CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MARIO DOMINGUEZ, BRUNO JUNQUEIRA AND PAUL TRACY ERIC MAUK: Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our post qualifying press conference as the final grid has...
CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MARIO DOMINGUEZ, BRUNO JUNQUEIRA AND PAUL TRACY
ERIC MAUK: Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our post qualifying press conference as the final grid has now been set for tomorrow's Grand Prix of Houston, Round 2 of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. We are joined by our top three qualifiers. Before we start, I would like to introduce Mr. Joe Barbieri from Bridgestone who will present today's Bridgestone Pole Position Award to Mario Dominguez.
JOE BARBIERI: Congratulations. Along with this trophy, Bridgestone will also make a donation of $5,000 to our pole winner here, Mario, and $2,500 will go to the Hole in the Wall Camps Foundation here. That charity will receive another $2,500 from Bridgestone. Congratulations. Have a great race tomorrow.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: Joe, if you could join me. Obviously, a lot of different variables into this weekend. A lot of different rubbers on the track. Tell us how the Bridgestones held up today.
JOE BARBIERI: Kind of depends who you talk to. The theory behind the alternate tires were they were going to be anywhere from 3/10ths to 8/10ths of a second quicker. I think with the warmer temperatures out there today, even though Mario put down a very good time, Paul did as well, some of the other drivers weren't having as much success. Interesting we qualified at night, we qualified in the heat of the day, we're actually going to be racing at night. The tires are holding up well. It is just finding the right balance on the car to compensate for the driving style of the different drivers. Tomorrow's race should be very, very exciting. Looking forward to it. Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, Joe. Our third place qualifier for tomorrow's event, driver of the #3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, Paul Tracy. Paul hangs a fast lap of 58.426 seconds, 104.132 miles per hour. Paul, big improvement, a lot of quick times out there today. Tell us about how it went.
PAUL TRACY: I think it went great for Forsythe Racing. Obviously, Mario has been very quick all weekend. He's been historically very quick on this style of track, very bumpy tracks like Denver, Miami, where he's been successful. He's been going really quick.
I've been just trying to figure out what is making the car so quick for him and maybe not so much for me. We made a lot of changes throughout the day today, made some more big changes right before qualifying after the warm-up. The red tires, really the first go around on them, I was really maybe a little bit tentative on them. Probably could have got more on the first set of tires. The second set, I knew what I had to work with and was able to cut a pretty fast lap, but not close enough to Mario. I think it was a couple 10ths behind him. We're satisfied. Obviously, it's changed the balance of how things look from yesterday. Looked like it was going to be a walk-away with Newman/Haas. Obviously, we've worked very hard, it's a different day today.
ERIC MAUK: Take us through what you expect for tomorrow a little bit. Obviously, back to nighttime running. It will be cooler. Tell us a little about what you think you can expect.
PAUL TRACY: There's nobody in front of Mario to hit this weekend. I'm lined up squarely behind him. Payback, brother (laughter).
It's going to be a hard first corner. It's difficult to get through the first corner by yourself cleanly. It's definitely going to be an interesting driver's meeting. There's going to have to be a lot of caution taken to get through the first corner here, then go racing. This is a tough, physical track. It's going to be dark. It's hard to do five laps in a row without beating yourself up and beating up the car. We have 115 laps tomorrow night. It's really going to be a test for the equipment and the drivers.
ERIC MAUK: Actually, something you'll go over in the driver's meeting, for those of you who haven't seen it, they announced 20 minutes ago that they have shortened the race tomorrow. We're going to go 100 laps, 169 miles around the circuit.
Our second place driver, starting outside of the front row, driver of the #2 Hole in the Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing, Bruno Junqueira. His best lap today, 58.918 seconds, 103.262 miles per hour. This is Bruno's first front row start in Champ Car since the season opener one year ago in Long Beach, of course primarily due to the fact that you missed most of last year. Tell us a little about how things went today for you.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Was good. The first set of tires, the soft tires, I did an okay lap, 58.9. At that time I was on the pole. Then the next lap was really, really good. Not good as Mario's standard, but maybe 58.5, 58.4. I brushed the wall out of turn five. I think everything looks good on the car. I went out, the car still did not feel that good on the other set. I realize that I never could match 58.0. I had a front row guaranteed, so I stopped. I think Mario did a very good job today. For sure I'll have to look, because it looks like the Forsythe team step up today and the Newman/Haas team need to improve for the race tomorrow.
ERIC MAUK: After last night's qualifying session where you had four red flags, a choppy session, you were the last guy to go out today. You waited 10, 12 minutes. Ended up being a cleaner session. Did the fact there were so many red flags yesterday play into your strategy to sit and wait or was there something else?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I mean, I had a front row spot guaranteed. I could take a gamble when there was not many cars on the track. Especially on my first run, I didn't get much traffic. It was a clear run, apart of my brush the wall. But the second run, I got traffic all the way till the end. The car wasn't that good, so I pit earlier. I think today the drivers learn a little bit more the track. I think was just one red flag. I think everybody could have clear runs.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Good luck tomorrow. The polesitter for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Houston, driver of the #7 Orgullo de Mexico Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, Mario Dominguez. His first career Champ Car pole, laid down a blistering lap, 58.026 seconds, 104 850 miles per hour. That will stand as the track record here. His first pole, first front row start since he started on the outside of the front row in Monterrey in 2004. Mario, long time coming. How does it feel?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It feels great. I think Forsythe has done a very good job over the winter. Over this weekend, we've worked very well together. I think the whole team deserves this pole, and so do I. I've been waiting for this for many years. I'm very happy, very excited about the pole position.
You know, like I said, just very proud to be racing for Forsythe. I'd like to thank everybody on the team. Paul has been great to me. He's been a big help over the last year and this year. I think we are a good team together.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about those last five or six minutes. You came in, run your laps, had your time on the board but there were some heavy hitters still on track. What was it like waiting the last few minutes?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It was very, very nerve-wracking. We decided to go out at the beginning, get the lap done. We knew the car was fast, get the job done, that was it. Yesterday was red flags. You don't know what's going to happen. We just said, let's just go out, put in a good lap and see what happens. The cars kept running, going by, going faster. I told Michael, my engineer, no matter what happens, great job, the car is fantastic, I'm just very happy. Even if we finished 10th, good job.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us how the Bridgestone Potenzas held up for you.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: The Bridgestones were great. The fact they can actually get some grip out of this very slippery and very bumpy concrete surface just shows how good the technology on the Bridgestone tires is. I'm very, very pleased with the tires.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Best of luck tomorrow.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: We'll open it up to questions.
Q: Are you happy to hear they shortened the race, given how bumpy the track is?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, I am happy.
PAUL TRACY: I think for sure it's going to be a lot easier on the cars. For our team, to get our car down to weight, to give an example, we run normally wood skid plates, which are very light. Can't run them here because the car hits the ground so hard. We go through the wood skid plates in like five laps. We've had to qualify this weekend with aluminum skid plates which we normally don't run, because they're more durable and last longer, but it adds a lot of weight to the car. It's not helping us, but that's the difference between blowing right through the bottom of the car and not.
Q: Mario, does it feel good to have contributed to the team as much as you have this weekend?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I think it's a very good start. I think it's great, the fact that we got our first pole. Hopefully we can turn that into a win tomorrow. We're going to try our best. If we can do that one race before Monterrey, it's going to create a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from the people. I'll be very happy about that. It's been a while since I won Miami. I'm just going to try my best, do my best effort. I think we can do it. We're just going to have to work very hard. We'll see what happens.
Q: How can you have a good start tomorrow and make sure you get through the first turn together? Any lessons from Long Beach or any thoughts on that?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Maybe they can wait 200 yards behind me and everybody will be fine (laughter).
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For me this weekend, my goal is to finish the race. To finish the race, I have to do turn one in the first lap. I'm starting second, so I don't want to give up my position. For sure, I need to be smart because three of us who are fast, who have fast cars, so is a long race, cars are going to break, a lot of pit stops, a lot of yellow flags. It is a matter to be patient on first lap because is going to be a long race. That's what I am going to try to do.
PAUL TRACY: I think it's always difficult, especially at a street track. They've made it very, very difficult here with the corners. They've made it even harder to get through the first corner cleanly.
You know, really the tough spot to be, if you're in the first row, second row, usually you're okay. The trouble spot really is fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, because those guys are usually unhappy, haven't highly qualified, want to make some positions on the start. Guys that start further back are always more aggressive, they're trying to make positions. The guys that are in front are trying to defend those positions. That's where everybody gets tripped up. It will be an interesting start. But I think you're more in the danger zone really when you're in the third row to like the sixth row.
Q: You want to be first. If you come out of the first turn third...
PAUL TRACY: My plan is to get to the first corner. We need to finish the race. Getting through the first corner is going to be important, but getting to the end of this race I think is going to be tough as well just with the track and the bumps. It's very easy to make a mistake here and go in the runoff or hit the wall because of the bumps. The attrition I think is going to be a factor here.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think it's going to be a really hard start. I think turn one is really slow, maybe the slowest turn one of the championship. It's going to be the hardest braking. It's very narrow. Just can fit one car. Plus the wall goes like this, so we're going to make it even tighter. And it's going to be at night (laughter).
I think if everybody put their head down and just wait a little bit, you can get through it.
Q: Mario, you have a new engineer this year in Michael Cannon, how has that been working out?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It's working out very good. Michael was with me at Herdez in 2004. Forsythe brought him back. We did very well in 2004. I thought with what we had, we did quite well. Considering the fact that Forsythe is a much more complete team, we have a lot more things to work on, has a lot more resources, more technology, more experience. To have brought him back, it's very good for me.
We communicate very well together. He had been with the team for many years before. He's got a good relationship with everybody there also. I think it's been very good ever since he came back. The atmosphere, it's quite good around the team. They all knew him. They all liked him. So do I. I think it's a good combination.
Q: Are you surprised at how much faster the track was today?
PAUL TRACY: I thought my engineer, when we did a 58.9 or 59.0, I thought that was a pretty good lap at the time. I was sitting in the pits, and my engineer told me Mario did a 58.0. I thought, wow, I'm not going to do that. I just went out and attacked the course, was able to keep it between the walls, was able to do a 58.3. You know, you really have to attack, but it's a balancing act. If you push too hard, then you end up sliding or hitting something. It's very easy.
It's just one of those tracks, if you get around the track, you're able to attack the whole way around, not make a mistake, then you get a good lap time.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Like Paul says, you really have to attack the track, just try to get the most amount of speed out of every inch of this racetrack to be fast. That's what I did. I just went out, drove it pretty much inch by inch. I didn't do not even corner by corner. Just try to get the most speed every time I brake. Every time I turn, carry the most amount of speed, put the power down as quickly as possible, and all that without hitting the wall, it's quite a challenge.
Q: Mario, does the fact that you prefer a softer setup help you tomorrow in preserving the car?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I guess it's all a matter of driving styles. But I like the way my car is. I think my car should be pretty good. I think it's consistent. The way it was, I wasn't destroying the tires all that bad as I was yesterday. This was a better qualifying. I think it should be good for the race.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring us to a close. We go racing 100 laps tomorrow. We will take the green flag at 8 p.m. Thank you.