Texas was to test at Texas World Speedway in College Station. It was really an experience because I couldn't believe how nice everyone in Texas was. I also couldn't understand what everyone was saying at first, because of their accent. English is a second language to me, and I was familiar with the European version of English, which is very different from the Texan version of English."

On his kinship with the Texas cattle ranchers: "I hope the cattle farmers will be rooting for me because I'm a cattle farmer myself and I'll always welcome more race fans. I think they should all bring their cattle out to the track and we can have a cattle drive on the front straight[away]. Actually, Carl [Haas] might not like that, because of the mess."

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes), looking forward to the next two events on temporary street circuits, including the Oct. 18 Honda Indy at Surfers Paradise, Australia: "We have had a strong car for all of the ovals, but I am really looking forward to the next two races because we have had good success on the street circuits this year. Like Vancouver, this will be a new track for everyone. I feel strongly about our chances to be competitive because [chief engineer Tom Brown] has come up with a good setup for the street circuits and two of our best races have come in street races. I think we have shown everyone that we can be fast. What we need to do now is get the kind of race result we have been wanting all season long. It's no longer just a matter of wanting to score a high finish. We want to win."

RICHIE HEARN (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford), on becoming familiar with the Houston street circuit: "I'll take a few laps around the track in the rental car or on my bike or scooter early in the week to memorize the new track layout. At least everyone will be starting from ground zero. The learning curve is going to be the same for everyone, and we'll all just have to make a few guesses. We have a good street course set-up though for the Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford, so hopefully, we'll have a little advantage."

GERALD DAVIS, Davis Racing team owner and Texas resident, on the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "This is a great event for us. To race here is exciting and we think the fans are in for a treat when they see CART racing. It's a good market for CART, and I know this will be the start of something the fans of Houston and Texas will look forward to every year. As far as we're concerned here at Davis Racing, we'll try and have a great race. We have a lot of family, friends and fans who will be there to watch us, which makes us not only happy, but excited. I think everyone at CART will be happy with Houston and the great people there. They will get a great Texas welcome."

ARND MEIER (Hasseroder/J.A.G. Lola Ford), on the desire to succeed in Houston: "I want to do real well here, especially since it's Gerald's home state, and he will have a lot of family, friends and fans on hand. It should be a great race, and from what I understand, the circuit is a good one with some nice passing opportunities."

ALEX BARRON (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota), on Houston as an equal "playing field": "The Houston race should be interesting because all of the drivers will be on an equal playing ground. The fact that no one has raced on this circuit should make it a little easier on the rookies. Considering that Houston is a street circuit, and given our recent performance at Vancouver [where Barron led 12 laps for the first time in his FedEx Championship Series career], we might do well."

VINCENZO SOSPIRI (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota), on his enjoyment of Texas: "I really enjoy Texas. The people are nice and the climate is perfect for racing. I ran an oval race in Fort Worth last year and finished ninth driving for Team Scandia [in the Indy Racing League]. I like street circuits and hopefully, we'll be able to do a good job."

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dario Franchitti , Carl Haas , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore , Tom Brown
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing