CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Roberto Moreno, Christian Fittipaldi Interview

CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, INC. A Press Conference with: ROBERTO MORENO & CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We want to thank you all for taking the time to...


A Press Conference with: ROBERTO MORENO & CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We want to thank you all for taking the time to be with us today. Our guests today have shared driving duties in the No. 11 Big Kmart Ford Swift CART during the 1999 FedEx Championship Series. We are pleased to welcome Roberto Moreno who has done an outstanding job filling in for the injured Christian Fittipaldi for the past five events. We will be joined shortly by Christian who has been cleared to return to competition at this weekend's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. First welcome, Roberto, thanks for being with us today. ROBERTO MORENO: Thank you very much. My pleasure. T.E. McHALE: Roberto joins us off a FedEx Championship Series career best runnerup finish in the September 12th Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway. The effort exceeded Roberto's previous career best of third in the inaugural U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway in 1996. He also finished 9th in last month's inaugural Target Grand Prix at Chicago Motor Speedway and qualified among the Top-10 for 3 of his 5 starts with the Newman/Haas team. Prior to his 5-race stint with Newman/Haas Roberto made eight starts for the PacWest Racing Group while filling in for the injured Mark Blundell. He scored PPG Cup points in 6 of those 8 appearances including finishes of 4th at both Gateway International Raceway and Toronto. Despite having missed the first four events of the season, Roberto currently stands 14th in the FedEx Championship Series Driver Standings with 58 points. With that, we will open it up to questions for Roberto.

Q. Where do you stand at this point? Do you have other teams that you have talked to about getting another ride? What is your status right now? ROBERTO MORENO: Well, at this point it is too late to get a drive for the weekend. There is a possibility for the next couple of races after that. I don't want to mention too much at this point yet. We just need play it by ear really. I am just -- what I can say is I am available and ready to drive anything that is out there.

Q. How difficult is it to go from car to car like you have done this year and be successful? It seems like -- I know there are a lot of variations between teams and between cars and yet you have been able to do that pretty successfully. ROBERTO MORENO: Well, it is extremely difficult and very challenging because you always have to fit into a situation that is out there. It might not be the ideal for you and might not be the ideal for the team sometimes. You just have to make it work. So you come in with the attitude to make it work and you get to know the engineers the best as you can; try to assimilate their needs and that is the way you fit in best is when you understand the needs of the team and apply your knowledge to their needs. That is what I have been able to do. I must say the two teams that I have substituted this year, PacWest and Newman/Haas, they made my life very easy because they were ready for me; especially Newman/Haas because I raced with them in the past. I know all the engineers there. I should say I knew them from the past.

Q. Roberto, you were talking about just a moment ago about the situation that would be best or most advantageous for you. Can you describe a little bit of what that would be? Is it a one-car team, two-car team or your No. 1 driver, et cetera, et cetera? ROBERTO MORENO: Well, what I am referring to is starting the season working on testing and preparing yourself with a package, whether there is a one-car team or two-car team, I should say two-driver team or one-driver team, and so you prepare yourself and you develop the setup of the car early enough before the season starts so you have a good baseline of the car, engine package, and tire package that you have and your relationship with the engineers. So it is very important, it works both ways, the engineer to know how the driver works and for the driver to know how the engineer works. That relationship needs to meld into place so you get good results. This is what I am referring to and it is very important to do the offseason testing and develop yourself so when you go to the races if something is wrong on that day you already know how to go back and what to change to achieve the best result. That is what has been missing on me on being a substitute. But I didn't have any other choice. I didn't plan to be a substitute ever. I always been chasing a position in this country to establish myself as a quick driver and what this has done for me this year is to achieve that actually.

Q. Obviously you have done better or posted better results with Newman/Haas than you had with PacWest. What do you attribute that to? ROBERTO MORENO: I think a couple of things. Myself developing on the process because why the other drivers have developed themselves through the test -- offseason testing and the tests before the races, I have to do that during the races. Each time you drive, it is like an airplane, you become better and so half I attribute to develop myself and half for -- I jumped into a team that was already winning races this year and it was just sort of fitting into a very competitive situation.

Q. I don't know but something in my head, I keep seeing this mental picture of you standing at pit lane in Houston holding up a sign that says "Will race for food." ROBERTO MORENO: Well, I actually get sad when I hear something like that because it is not my intention. I think this year I have achieved a level and I hope that will generate myself a full-time drive. I don't have to hold any signs like that and it is something that I will be in Houston because as a backup situation just in case. But if the time -- if I had more time before this decision I would probably be driving for another team.

Q. Has driving for the different teams this year and being pushed into situations or invited into situations, let us use that word, has that made you a better driver in the fact that you are seeing so many different teams do so many different things? ROBERTO MORENO: I would say it was more challenging. It hasn't made me a better driver, no, because Roberto always -- has had a certain level, but he was never being able to develop that level to show what could be done. It is always difficult, you know, I have changed teams twice this year, but I must say I have been very, very fortunate to be the one choosing -- seeing somebody had to replace (inaudible) I just hope now I can continue that because a driver needs a stable situation to develop to his 100% performance level. A catching-up situation every race weekend doesn't get the best out of a driver ever.

Q. The pressures that you had being a substitute, weren't they -- did you also feel that really you didn't have a whole lot to lose or you could drive with a little more freedom then you might with a team where you have got a week-in, week-out pressure of trying to develop a car? ROBERTO MORENO: Well, imagine yourself-I have got to put it in a way that you try -- you need to put yourself into my situation a little bit to understand that. Imagine somebody that came to the U.S.A. in 1996 and was able to do a full season to learn the race tracks, but not with a very competitive team. And has been chasing a full-time drive with a competitive team since then. When you get the opportunity you don't realize, you try to make the most of it every time because you know it is going to be for a very short time and you have got to perform in that time. But the challenge of it is because you -- everything is against you. And a driver, when he goes racing, he wants to win every race, at least I do anyhow. You try to make the best out of the situation to achieve that. Sometimes I might not show it from the outside because everybody thinks I am a smiling person here and there, but inside, I always perform to my best. I always had a handicap against me facing situations that other drivers have -- had more testing and more knowledge before they got there. A clear example of that is how I performed so well at Chicago when nobody else tested there straight out of the box. In other places I didn't have that situation and I had a bigger handicap. So to answer your question, I always try my best and I always will. I have an energy that motivates me inside because I don't do anything else in life and I am still looking for the break to succeed in this country.

Q. So if you get a full-time ride next year we can expect you to be up front every week? ROBERTO MORENO: Well, I am going to certainly work in every way I can in every way to achieve that. I also work very hard to try to understand the engineering side of things so I can share with the engineer his thoughts and my thoughts and we work like, where I am not driving a little bit, of a help in a way of developing.

Q. You certainly are an encouragement to all of those of us who are a little bit older who see all the young bucks coming up, nice to see you doing so well. ROBERTO MORENO: You see "Old" is not in my dictionary. And it is just -- I look at life you know, the next step, what do I have to do. The best thing in my life is my wife takes care of my two daughters very well. I don't have to worry about them when I leave the house, and I just forget about them and I just get on with the racing.

Q. You have driven in the IRL and now you have driven in the CART Series, of course. Can you talk about how drastically different these two machines are as we continue to hear talks about reunification and so forth, just how drastically different are these machines? ROBERTO MORENO: One machine, this year, anyhow, could only drive in oval courses to start because the gearbox wasn't really ready to do any road courses on the IRL. That will change next year, I believe. But that was one thing that was a big difference. Also if you are talking about just both oval racing, IRL, you just keep your momentum going in the lap. The power range is much different and lower than the CART cars and it hasn't got the turbo that kicks in. The power range and how it kicks in, it is very different. The gearbox is very different because, one, you have to select each gear - I don't know how to say - the other one is a sequential gearbox. What else? On the CART car you always -- you are always trying to use the power to the best of your ability. I mean, you set up the car thinking about how much power you can put onto the ground. On the IRL you try to build momentum to go fast. That is the two biggest differences.

Q. Let me ask you since you have had a chance to drive different chassis in the CART series, a lot of people, other than Newman/Haas, had a lot of problems setting up the Swift chassis. Tell us a little bit about the Swift chassis and your experiences with it as opposed to what you were running with PacWest? ROBERTO MORENO: All they have to do is hire me now. (laughs). You are talking about the chassis or the team?

Q. The Swift chassis, specifically? ROBERTO MORENO: They are different. One sets up -- I can't go into details too much, but one sets up more easier than the other, but they both can perform the same level in my opinion. That is basically it. One you have to worry a little bit more about the aero package. The other one the mechanical package is very important. So it is a tradeoff and once you discover each of them, you go fast. You take, for example, some teams that have Reynard chassis that until they find the trick that makes the car go fast, they are in the back of the grid. Then same thing happens with Swift guys and the guys that found the trick were up front. It is just a matter of finding the key for each chassis. But I do say one is easier to find than the other one. T.E. McHALE: We just received word that Christian has joined us. What I am going to do at this point is ask if there is one final question for Roberto Moreno before we let Roberto get back to his lunch.

Q. You mentioned the change in the IRL gear box for next year. ROBERTO MORENO: Yeah.

Q. Are we expecting something that we don't know about yet? ROBERTO MORENO: Well, I understand next year will be sequential gearbox like the CART cars are. That is what I understood. That is basically -- you can probably use that in the road course if you want to.

Q. That is what I was wondering. Thank you. ROBERTO MORENO: Thanks. T.E. McHALE: Thank you. At this point we are going to thank Roberto Moreno for spending some time with us this afternoon. Thanks a lot, Roberto. It occurs to me that the last time we did you on a call we thought you were finished for a while just prior to the Road America event when we thought Mark Blundell would be back, but as it turns out you have not missed a race and hopefully you won't miss another one the rest of the season. We enjoy having you in the series and we hope you will stick around. ROBERTO MORENO: I hope God listens to you and I get another chance somehow; not to the expense of somebody getting injured, but I really hope I can continue. If not, I have got to thank you very, very much, both teams I drove for in the CART Series, because it has been a tremendous opportunity for me and has developed my career further. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you, Christian, and wish him all the best for the next races and if he ever needs me for anything, I will be there for him; not for driving, but even to help him, you know, continue his performance in the team. T.E. McHALE: Thanks, Roberto. I am sure he appreciates that. Best of luck the rest of the season. We hope you will stick around. ROBERTO MORENO: Thank you. All the best for all of you. T.E. McHALE: We are joined now by Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas racing who has been cleared to make his first FedEx Championship Series start since the July 25th U.S. 500 at this weekend's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Welcome back, Christian and thanks for being with us today. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much. T.E. McHALE: Christian has been sidelined since sustaining a subdural hematoma in an August 2nd testing accident at Gateway International Raceway. He was in the midst of a career-year when he had the accident having claimed his first victory and pole position of his FedEx Championship Series career at Road America and Rio de Janeiro respectively. He stood 4th in the series with 101 points at the time of his injury and through the first 12 rounds of the Championship was leading the series in both laps and miles completed. During his convalescence Christian maintained a rigorous rehabilitation schedule and actually finished 8th among 140 entrants and fourth in his age group in a recent triathlon in Florida. Heading into Sunday's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston he stands 8th in the FedEx Championship Series with 101 points. The Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Round 18 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ABC TV this Sunday September 26th being at 4 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Christian.

Q. Since your season has been interrupted and you had such a good season going, what is it that you feel you can gain from getting back in the car for these last three races? What can you accomplish that will help you in the future, work toward next year? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, definitely this first race are not going to be very easy for me, but I still think that we can finish in the Top-5 in the series and still do finish up the season with some three very strong races and hopefully that is going to put me very well in shape for like next year. But I am very confident and the fact that I missed out a little bit definitely that is not going to help me. But I am still very confident and I think that we can do some last three strong races.

Q. I am glad to hear you are going to be back, Christian. Did you give any thought at all to maybe just sitting out the rest of the year and making sure everything was right and just starting fresh next year, or was it really important that you get back if even for only a couple of races? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think it was very important for me to be back in the car when I was ready to be back in the car. By no means we are really pushing the issue here like we waited enough and I am ready to go back in the car. If I am ready in time to still do three -- like three races I will do them. If not, if that wasn't the case, I would have waited until like the beginning of next year. But happily enough, for me, it is not really the case. As I have said before, like I am really happy to be back in the car, but this weekend is definitely going to be very busy for me. It is not going to be easy. I know exactly why it is not going to be easy, but I promise you, Steve, that if I finish in the Top-3, I will buy you a cell phone.

        Q.  In that case I am going to root for you to finish fourth, how
is that (laughs)?  Thanks.
        CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI:  You're welcome.

Q. First of all, how do you feel physically? Obviously you must feel pretty good running the triathlon but I know you have had some headaches. Are all those gone now? Do you feel you are 100% physically? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I wouldn't say I am 100% physically because when you are losing out on driving, no matter how much you do on the other side, it is never the same as driving. I think that I am in pretty good shape, but maybe not 100%. The head definitely doesn't have any problem. I don't have anymore really -- any headaches or I am not seeing double or none of that. All of that was really a bad problem for me on the first two weeks and then it really got better, better and better and I haven't had any headaches now for the past three to four weeks, I would say.

Q. I know you are on the safety committee for the drivers and with the tragedy that happened last week - you have been involved in two pretty serious accidents yourself - it comes up again how safe are the cars. How safe, you know, is the circuit and what is your reply to that as far as the safety goes of racing in general? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think racing in general is really, really safe nowadays, especially if you compare it to like 20 years ago, 25 years ago. How safe are the cars? How safe are the tracks? They are never too safe like there is never going to be a point where either the tracks or the cars are oversafe. The only thing that we have to work on is to make them every time safer and safer exactly to avoid what happened like two weeks ago. We can't wait for us to really start reacting and we need to try and make everything, not only the tracks, but also the cars, safer like -- not I would say every time we go out there, but as much as we can and we have to strive for that and I think that is going to make a very big difference in the sport. But coming back to the first part of your question, if you compare it to about 30 years ago, or 25 years ago, there is no doubt that the sport that we do nowadays is like, I would say, almost up to 100 times safer than it was.

Q. Describe, if you will, your emotions coming into this race and coming back from the injury. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I don't know what to say. That is a good question. But I am happy because finally my holiday is finished and I can go back to work. I was starting to get a little bit bored, to be quite honest with you. I am happy to be a part of the next race and, as I said before, I think there are still a few more races to go and we can finish up the season in like on a high note and really get reved up for the next year, but Bob did a great job when I was out and I think both myself and like the whole team is very happy and hopefully we can go well.

Q. Is there frustration that there you were, you took the win at Elkhart and it looked like Christian was really going to contend for the title. Do you feel frustration in not being able to? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I can't say that I am happy because at the time I wasn't there, is no doubt about it that I wasn't. But what can you do? I would rather be -- I am a happier person being over here talking to you and knowing that everything is normal than actually trying to go for the title and then something worse happens like down the road. So I am a happier person talking to you here without the title, that you can be sure. But, by no means, that is definitely my goal. I am still going to fight for that and I know it won't happen anymore this year, but we will see what is really going to happen next year. But going back to the beginning of your question, I was upset; especially in like the first couple of days, there is no doubt about it; especially when it started sinking in that I was going to lose so many races and I know it is already very competitive when you don't lose any race and I knew that the fact that I was going to lose so many races, it was all over for me.

Q. A final question, I don't want this to sound marveling or anything, but while you were away, Ernie had a crash at Winston Cup and announced his retirement. How much did you look at that and if you did, did your mind wander and could you understand what Ernie was going through? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I can understand what Ernie is going through because obviously he is a great driver. He is a little bit older than I am. He has been doing motor racing at that level for a long time. So maybe he fulfilled his racing ambitions and that is why really he decided to stop. Unfortunately this hasn't -- unfortunately not or -- fortunately or unfortunately, depends how you look at it, this hasn't come through my mind yet and I haven't fulfilled my dreams yet. The motivation is still deep inside me and very, very strong. So I have to continue racing. On the other hand, someone came out with some rumors, I don't know from where like one week ago or two weeks ago, I can't remember-I got some phone calls even from San Paolo, Brazil saying that I was going to retire. And I want to keep something very, very clear, the day that I retire you are going to hear from me and everyone is going to hear from me. But they are going to hear it from my mouth and not from what other people say out there. By no means I never thought of really stopping.

Q. I just wanted to ask you: For you and Michael, being that you guys had such bad luck here last year, is there some extra motivation coming to Houston; especially with the race being the title sponsor of your team to do a lot better than the misfortune you guys had here last year? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, definitely the Texaco cars didn't have a great showing last year. (laughs). We were out of the race like -- both cars was about a lap and a half. It was almost a joke. We are highly motivated to change it exactly to the opposite way this year. There is no doubt about it. It is very important race for us and it is really important for myself also because I am coming back and it is our great sponsor and so it is going to be very important for us to finish the race and finish very, very well. But going back to your question, like definitely last year wasn't very impressive at all like the track was great and unfortunately we had a lot of rain when it came down to the race, but when it came down to race time, as far as team-wise is concerned, like the performance wasn't very impressive.

Q. I wanted to talk a little bit about last year, the fact we did have the torrential rains here and we really didn't get to see how the course was going to race. Of course you got practice and qualifying time on it. Is it still going to be a situation this year where you guys are going to come in and not really knowing how this racetrack is going to race come race day? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, obviously we don't have the dry track race experience that we could have gained last year. And we do carry a lot of that from, for example, like when we go to Portland, from one year to the other, we carry a lot of the previous race experience and unfortunately the only race experience that we have about that track is on wet settings and then eventually going to dry at later stages of the race. But still I think we have a reasonable amount of experience from last year from Friday and Saturday. We are going to build up again this year, so I honestly don't see it as being a huge problem. If it is going to be a problem, it is going to be the same for all the cars out there. There isn't going to be one car that is going to have a small advantage over the others, I don't think so.

Q. If I could have one follow-up, with you coming back into the cockpit, tell us a little bit about what you are going to be trying to do in the car that first practice session, once you get to town, shaking down the car, but then kind of shaking your cobwebs loose too, I guess? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, as I say, taking the webs out of my body and coming back into working mode and going out nice and steady, but competitive all the time. And like I think the team has a very good car on that type of a circuit, so, I think that it will slowly come building up and maybe the first practice we won't set like the whole world on fire and then start building up and go better, better throughout the whole weekend. As long as I go better throughout the whole weekend I am going to be very happy.

        Q.  Where did you test before the doctors okayed you this week?
        CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI:  I ran yesterday at Seabring.

Q. Everything obviously went pretty well? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, everything went okay. We ran in the wet because it was raining a lot, but everything went okay.

Q. A question that it kind of relates to the question that the gentleman asked you earlier about Ernie. There has been a number of athletes over the last few years who have been forced to retire or to just walk away from their sport; whether it be football or racing or whatever because of head injuries and having several. Now you have had two concussions in the car and both of them were reasonably severe. Has that put the fear into you that another one of these head injuries could be the end of your career and is that going to change the way you approach anything? CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think the end of my career or the end of anyone's career is when you are not motivated to drive anymore. As long as you physically can get the job done, I really don't think that way and maybe it is going to be next year, maybe it is going to be like in 15 years from now, I really don't know. But the day I hop into the car and I really don't feel anything when hopping into the car, I am going to stop driving like the same way, like the same day. I really don't have to drive because of other people and I drive because of myself. I love what I do and you can be sure that I am going to stop the same day. As far as getting involved in accidents and eventually having small injuries, there is obviously a big concern for all the drivers because no one is out there to really get hurt. We are out there to try and practice our sport the best way as possible. As far as fear is concerned, I think there isn't one driver out there that doesn't have a little bit of fear. Everyone has fear because if you don't have fear, you can't drive the car to the limit. You would never know when to stop or like when to brake or how quick is too quick. Sometimes maybe when you forget about the fear, you sort of over drive the car and that can put you in a complicated situation. T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Christian, for joining us this afternoon. Welcome back to the FedEx Championship Series. We look forward to good things from you in Houston this weekend and continued success for the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much. I will see you guys out there in Houston. T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to be with us today. Thanks again to Kathi Lauterbach for helping us put this together on such short notice. Have a good week. We will see some of you in Houston and we hope to talk to all of you next week.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Mark Blundell