CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Top three qualifiers press conference

CART post qualifying press conference April 13, 2002 An interview with: Jimmy Vasser Cristiano da Matta Bruno Junqueira Merrill Cain: We'll get started with our press conference today as we finished up our final qualifying for tomorrow's...

CART post qualifying press conference
April 13, 2002

An interview with: Jimmy Vasser Cristiano da Matta Bruno Junqueira

Merrill Cain: We'll get started with our press conference today as we finished up our final qualifying for tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. We'll get started with Jimmy Vasser and Bruno Junqueira as we await Cristiano da Matta.

We'll start out first today with Bruno Junqueira, driving the #4 Target/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He had a best time of 1:08.097 seconds for a speed of 104.040 miles per hour. It was Bruno's best qualifying position since he qualified second in Houston last season. The third time in the past four races here at Long Beach that a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car has qualified in the top five. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has won four consecutive races at Long Beach with Jimmy Vasser in 1996, Alex Zanardi in 1997 and 1998, and Juan Montoya in 1999, before of course Marlboro Team Penske took over the dominance after that.

If you would, take us through your day as you climbed up through the charts.

Bruno Junqueira: Yesterday I had okay day. I finished fifth in qualifying. Yesterday night we made some changes on the car and the car was much better this morning. I was fastest on the morning session.

I was really confident for qualifying. I could qualify third. That's good. And I'm really confident for the race. I think we have a very good car. This morning, I was lapping really fast. That's it.

Merrill Cain: Jimmy is your polesitter for tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He's driving the # 8 Shell/Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. (Applause.)

Merrill Cain: Go ahead. He deserves it.

Jimmy had a time of 1:07.742 seconds, a speed of 104.585 miles per hour. It is the eighth career pole position for Jimmy Vasser, first since Michigan in 1999, a span of 50 races. Eighth pole for Team Rahal since the start of 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series, seven of which were with the Shell car.

Impressive run for you today. You were quick yesterday. Battled with Cristiano for much of the session. Tell us a little about your day today.

Jimmy Vasser: I guess the most significant thing that happened we lost a line on our primary car in the morning, with about 20 minutes to go. Rolled out a backup car just to run on it, finish the session out. There was something about it that I liked. It had some characteristics that I thought felt quick. We all decided to go ahead and go for the switch with the backup car. So we had to pull the primary out. The time from yesterday really wasn't anything that was going to save our butt, nine-three (1:09.3), probably would have been in the back of the grid anyway. You know, that was the biggest thing that happened for us today.

Since we had the new car, I thought we'd just go right out, right when the green flag went out. I knew we were going to be able to run. We ran eight-one (1:08.1) in the morning. We should be able to go out and run a good time right away, especially with a clear track.

That's the most significant thing in qualifying now, you only get a certain amount of laps. You know, it's not really anybody's fault. You're out there running. They come pulling out of the pits on cold tires, and your laps are ruined.

I think that's one thing about the new qualifying system that needs to be played with, I think. I have this idea that maybe you do it in 10-minute segments. If you want to go out in the first 10 minutes, you roll out in the first 30 seconds, then the pits are closed for exit for 10 minutes, then have 10-minute segments all along. You know if you're going to go for that segment in 10 minutes, nobody is really going to be rolling out on the track, or eight minutes, whatever it would be for a five- or six-lap run.

It's terrible, if you're out there and you only have three or four, hot laps, then somebody comes out of the pits driving right in front of you, it's really a disadvantage.

I was a bit lucky on my second set of tires. I didn't have any of those encounters. Then of course the red flag at the end - I think with a couple minutes to go - might have got some guys out that had a couple laps left in their pocket.

It takes a little bit of luck to get a pole position. Shell guys did a great job all week along. Both of our cars have been good, like I said yesterday. Good to finally get a point in the season. Hopefully we'll have a clean race tomorrow.

Merrill Cain: Couple other notes on Jimmy's pole position. It's the first pole position for an American driver since Bryan Herta won the pole at Laguna Seca in 1999. As he pointed out, he earns a championship point, his first of the CART FedEx Championship Series this year. Jimmy is also the 1996 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach champion, after starting third. We are now joined by Cristiano da Matta, who qualified second today. Driving the #6 Chevron/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He had a best time of 1:07.745, a speed of 104.580 miles an hour. He ties a career best qualifying performance. The previous outside pole position performances came at Toronto in 2000 and Monterrey and Portland and Fontana, as well last year.

I know you were trying very hard to get that first pole position, but came up a little bit short

Cristiano da Matta: Yeah, of course I've never been on pole before, so it was something I really wanted. I felt pretty confident this morning with my car. I felt like I could have done it.

And I didn't expect the traction to be as good as it was this afternoon. I think I had a good run, had some traffic like I think pretty much everybody did, but I was able to put a couple good laps together.

I was just thinking when I saw the difference between my time and Jimmy's time that I should have gone to the bathroom before the session (laughter). Three-thousandths of a second maybe would be enough.

Merrill Cain: You don't need to raise your hand if you need to go.

Jimmy Vasser: He's not very regular, I guess (laughter). This is because he's the lightest driver.

Cristiano da Matta: But I'm happy. My car is running really well. Every single session, the car has been running fine. No matter what condition the track was, no rubber, more rubber, cold track, warm track, whatever we have, the car seems to respond. So I'm happy. I think it will be good for the race tomorrow.

Merrill Cain: He is looking to tie the CART record for four consecutive wins if he should be victorious tomorrow. The previous drivers to win four straight were Al Unser, Jr. in 1990, and Alex Zanardi in 1998.

Let's open it up for questions for our Top 3 qualifiers today.

Q Jimmy and Cristiano, virtually the same speed. Does that make the start of tomorrow's race more critical?

Cristiano da Matta: It's 90 laps. It's critical, but it's not - I mean, the start is always important, but I think it's just like any other start. I think there's a lot more going on in the race now that we don't have this saving fuel thing. I think there's a lot more going on after that. There's a lot more opportunities to play with the strategy. We still can try to short fuel stop, go heavy and stop. Just a lot of things you can do.

Jimmy Vasser: Yeah, I would agree. It's almost better to be in control leading the race, clean air, and so forth. But you have to be there at the end to finish. Got to have good stops, don't make any mistakes. But it's always good to lead.

Q Talk about the fact that this is the first time you won't have to worry about fuel restrictions. Should this make a better or different race than we had the past?

Jimmy Vasser: Certainly it will be different. There won't be cars, you know, really making it to the front on real strange fuel strategies. You don't have that ability anymore to do those things. So it will be different in that respect.

I think the racing is better that way. You know, I think it's going to be more wide open. But we've had some pretty damn good races here with the old strategies. I remember (Alex) Zanardi coming from a lap down and winning that thing. He did a little bit of that with some fuel strategy. Only time will tell if it's going to be a better race.

Q Jimmy, how is this, emotionally, for you and the team?

Jimmy Vasser: I think it's great. Any time you can have successes, it's uplifting.

The team, I've been saying as of recent, the team has good energy around it, you know. We've had some good tests. Those are emotionally uplifting, too. Michel (Jourdain Jr.) had a great run in Mexico, finished fourth. He's been quick. A bit of a surprise to a lot of people in the sport. You know, he's doing a great job. So there's a lot of good things that's going on around the team.

Hopefully we're going to get some good fortune, too. Things that happened today are indications of that. While we're prepared and the cars are quick, we're running good, you need to have a little good luck, too. It doesn't take much to screw up your qualifying, your race. If the ball starts bouncing your way, and you have speed, that's a good thing.

Today definitely, you know, puts a little spring in everybody's step. Tomorrow is the race. Everybody will be focused. It's most important. We need to win the race. If we can't do that, then we need to get second. We need to get started on the championship.

Cristiano has quite a good jump on everybody right now, looking like certainly the guy to beat for the championship. In the Shell car, we need to get points. I got one.

Q Bruno, does it give you more confidence in knowing the car, knowing the circuit?

Bruno Junqueira: Yeah, sure, this year I know the tracks, apart of Denver and Miami. That's going to be new, and Mexico. I know the tracks. I know the team. The team is doing a very good job for me. I have the experience.

What I will try to do this year is be more consistent. I think three or four times last year I was really fast, but other times I wasn't. This year I want to try to be really fast in the races, score points and try to get some wins.

Q What are the thoughts on the new qualifying procedures?

Jimmy Vasser: I think it's better, but in my opinion I think we need to continue to make it better. I think there are things that we can do to make it a little more exciting at the beginning. In my opinion, if you decide to go out early, you want to be one of the first guys, it could be a disadvantage just for the fact that guys can decide to come out five minutes after you decide to come in here on your laps and here they come bouncing out on the track, stickers, cold tires, your laps are ruined.

There should be some sort of a reward or some sort of a safeguard that if you decide to go early, these kind of things won't happen.

That's what I was thinking more about, it should be open to 10-minute or eight-minute windows, perhaps, five or six of those throughout the session. That way you'd be sure that nobody at least is coming out of the pits on cold tires. That would reduce a lot of the traffic problems, a lot of the loss of potential qualifying laps.

Q What about the use of tire warmers?

Cristiano da Matta: It makes it a lot more clear, especially for the people that are watching, for the fans. It's a lot more clear. When a guy go out, he's going to put a lap time on his first lap or second lap, that's easy. Now we go out and have to spend two or three laps, depending on the track, even more.

You just have to pay attention to know when the guy is going to put a good lap in because he has to put temperature on the tires and everything, get a clear lap, and then you end up spending more time on the racetrack, too.

If we had tire warmers, I think everybody, instead of doing 15 laps per session, would only do, I don't know, 10 maybe, definitely less than we do right now.

So the track would be less busy for sure. Traffic would be less of a problem. I think it would be a lot easier to understand who is going for it. Everybody that would be on the racetrack would be going for it. There won't be anybody warming up tires. It would be quite simple for fans to understand.

Jimmy Vasser: I think tire warmers certainly would pick up the pace right out of the pits. Then it's up to the drivers to always hustle around. Even if your lap is done, hustle back to your pit entry to get out of the way.

But that could be a step in the right direction. For some reason, tire warmers have been coming up for quite some time. I think they'd be great on ovals on cold days, too. We have a lot of cold tires incidents on ovals, which cost a lot of money. Tire warmers would help there, as well.

Bruno Junqueira: It would be much better for qualifying. As Cristiano said, just go out, one, two laps, in. That's it, you know.

Q Cristiano and Jimmy, is this circuit probably well-suited to the traction control that you have this year? Talk about differences with that and without that.

Jimmy Vasser: Well, I think Cristiano touched on it a bit yesterday. The traction control helps a little bit, very little bit. If your car is going on a new set of tires, you might even be quicker with it turned off. Traction control, really how it works, you know, it senses a bit of rear wheel spin, takes horsepower from the engine to make those tires hook up. Theoretically what you should do is produce more grip, mechanical rear grip in the car, then you won't have to turn the engine horsepower down to fix it.

I think traction control would make the car more consistent, a little easier to drive on old tires, and save a little bit for the rear tires.

In the race, it would be a bit more of a driver tool. But the tires, the Bridgestones, are a pretty darn good tire. They don't go off that much. I think we're finding that there isn't a whole lot of traction control turned on. They're turned down quite a bit.

Cristiano da Matta: Driver preference, too. Some guys like to use it more aggressive. Some guys use it a lot less aggressive. Depends what you want.

Q Cristiano, how does it feel when you hear somebody like Jimmy say you're the man to beat in the championship?

Cristiano da Matta: I feel, of course, very good, very honored, to hear from that a serious champion. He's a good friend of mine, so I cannot believe him that much (laughter). But, of course, feels pretty good. I feel like I'm one of the guys to fight for the championship. I feel Jimmy and Bruno are two guys that are going to fight from the championship, as there are probably another three or four guys out there that are going to fight for the championship. I don't feel I'm the only guy to beat or anything, like a lot of people are saying. I think it's just too early to say. You wait till you see the ovals, so you see how my car is running on the oval. Probably be pretty disappointed. Hopefully fix it by then. We haven't had much success with any speed in testing. But there are only six ovals this year, so I'm still feeling pretty confident for the championship.

Jimmy Vasser: Are you throwing in the towel on the ovals already (laughter)?

Cristiano da Matta: Not by any means. The last oval race you won. Not good, but he won (laughter).

Bruno Junqueira: I'm not going to say anything, I guess (laughter).

Merrill Cain: Thank you very much for your time today. Best of luck in tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Al Unser
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing