CHAMPCAR/CART: Interview with Christian Fittipaldi

T.E. McHale: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. If you will pardon the pun, please, there will be a decidedly "Christian" field to this afternoon's teleconference. We will welcome Newman/Haas Racing ...

T.E. McHale: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. If you will pardon the pun, please, there will be a decidedly "Christian" field to this afternoon's teleconference. We will welcome Newman/Haas Racing driver Christian Fittipaldi in a few minutes who will be joined first by Dayton Indy Lights Championship driver Kristian Kolby of Conquest Racing, who won the closest race in modern motorsports history Sunday when he finished a mere .001 of a second ahead of Damien Faulkner in the Kansas 100 at Kansas Speedway.

T.E. McHale: We are now joined by Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing who will be seeking his third career FedEx Championship Series victory in Sunday's Molson Indy. Good afternoon and thank you for being with us today.

Christian Fittipaldi: Good afternoon.

T.E. McHale: Christian, the driver of the No. 11 Kmart Toyota Lola is on a run of five Pings points finishes in his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, four of them Top-5 results. Included in that run are finishes of third at Portland, fourth in Japan, fifth at Nazareth in Detroit and 11th at Cleveland. His recent run of success has moved Christian from 22nd to eighth place in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 48 points. He has scored championship points in four of his six career appearances in Toronto, topped by a podium result of third in 1999, and including finishes of ninth in '95, seventh in '96 and 11th in '97.

The Molson Indy Round 10 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ESPN this Sunday July 15th, beginning at 1:00 PM Eastern Time.

Can you talk about the Toronto course, did you like it, does it suit you and also, touch a bit on how you've done here in the past?

Christian Fittipaldi: Well, the last I would say, two, three years, I think we have gone to the race with a pretty good set up, especially last year. Last year we were looking very strong and actually Michael ended up winning the race, but at the beginning of the race, if you guys remember it was the first four cars that sort of led the way. It was da Matta, Castroneves, Mike and myself. We were, like all together. And then I was really saving a lot of fuel, I was really looking very good, but unfortunately on my first pit stop I came together with Gil, I was coming out and Gil was still coming in and then it knocked my front nose off and that was like the end of the race.

But I'm pretty optimistic. We're basically going back the place is more or less the same or very similar setup that we have last year and it worked very well for us, so I don't see where we are going to be really off the pace this weekend.

Is there anything you like or dislike about the course itself?

Christian Fittipaldi: The track was a lot more bumpy a couple of years ago, but after they did some changes to it, now it like smoother. Of all the street courses we go to, I tend to think that is it one of the best places out there, and we definitely managed to put a great show there. It's a big town, it's very nice town. So all of that, I think, helps for making it a very nice race.

You've got all the ovals in one sort of chunk of the season, and then a big run of street races. Do you expect that there's going to be a reshuffling and somebody like yourself could make your way up where maybe others had the advantage earlier in the season?

Christian Fittipaldi: That's a very interesting question. I guess that you -- really, in this series, you need to be competitive everywhere you go. It's not because you are a little bit stronger on ovals. You can afford to run only -- when we go to the road courses, there's all of the sudden, whatever, sixth, seventh, eighth, and we'll keep on scoring points. I think that one of the nice things that we have on our series is that, like, you need to be good everywhere you go. I'm very comfortable going into Michigan. I think that we have a great setup for Michigan the last three or four races like we have always ran very, very well, either there or maybe in the last race of the year.

But I don't know how to really answer your question. I think that it could make a difference for a couple of drivers, the fact that we had a lot of ovals in the beginning of the year, and now it's more road courses, but I don't want to think that way. I really think that when you're out there, you should try your very best, try to be competitive everywhere, otherwise it's going to make a huge difference at the end of the year in terms of points.

Your approach to this season, has anything changed in terms of how you are approaching the season philosophically from prior years?

Christian Fittipaldi: What I'm really trying to stress is on is basically you need to finish the races. Last year I would say that performance-wise, we were not bad in terms of qualifying, I think apart from, if I'm not mistaken, from two or three races. All of the other races we always started like in the top eight of the grid, but we basically finished only about 50 percent of the races, which that really hurt me at the end of the year.

So this year, I really just wanted to run, run and run, and almost like maybe taxi driver, just keep driving the whole way out there and finish the races, and stressing that it is very important for you to finish the races from like fifth and above. Because when you finish in fifth place, you start scoring points and that can make like a big difference. So it is ten, 12, 14 and then you basically go on from there.

Unfortunately, on the last race, we basically had a team screw-up, like we took a lot of time to make our decision, if we were going to go for a two-stop race or a three-stop race, and that really cost us a lot. I think Helio basically was more or less had the same problem that I did, because we really ran the whole race together, and we finished 11th. But apart from those races, we were always up there on all the other races, and this is what I want to try it continue to do until the end of the year and see if it is going to pay off, and when you have a big opportunity for you to go for the win, obviously, you need a risk a little bit more and go for it. But the series right now is really competitive, so if you are not in first place, you need to finish the race by all means.

Does that approach come from race strategy or is that how you set up your car?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think a little bit of both. But least important how you set up the car because basically the races right now, they are like three stints of qualifying races. Like when you run a race where you don't have like a lot of yellows, you are starting the race, you are doing 25, 30 laps and you are stopping, filling up, putting new tires on and going again for 25, 30 laps and stop again. Apart from the fact when it is a big fuel race, okay, when it is a big fuel race, then it's a different approach. You have to really concentrate on saving fuel, but it's really like three small qualifying races that you need to try to attack as maximum as possible and run your very best out there.

You ran so well at California Speedway last year, are you going to miss not having MIS on the schedule next year?

Christian Fittipaldi: I'm going to be honest with you, yes, because it's really unique place for us, and CART has been going that venue for a lot of years. But at the same time, it's okay when everything is working well on a Super Speedway, but if something goes wrong, like it's very quick out there, and you definitely don't want to be sitting inside the car when something goes wrong.

If you have a trouble-free weekend and if you have a very good car in the race, it's basically I'm not going to say easy because it is never easy, it's always very competitive, but it's pretty comfortable, like it is not a problem out there. But if something goes wrong, definitely don't want to be in the car.

But in terms of going back to this place, yeah, I think we will miss it because it's -- I think it played a major role on CART, like all of the championships and how the CART family developed and grew. Unfortunately, it is the way we are going and maybe we'll have venues that are going to turn out to be a lot longer than what we are doing over there.

Looking back from the safety concerns and the history of the track is there anything else that stands out about the facility for you good or bad?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think that the facility is awesome, like if I go out there right now, I really -- that's not one single thing that I would change, like on the track. I think we have excellent pits and everything is really great out there. I don't see anything that doesn't really show out or is not really that safe, I don't see anything.

I noticed last year you ran twice as much as anybody else at that test last month and spent a lot of time with different tire setups. Do you think that might be the difference in the race coming up at MIS or is fuel a bigger factor for your team?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think a lot of it is going to come down to engine power. But I'm very happy with what we have, like the engines, and hopefully they can reimplant the spacer on the engine valve because that would make life a lot easier for us. And if not, I guess we'll just have to try to get the best out of the engine, get the best out of the car.

But when I ran, like you said, okay, we ran about 110 laps or 120 laps in one day, but I was pretty happy with the car, and I don't see myself running a lot like on Friday or Saturday. We get there, the car is good and fill it up, ran, run a couple of race setups and basically park it, just wait for us to qualify, and then there is a huge race ahead of us.

This year you are in a different position than in the last several years and you are now quote the No. 1 driver on the team. How are you and Cristiano getting along?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think it is working out very, very good. Obviously, he had a strong start of the season and that has been very good, not only for him, but I think for the whole team. We had -- I don't know if I am using the right words but we had a little of a slower start or lousy start of the season, especially coming out of the race with zero points and we never imagined that would happen. But then slowly after that, it has picked up pretty well and did was a shame for this last race, and maybe Cleveland, because if it wasn't for that, we maybe would have been a little bit better.

But we still have a lot of races to go, a lot of championships ahead of us. And a big example of that is, I remember Michael last year in the middle of the season, he got up to at least, I think if I am not mistaken, a 20- to 30-point lead and at the end of the year, he ended up being in the championship with almost the same amount that I did, even missing a race in Chicago, and even having -- things that change a lot in CART, the amount of points scored per race are very big and that's more than how we are and it's important to be here.

Have you found that your relationship with Cristiano has developed as well between and Michael sharing information?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think that's very important, obviously, he runs against me also, and he run against him, and all other 25, 26 drivers. But it's really important for you to be able to interact with your teammates, just as much as possible, because the series is very tight right now, and whatever you guys can discover out there, maybe can make a huge difference, not only for him, but also for me. So we are obviously trying our very best, and see what can be good on his car, eventually can be good on my car and what can be good on my car can be good on his car. So we are working together pretty well, and the other advantage, I think we have, I think our driving styles are a little bit more similar than what we had in the past. Like Mike and I, especially on the road courses, we really like a lot of different things. On the ovals, in the end, our setup started to come a lot closer, but on the road courses it was really, really different.

Have you gotten comfortable to wear the harness at every race, even on the street courses?

Christian Fittipaldi: No, I'm not comfortable enough wearing it on the street courses. I'm going to try again this weekend, but I am not there yet. I am 100% comfortable on the ovals; I actually don't even notice that I have it on me, but not on the road courses. I think for at least my use, we would need to change it and make it a little bit better for me in the car.

Is anybody working with you on that or it just you and the team?

Christian Fittipaldi: I imagine that we will try to get them working on it in the near future, but I don't know what happened during the season because we don't have any testing any more, we have a lot of time out there for us, and I guess that we will have to wait for all of the winter testing for us to try and develop it the best way as possible.

Putting it that way, do you think there would be a reason for CART to set aside a few days just for testing with the device on a road course that would be valuable?

Christian Fittipaldi: Yes, it would be valuable, but at the same time, you need to remember that people are not going to use -- they will be testing other things, and plus, it's very expensive for you to send all the crew and the team and the engine people just to make the car run, for one, two, or three days out there. I think that maybe over the winter test we could try and get both things done. We could develop the hans and get all of our testing done at the same time.

(Inaudible)?

Christian Fittipaldi: We always have a meeting about one hour prior to the start of the race, and it's myself, Izzy the people that work with me that like stay in my pits and talk to me on the radio all the time. And I am basically in the car, driving it and we try to see what we can do in that race, where I'm starting and how we think that the race is going to happen, and a lot of things that they can see from the outside I can't see when I am driving the car, like I have a different view when I am driving the car. So radio communication with the pits is always very important, and we try to work together like as much as we can.

How important is momentum in a season, you mentioned before that you really emphasize finishing Top-5 and finishing races, period. You seem to be on a bit of a roll in that respect, is it a race-to-race issue? Or can you really build momentum in this sport?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think that you can really build it, especially going back to your motivation, like the motivation grows a lot and the team's motivation also gets a lot bigger, and that helps you a lot.

But at the same time, I have to think a little bit like you did when you asked me the question, it's a little bit of a race-to-race deal. You can't think of it, like for example, if you had a bad week and yesterday that doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to have another bad weekend next weekend. So you need to go a little bit race-to-race. I think both of them are tied up, but if you had a bad weekend right now, it's sort of put it behind, forget about it and go on to the next race. But at the same time, it is nice for you to go on to the next race, coming on from a win or third place or a good fourth or fifth finish. It's very good for yourself, and very good for the team.

I think both of them are important. The motivation and -- I would say, yeah, like the motivation is really important, but at the same time, you can't forget that every weekend is a different weekend.

Are drivers aware of the officials, the people doing the flagging? Do you think much about them and what they contribute to the sport and your weekend and the role that they may or may not have?

Christian Fittipaldi: Oh, yeah. At least I do, I don't know about the other drivers. There's no doubt about it, immediately, you are coming down the street and you are like -- (inaudible) -- quick corner at the end of the straight and see the yellow flag waving a couple meters before you get to the turn, you are obviously going to break a lot earlier and you're going to start working around, there's no doubt about it. If it wasn't for the marshal, there's a lot of extra incidents in my opinion, in motor racing in general would have happened.

Do you ever interact with them? There's people that when they have standard volunteers, and they have a lot of -- spend a lot of their time and money to sort of play this role, do the drivers appreciate that impact that they have, sort of doing something so that you guys can do what you do?

Christian Fittipaldi: I think we do -- yeah, I think we do because in the drivers briefing, usually we always comment, like there's always one driver out there that says the guy that is in turn 1 is flagging very well this weekend, for example like Portland is a classical example, when you are coming out of the pits in Portland, your first turn is very quick. So during the drivers meeting, we comment the guy that is in turn one that is telling us there's a car coming -- and a whole car coming, he's doing a very good job, but the guy that is doing a very poor job, I almost came together with two cars during the test session or qualifying, whatever, so he needs to be more aware of when it comes down to the race. So I think that we drivers in general, there's no doubt about it. We're always the same way; that the marshals take care of us, we also try to take care of them the best way as possible.

They are vulnerable -- does that ever come into your mind when you get into some kind of accident in a corner that there are people behind those walls?

Christian Fittipaldi: I don't agree with you, vulnerable, like they are protected. I think no one is vulnerable out there -- like everyone is very special out there, and it doesn't matter what he's doing, like he is working hard for something. And I think that the same way if we are going to think that way the same way that you said, okay, maybe he's a little bit more exposed, what we also are exposed, also. There's a very high risk in our sport and if a marshal is exposed to extra risks out there, we are also exposed to extra risks, and we know what those risks are. So it is not that there's someone out there forcing us drivers to go out there and race the same way that there is no one out there forcing the marshals to flag a turn. You really don't have to be there.

But you all work together?

Christian Fittipaldi: Exactly. The same way that when there's a flag and someone is pushing a doctor here or there because the car spun, we try it take care of them. I'm pretty sure that they try to take care of us the best way as possible.

T.E. McHale: We thank Christian Fittipaldi for joining us this afternoon and Kristian Kolby, as well. Good afternoon and thanks for joining us, and best of luck through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.

Christian Fittipaldi: Thank you very much and I'll probably see a bunch of you guys this weekend in two or three days.

T.E. McHale: We'll look forward to it. Thanks again Christian, and thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon and we'll talk to you next week.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Kristian Kolby
Teams Conquest Racing