Champ Car top three qualifiers press conference with: Michel Jourdain Jr., Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani Eric Mauk: We'll get started since we have our polesitter here today with the top-three qualifiers press conference for the final round of...
Champ Car top three qualifiers press conference with:
Michel Jourdain Jr., Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani
Eric Mauk: We'll get started since we have our polesitter here today with the top-three qualifiers press conference for the final round of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, round three of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
We are joined by polesitter, Michel Jourdain, Jr., driver of the #9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. He earned the pole with a top lap of 1:08.177 seconds, 103.981 miles per hour. The first pole of Jourdain's eight-year Champ Car career comes in his 123rd career start. His previous best start position was a third earned in Nazareth in 2001. The pole also gives him a championship point, moving him to 33 for the year, bringing him to within 11 points of leader Paul Tracy. Tell us how it feels.
Michel Jourdain, Jr.: Is the best feeling, you know. Two years ago we were here, and 30 seconds to go in the session, and I still had pole position, then they took it away from me. It was worth it for today. Many times I've been so close. I mean, Team Rahal, last year since I came on board, they've given -- finally I've reached pole, I can be in press conference, and I'm in the middle. Hopefully tomorrow it's the same (laughter).
I mean, it's great. I mean, the whole weekend, the car seemed very good. We just needed to get a couple of changes. Yesterday in qualifying, we thought we had a very competitive car. We made a change in the middle. We made a change yesterday, it didn't work. Today we made a little change in the middle, and it worked pretty good. It's great. It's a very long race tomorrow. Many things can happen. But I'm just very happy. I think we have a very good car on old tires, new tires. We just have to hopefully stay in the front all day long and get my first win, too.
Mauk: This is the first pole for Team Rahal since Jimmy Vasser won pole here last year. Did you guys come into the track this weekend with a good setup realizing you had the confidence of winning the pole here last year?
Jourdain Jr: Yes. I mean, we came pretty much with the same setup we both run here last year. We had a couple changes we learned from last year, some things, especially all this year, testing in the first couple of races. We just make very small changes. But the basic setup is what Jimmy had on pole last year.
Mauk: We're joined by our second and third place starters for tomorrow's race. We'll start with the third place starter, Alex Tagliani, driver of the #33 Johnson Control Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. He claimed the third spot with a time of 1:08.371 seconds, 103.623 miles per hour. This marks the second race in a row Alex has started third and breaks a streak of three consecutive 11th place starting spots for Alex here at Long Beach. You overcame a lot this week, change of the chief engineer. You come up here, put your car third spot on the grid. How does that feel?
Alex Tagliani: It's very nice. The new engineers are very smart guys, but they don't have experience on the Champ Car. I think they came with a very open mind and they didn't want to, you know, reinvent the wheel and change the car so much. We've been running good the first two races, and we've continued, tried to stay basic, don't try to change that much. I don't think we have the resource to change that much anyway.
It's been going really well. I mean, I can't complain about the results we had. I can't complain about the way the guys are working. It's really nice to see them working that well together. A good result like this is good for the whole team.
Mauk: Third place on the grid, last race down in Monterrey, some people might have been surprised by that. Third place again. Does it give you a little more vindication, starting to feel you belong up here?
Tagliani: I'm not going to take anything for granted. It's very difficult in this series. Things can change really quickly. I mean, we have to keep on working hard. Today we're third. Next race we might be further away. For us, being a young team like this, we have to just try to stay basic with the setup, don't try anything really weird. If things change and we get a little bit further back, we have to work to get up, I think it's going to be up to the main people in the team to decide what we have to do. But right now I'm really happy with the way the car is. I'm working with pretty much the same setup every race weekend. We try little things, but not anything really weird on the car right now.
Mauk: Starting second tomorrow, our points leader, Paul Tracy, driver of the #3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. He starts second after leading yesterday's qualifying. Our championship points leader, Paul has started in the front row of every race this season. You took a few laps early on, kind of sat back and watched how things developed, made a late run, came up a little short. Talk about your strategy.
Paul Tracy: It wasn't really our strategy. I went out in the middle of the session to give it a go. On my second lap, I hit the wall and bent the toe link on the car. I was a little bit upset with myself. It took a long time for us to change it. We had to go get the piece from the truck. We got out at the very end with two and a half minutes to go. I never really got a chance to really make a good run. But I was able to do my first flying lap, an eight-seven (1:08.7) out of the pits. I'm disappointed in myself really because I felt we had a car that we could back up what we did yesterday, but I made a mistake early. It was frustrating.
Mauk: First time this year now you're not chasing a rookie into the first corner. You have Michel on the inside of you. Does it change the approach?
Tracy: We'll see how the press is going to react, if they'll keep asking me about Sebastien, "What about Sebastien?" What about Michel? Well, what about Michel (laughter)?
Mauk: We'll leave that up to you guys out there as we take some questions from the media.
Q: Were you watching the TV feed to see if someone would beat you?
Jourdain Jr: I was just watching the time. They were telling me only four cars on the track, then only three, then only two. I think Patrick (Carpentier) was the last guy on the track. But they couldn't tell me when. They were telling me, "Yeah, you're on pole." The engineer was telling me, "Not yet." So I didn't know. I wanted to believe the TV and start celebrating.
Q: Can you tell us about your engineer situation?
Tagliani: I mean, Andy (Borme) decided to leave because I think he wanted to stay in Indianapolis with his family. Fair enough. Those two guys, Will Phillips is a guy that's been working on the stock car. Adam (Schaeckter) is assistant engineer last year on Mo Nunn Racing. I mean, it's difficult. It's not easy. But we were lucky that we had a good car out of the box and we didn't have to chase it too much. That aspect gave them the time to learn, to see what's working well. We've been going back and forth to the things that we ran earlier. I think now they learned. I think they're really smart guys. I think they're going to learn quickly. Hopefully we'll be able to have a better relation the next couple of races.
Q: When was the first time you met the new engineer?
Tagliani: Friday morning.
Q: Have you had a renewed focus on qualifying this year, Michel ?
Jourdain Jr: Everything. We talked about this all the time, you know. Last year's qualifying killed me. We were racing very good, we were always very fast in the races, but everything was going wrong in qualifying. Sometimes I made mistakes, sometimes I couldn't get a lap together. Many times strategy was not very good, you know. Just little things. Something was always happening.
The main thing was to do well in qualifying. It's only three races, but it seems better. 15 or 16 races to go. We cannot say, I mean, everything is now right. We just have to keep doing the same. Every race is a new race. We can't say because we've qualified better this year, we have the problem solved. We have ovals, permanent road courses. Especially the permanent road courses last year were very bad for us, too. So we have all that to work on, too.
Q: Did you feel like you had really put up a quick lap on your polewinning lap? Was it one of those that felt really fast to you?
Jourdain Jr: Pretty fast. Well, I mean, my first set of tires, I was able to do a cool-down lap, all that. Here we did a longer run in the second run, I had traffic, but Alex moved out of the way for me.
Tagliani: He moved out of the way for me, too, at the end, when I had one lap to go. He could have just tried to save his pole position. He didn't. I really appreciate that.
Jourdain Jr: I didn't have pretty much one lap on the second run until they told me that this is your last lap. It's one of those that, you know, if you want to improve, you only have one chance. I was just trying to be as smooth as possible. Obviously, I think I knew I had a car to be on pole.
Q: Paul, was the pressure off of you with the knowledge that you had the front-row starting spot locked up?
Tracy: I don't know. I felt that we've had a great car all weekend. I wanted to go out and remain on pole. Obviously, I brushed the wall, and that cost us a chance. But for me, I've never been a particularly great qualifier throughout my career. You know, I know that starting anywhere in the top five I can win.
From that standpoint, we only ran the one set of tires during qualifying, so I've done pretty well on tires this weekend. We've been able to save four sets of stickers for the race, like Mexico. I think that's more important than one point versus 20 points. I think having the tires for the race, being in good shape for the race I think is more important than one extra point. You know, there is pressure that you want to be on the pole. You're out there and you push to the limit all the time. But our focus has really been on trying to do really well on the first day, then concentrate on saving our tires for the race because I think that's more important.
Q: What kind of race do you expect tomorrow?
Tracy: This track has always provided a great race, there's always a lot of excitement, there's always some kind of drama in the hairpins. I think the fans will be pretty entertained.
Q: Michel, is it a little easier this time around, having been with Team Rahal for a second year?
Jourdain Jr: For sure. Spring training was our first test. Since then, you know, it was like give me a few more laps. You know, it's just a little bit everything. I think in the past I've been able to qualify good, too. I think it was just everything clicking together, me not making mistakes, me pulling those laps out, and the strategies. I think we made some mistakes. We had little things, like the car broke last year, but sometimes we have a mechanical failure in qualifying. That can still happen. Maybe our strategy sometimes was wrong, too. You just have to analyze more and work more on those little things. Ray and Paul especially they've been working very hard. Before every qualifying, they work very hard on the strategy which we were not doing really good last year.
Q: Alex, are you surprised how well things have gone for you to this point in the season?
Tagliani: A little bit. Like I said before, when I went to mould my feet, I saw the conditions of the team, I said, "This is going to be difficult." What team? We have no truck, no cars, and one guy was working for the team. Now it's like 100 days ago. I think, yes, I'm surprised. On the other hand, I'm working very hard on setup and very involved with the guys. I really like the Lola. You know, things have been getting together like a puzzle pretty much. I think it's going to get harder, though, because people from the team are going to develop, and we have to keep up the pace. That's where we're going to see if we are smart enough to do that to continue with limited resources.
Mauk: We take the green flag, third round of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, 1:30 p.m. tomorrow. Thank you and good evening.