Top three Friday Long Beach qualifiers press conference with: Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira Eric Mauk: Thank you for joining us for the first round of qualifying for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as we are joined...
Top three Friday Long Beach qualifiers press conference with:
Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira
Eric Mauk: Thank you for joining us for the first round of qualifying for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as we are joined by the top three qualifiers in today's opening round. Third is the driver of the #2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, Sebastien Bourdais, who placed third with a top lap of 1:09.242/102.319mph. Sebastien, this is not a track you can come out and test on. Your first time going around here today. Where do you see the toughest part of this track being for you?
Sebastien Bourdais: It's about everywhere. Each corner you need to push. You are always close to the wall. That's how a street course is. You really need to take your time and go step by step if you don't want to do a mistake. Just hope we're going to do pretty well tomorrow. If the rain is not coming, it would probably be a good day for us on Saturday.
Mauk: We are joined by our second place finisher, Bruno Junqueira, driver of the #1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, Newman/Haas Racing. He earns the second spot in today's first round of qualifying with a lap of 1:09.120, a speed of 102.550 miles per hour. Bruno started third here a year ago, and will be looking to better that tomorrow in final qualifying. Tell us about your day, Bruno.
Bruno Junqueira: The day was okay. I think in the morning, the car was pretty good. The PacifiCare car and Newman/Haas team made some changes for qualifying. I think the car was pretty good in the qualifying round on the first set of new tires. I was just a little bit in front of Paul. We were a lot faster than everybody. But on the second set of new tires, I did one lap, I got traffic, then I got a good lap, then I got traffic again. I backed off. I had a very, very fast lap, then the red flag came. I was a little bit frustrated because I couldn't even improve my lap from the first set of tires. For sure the track got a lot more grip. I sure that Paul could go fast, as well, because of the red. It's kind of frustrating because I left a lot on the table.
Mauk: Obviously, this is your third time here now. Your first year you started deep in the pack, made your way up to ninth. Started third last year. You're running second in this first round of qualifying. Do you feel you have a handle on this track, do you feel confident here?
Junqueira: Yes, I think this is a very nice track. On the first year, I had a problem with the car. I couldn't get a qualifying lap. In the race, I was lapping pretty quick, I think. This track is a very good street course, a very nice area. I like to race here. It's not very difficult to learn. I think after 10 laps, you just learn the track. It's just a matter, as Sebastien said, go every time a little bit closer to the wall. It's a pretty nice track. I hope this year can be a little bit better than the past two years.
Mauk: Today's pole winner in our first round of qualifying, Paul Tracy, driver of the #3 Player's/Indeck Forsythe Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, who claimed the pole on the 13th of his 15 laps, with a time of 109.079, 102.561 miles per hour. This run guarantees Paul a front-row starting spot for Sunday, marking the third straight race he has started in the front row. Also earns his Paul his first Long Beach front row starting spot since 1995. He also takes the championship point for qualifying today, giving him 44 on the year, widening his lead to 12 over Michel Jourdain, Jr. Paul, congratulations on the run, tell us how it felt for you.
Paul Tracy: I think it was a great day for Team Player's. We started off very well. In the first practice, the car was very good. We were able to go and do some testing a couple days ago with Pat (Carpentier), learn some more about the car. We were able to start with a pretty good setup right off the trailer and really just fine-tune it. Every practice we made improvements on the car.
Coming into qualifying, I felt good. We did a good time. Then Bruno beat our time just by a little bit on the first set of tires. We made a small change to the car. I went out and the car was good, but there was a lot of traffic on the track about five minutes to go. It was difficult to get a clear lap. I was able to get one lap, then halfway around on my second lap it went red.
You know, I think we'll still need to improve the car tomorrow if it's dry. Our goal today was to do a good time and place the car well because maybe the weather's not going to be so good tomorrow.
Mauk: Weather notwithstanding, we saw a bunch of guys come out early, then you guys came out. Once Bruno took that pole, everybody went to the pits and sat around for five or six minutes, came back out. Nobody was able to go any faster till the end. Given that, tomorrow do you see the strategy kind of scrambling up a little bit on that?
Tracy: I think if it's dry tomorrow, then we're kind of in position to sit and wait because we're guaranteed the front-row start, we don't have to rush and get out there right away. I think everybody's really just trying to gauge when to go on the track, when there's going to be a clear track. It just seems when the track is clear, everybody rushes out there at the same time. You know, hopefully tomorrow the weather will be good and we can have a good day for the fans.
Mauk: Paul also led both of this morning's practice sessions. We'll open it up to questions.
Q: How did tire strategy play into this?
Tracy: I think it is an issue. I mean, obviously as we've seen in the first two races, the longer you go on the tires, tire wear becomes an issue. This track is all hard accelerating. Especially the most important corner on the track is the slowest one coming onto the longest straightaway. Having good traction at the end of a stint is important, for sure.
Junqueira: I think with no traction control, it will be really difficult, especially if it is hot. The race can be really exciting because halfway through the stint, some tires start to burn. It will be really important to try to save the tires and have a good setup for the old tires.
Q: Paul, where did you test? Did you set up a track that was similar in some way to Long Beach?
Tracy: No, not really. It was Pat that was testing at a new facility in Phoenix, just outside of Phoenix. There were six other cars there. We had a pretty good test. It was productive. We were able to learn a lot of things on the car. That kind of helped us for this weekend.
Q: This year so far everything has kind of fallen into place for you. Do you feel more confident this year when you get to a racetrack?
Tracy: You know, it's hard to say. I came into the season not as the pre-season favorite or anything. I wasn't particularly fast in the winter in testing, but really concentrated on learning the car and understanding the car more than I had in the past, getting the car the way I wanted it to handle.
You know, coming into the first race, really I wasn't that confident I could win the race, but just wanted to finish well and build confidence. Subsequently, we've had two races in a row that I've won, so my confidence is good (laughter). I feel good in the car. I feel like everything is kind of just happening without having to work at it too hard. I think in those times, you have to take advantage of it and let it all happen. When the bad times come, that's when it gets hard, having to pull yourself out of the times when it's not going well.
Q: Did Roberto Moreno hit you at the end of qualifying?
Tracy: He ran into the back of me. I had caught Oriol (Servia). He had spun in front of me after my quick lap. I was on my second flying lap, and he had spun. He was probably six or seven seconds in front of me, then came on the track in front of me. I had to abort that lap and slow down for a lap. I was setting up for my last lap. Moreno came and he ran into the back of my car. That's what caused the red. He ran into me. No damage to my car. I don't know what he was thinking.
Q: You spoke about confidence. What happens to your confidence level in that car should the conditions be wet on Sunday?
@!Tracy: Well, for sure it will be difficult. I don't think we've ever raced here in the rain. It's a difficult track to get around on dry. Any street course is difficult. We have a new tire from Bridgestone which is much softer than the previous tire we've ran. I think that's going to make it a lot easier. I think a lot of the problems that we've had in the past not having very good control of the cars is because the older rain tire was very hard. They've brought a new tire. We've had it since Mexico. We haven't had the opportunity to use it yet, but I think that's going to make a difference.
Q: Sebastien, how have you adapted to the Champ Cars this year?
Bourdais: It's hard to say. I mean, I got pretty quickly some good references between the 3000 cars and Champ Car. It was pretty easy because the team was really nice with me. We were able to understand each other pretty well and quickly. In my background as a racing driver, even if I'm young, it's pretty big. The adaptation was pretty quick.
Q: Sebastien, are you a little disappointed with the way the season has started with you?
Bourdais: I cannot really be disappointed. I mean, we were so quick. We were leading the races, two poles. Obviously we didn't get the results. It's frustrating, for sure. But how can we be disappointed? You just have to keep going and hopefully we won't be unlucky all the season long.
Q: Paul, are you building the good kind of chemistry that is going to help you when you kind of hit the plateau this year, help you keep digging through that, making more progress?
Tracy: I think this year Team Player's, they've surrounded me with people I'm very comfortable working with. The key guys are Tony Cicale, who I worked with in Team Green in '99 and 2000, I had a lot of success, won a lot of races in that period. Now working on the team is Todd Malloy, who was also Team Green, with me for five years. There's guys like Neil Micklewright has done a good job on the radio in the races. I've never worked with him before, but he's been fantastic on the radios during the race. The team has really put a good group of guys around me that are easy to work with, and the transition has been really good.
Q: Sebastien, is there any track in Europe that this reminds you of at all or is this something very different for you?
Bourdais: This one?
Bourdais: No, it's really particular. The pavement is pretty hard, as everybody can see. You have a lot of different tarmac. It's kind of bumpy. It's tricky. The walls are close, not always really uniform. It's kind of tough to find your way through that. The only thing is to push, touch sometimes the wall, but don't hit it (laughter).
Q: How does the weather forecast affect what you did today as far as strategy?
Tracy: I think everybody knows that the weather could be bad tomorrow and bad Sunday. We all hope it's not, but I think everybody today was pushing to the limit to secure a good position on the grid. Maybe it's not any different than any other qualifying session. For sure, our team, we've been watching the weather. We know it could be bad. We really put a lot of focus on today to qualify well, not make any mistakes during practice, not make any mistakes on setup.
Mauk: That concludes our afternoon press conference. Thank you all for coming out. Final qualifying tomorrow begins at 1:45 on the streets of Long Beach.