GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his fond memories of the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca: "Laguna is quite a dear place to me since I won my first Champ Car race there in 1995 [de Ferran's rookie season]. It is also one of my favorite ...
GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his fond memories of the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca: "Laguna is quite a dear place to me since I won my first Champ Car race there in 1995 [de Ferran's rookie season]. It is also one of my favorite circuits - not only in America, but also worldwide. Marlboro Team Penske had a great run there last year with Helio [Castroneves] and I qualifying and finishing one-two. We're looking forward to a good result again this year. As far as the championship goes, nothing changes going into this race. The title chase is not finished and we cannot underestimate the opposition - we need to execute and put points on the board."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on the demands of competing at Laguna Seca: "Laguna Seca is a tough circuit, particularly because of the high-speed corners. After fifty laps, the steering starts to feel very heavy so you need to stay focused and not make any mistakes. We couldn't have asked for a better race than we had last year in Laguna. To get the pole, lead almost the entire race [except for two laps during pit stops], and take the checkered flag was pretty much a perfect weekend. We're confident heading into Laguna after Marlboro Team Penske's performance there last year [front row sweep; 1-2 finish] combined with our strong results on road courses this year. It's important to score as many points as possible with the championship still up for grabs and only three races left."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on the importance of proper setup on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca: "Laguna Seca is a difficult track to get the car set up for because it throws so many different things at you. You have to make sacrifices in some of the slower turns because you need to be able to carry as much speed as possible through the fast corners. But it's the same for everyone, so it's up to the drivers and the engineers to work together to get it right. I've got a lot of confidence in Steve Challis [chief engineer] and the rest of the Team KOOL Green engineers to give me a car that will run up front. I've had a couple wins at Laguna [1993 and '94], but it's been a while and I'd sure like to score another one."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on the need to qualify well at Laguna Seca: "Laguna Seca is a tough, tough track to race on, which makes qualifying especially important. I've qualified well there, and not so well, and believe me, it can make a big difference. It's certainly a very challenging place to get the car working properly - you've got a good combination of fast and slow corners and, of course, there are lots of elevation changes. Team KOOL Green has been giving me a good car and the Honda engines have just been fantastic. But we need to keep the momentum going and earn as many points as we can to try to put some pressure on the point leaders."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Kmart Toyota Lola), on the importance of pit strategy at Laguna Seca: "It is pretty important to have a good pit strategy at Laguna Seca because although it is a road course, it is still pretty challenging to pass and last year we definitely had the wrong pit strategy. The cars run so close in the race so you need to have a car that is a lot quicker than everyone else's and the series is so competitive that it doesn't happen that often. [On driving at Laguna Seca while sick last year] You have to do what you have to do. If you work in a bank and wake up sick one morning but have something important to do, you still have to go in. That's what happens when you have responsibilities. Obviously, it's not nice to run in a race car like that, but it's your job. You have to be at the track and psyche yourself up to do as good of a job as possible. Laguna Seca is a pretty physically demanding track, especially after the corkscrew. The two left-handers and the quick right-hander down the hill are quite demanding on us. I think that race weekend will be more wide-open than in past years because we are used to testing before the Vancouver race or mid-season, and no one has tested there since the winter because of the in-season testing ban. I still think the Penskes will be the cars to beat."
CRISTIANO da MATTA (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), on whether success in Monterrey, Mexico, where he won the FedEx Championship Series season opener, will translate to success in Monterey, Calif.: "I think the only similarity between the road course in Monterrey, Mexico and the road course in Monterey, Calif. is the name of the city and hopefully the end result! The track in Mexico is flat. There are virtually no hills but the one in California is all uphill and downhill. I don't think there is even one flat part of the track. There are a few bumps, too, and the one in Mexico was pretty smooth. I won my first race at the [Laguna Seca] track when I went there for an Indy Lights race, but I haven't been able to repeat that since I moved up to Champ Cars so I will go there in 2001 to see if I can repeat a win. We had a good test there in the off-season so we hope that will carry over. I think the Penskes will be tough, but I'm going there pretty confident and I think we might have something for them. My favorite part of the course if the quick left- and right-handers after the corkscrew going downhill. That part is probably the most exciting for me because it is fast and you are pulling a lot of 'Gs' [G-forces]. It's like being on a roller coaster. When we get there, it will have been almost one year from the time we have driven there. I always come back to Laguna Seca and think 'Wow, I forgot how much fun this place is.' "
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on Laguna Seca as a racing facility: "In terms of race setting and track layout, it doesn't get any better than Laguna Seca. I would say it's still my favorite track from that standpoint, even though I got a bit of an upside-down view of the scenery last year when the car vaulted the wall backwards in the Friday qualifying session. The last two years at Laguna, we've managed to make it into the top 10, despite starting from well back on the grid. Qualifying is a big factor at Laguna, and that's why Team Player's felt it was a good idea to serve both of my eight-minute red-flag penalties in the Houston qualifying session last Saturday, rather than carry one of them over to the Laguna qualifying. With three races left, we still have a good shot at getting into the top five in the drivers' standings, so we're determined to get as many points as we can. Naturally, I would have liked to get more than three in Houston last weekend, but I'll gladly take them because our car wasn't as competitive as it has been for the last several races. It's really important to score some points, even when you're struggling a bit on the track, and Team Player's was able to do that in Houston. It keeps your momentum going."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on the challenges of racing at Laguna Seca: "Laguna is a road course that really puts you to the test, from its high-speed kink on Turn 1, to its short straights and then the famous Corkscrew on turn 8. It can get pretty rough on your equipment package, as well, especially the Corkscrew, which tests the limits of your mechanical grip. Strangely enough, it was something minor, a defective sparkplug, that cost us last year, in my first CART appearance at Laguna. Team Player's was very effective in finding a proper set-up at Laguna last year and we had an extremely fast car for that layout. I expect the car will be even more competitive this year. Although our race in Houston was disappointing in that we came so close to winning the race, or at least a podium position, there were still plenty of positives. The big thing is that we were in a position to win in those final laps, and that shows what a fine job the Team Player's crew is doing to give us a contending car, race after race. That's why I'm as confident as ever about getting that first race win in one of the final three races."
TONY KANAAN (Hollywood Honda Reynard), on looking forward to competing at Laguna Seca: "The timing is just right to race at Laguna Seca for our team. We didn't have the greatest weekend in the world at Houston. Far from it. We just never got the car quite right. It's difficult on street circuits. You usually see a big difference between the cars that got the set-up right and the ones who are still searching. I love Laguna Seca. It's one of my favorite tracks. It's a fast track and it will be a good feeling to get out and run some fast corners. After last weekend, I've had enough of slow, 90-degree corners for a while. We keep scoring points, but not enough to put a dent in the upper half of the top-10. We keep knocking on the door. We just have to bust our way through this weekend."
MAURICIO GUGELMIN (Nextel PacWest Toyota), on his success at Laguna Seca: "Laguna Seca has always been a good circuit for me. Five of the last six years I've raced there I've been able to finish in the top 10. One reason is because we have a great set-up for Laguna and, as a result of that, we have always been able to qualify well. This is such a tough track to pass on that qualifying up front is very important. This is also another circuit where conserving fuel is an important part of race strategy because there usually aren't too many yellow flags during the race. Overall, I just enjoy the circuit and all of its elevation changes and I'm looking forward to my seventh year of competition in Monterey."
SCOTT DIXON (Nextel Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota), on his Indy Lights success at Laguna Seca: "I've raced at Laguna Seca only twice, but have had good results there both times. In 1999 we pulled off a second-place finish after starting fourth, and last season in Indy Lights, I won my fifth race of the year there after qualifying second. The circuit is a lot of fun to drive but you have to choose your passing points carefully because you don't get too many opportunities to pass there. We're coming off a disappointing result in Houston, so we need another good finish to keep a solid lead in the Rookie of the Year title, which is my main goal now that we're out of championship contention. I've really learned a lot this season and hopefully, we can manage a few good results out of the remaining races and carry some positive momentum into next season."
TORA TAKAGI (Pioneer/DENSO Toyota Reynard), on his recent success in the FedEx Championship Series: "We had a good test [at Laguna Seca] earlier this year and recently our team performance has been looking up, so it is quite natural that we are looking forward to scoring another good result at Laguna Seca. It will be the last road course of this season - which are always my favorite. However, after seven months of racing, other teams also have gathered more information about the cars and have also improved their performance as well, so it will be tough to be quick out there even with a good test."
ORIOL SERVIA (Sigma Autosport Ford Lola), on his early exit last week: "It's a shame we went out early at Houston, which stopped our streak of finishes, but I think we'll bounce back at Laguna Seca. It's one of the classic tracks that CART competes on and it's a fun track to race at. We can have an excellent race at Laguna and I really believe we will."
CASEY MEARS (Pioneer Honda Reynard), on racing at his "home" track: "Houston is behind us and all indications are that we're ready to turn it up a notch this weekend at Laguna Seca. This is my home track, for the most part. At least it's my home Champ Car racing road course, and I love it. I've turned a lot of laps here. We were hooked up pretty well all through the Indy Lights weekend last year and we almost won the race. So, after what I would consider a successful start to this run last weekend in Houston, I can hardly think of a better place to run. We developed a solid working relationship with Morris and the team at Houston, and we'll definitely keep building on that this weekend. I'm not expecting any miracles, but I do know my way around this track, and I did gain a lot of confidence driving the Pioneer-WorldCom car my first time out. I'm hopeful for a good result, which, for starters, would be somewhere in the top 10."