CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Top-three race press conference, Part I

Champ Car World Series top-three finishers press conference from Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with: Paul Tracy, Adrian Fernandez and Bruno Junqueira Part 1 of 2 Eric Mauk: We'll go ahead and begin with our post-race press conference for...

Champ Car World Series top-three finishers press conference from Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with:
Paul Tracy, Adrian Fernandez and Bruno Junqueira

Part 1 of 2

Eric Mauk: We'll go ahead and begin with our post-race press conference for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, round three of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

We'll start with our third place finisher, driver of the #1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, Bruno Junqueira. Bruno earned his ninth career podium finish today and his second of the year, finishing third. He moved into second place in the points standing, same position he finished in after the 2002 season. Bruno, congratulations on your run, tell us about your day.

Bruno Junqueira: Thank you. I think it was a pretty beautiful day. On the first set of tires, the tires were not balanced, and they start to lose their grip, the front tires. I just was hanging in there, trying to save fuel to go to the maximum stint. After there were so many accidents, a lot of people start to do different strategies. I saw myself behind Paul and Michel. I wasn't sure because Patrick (Carpentier) stopped in the first yellow and I was, "Oh, somebody was a little behind me." But I think after the race start, Michel was on such incredible pace, I was trying to keep up. I was trying to keep up with Paul. They were able to open a gap a little bit.

On the second stop, we did another change, and then the car was really good and start to lay down some really good laps. I was able to catch up Paul and Michel a little bit. But after the last pit stop, I just get a bit behind Adrian. Just thought that third place was good for me and sat back and am quite happy to finish third today. I think the PacifiCare team, they did a great job, especially because they didn't start with the best car, and at the end of the race I was very competitive.

Mauk: The guy to your right (Paul Tracy) is shutting everybody out of the win column so far this year, but you've been consistent all year, finishing up front, second in the points. Are you happy with the way the season's started for you?

Junqueira: Yeah, I'm happy. I think we struggle a little bit. I think at the start of the season we were really fast. We've been struggling a little bit in qualifying to start a little bit up front. The first two races I had really fast car in the race. This race, at the start, my car wasn't too good. I think could get better results, but third is not bad at all. Still second in the championship. The only problem is that Paul is doing too good. I think is a long way, and be consistent is very important. But on the other hand is important to win race as well. Let's see if we can get some wins for the next couple of races.

Mauk: Today's runner-up, driver of the #51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, Adrian Fernandez. Adrian earned the 20th podium finish of his career with today's second place run and climbs a step at Long Beach for the first time in his 11-year career. Adrian, congratulations. You put a fourth and a second back to back now here. Are you feeling pretty good about the way things are turning out?

Adrian Fernandez: Yes, I am. We had a great test Tuesday and Wednesday -- Monday and Tuesday, sorry, of this week in Phoenix. We were very fast. Then I was very disappointed that the car was not as quick. We were quick in the first practice on Friday, first two practices, but then after that we start losing the grips of the car. I was very disappointed to qualify seventh.

Nevertheless, we made some changes in the warm-up. I still wasn't completely happy. We made some changes for the race, and the car was good. I made a mistake on the start of the race, spin the wheels, and I lost a place to Oriol, unfortunately, because Oriol wasn't that quick. I lost a lot of time to the leaders behind him. Then we pass him on the pits. And then came the pit stop strategy. You know, when we came another yellow, we decided to pit later than the other guys. But then unfortunately I was behind Jimmy, and a group of guys, and also was Oriol there. I managed to pass a few of them. But then I was behind Oriol and he was -- Oriol and Patrick, I think. And he was slowing a lot the pack to the point that we lost the leaders.

I think that was the key. If Oriol could be a little bit quicker, I think the end result of the race at the end could be different. I was very fast in my last set of tires and I was pushing very hard because I knew I need to have a good gap because I knew Paul had speed. So I push very hard. The Bridgestone tires were very consistent. Unfortunately, I just overused them, and at the end my rear tires were just gone. Then I was not close enough to Paul when he came out of the pits. So once you give him the chance of at least a lap, I mean, it's over, because once he gets into the straights, you know, you get heat on the tires, and it is basically very difficult.

He had new tires, or newer tires than I had. So that was difficult. So at the end, I was just trying to stay there, or else was very important to finish the race on the podium. I was hoping to celebrate with Michel (Jourdain). Unfortunately -- I mean, I was watching and I was like seeing that he was leading, and I would be the first man to congratulate him because he's driving tremendously well. That would make me very proud. Unfortunately, things happen in racing. But happy for us, for the team, they made a great strategy, and gave me a good car. Paul run very fast, and then just a good race. It's just nice to be finish on the podium and have a good car. I haven't had a good car for a long time, so that was nice.

Mauk: The champion of the 2003 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, for the third time, Paul Tracy, driver of the #3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. Paul becomes the first driver in CART history, which began in 1979, to win the first three races of a season, and the first Champ Car driver since Al Unser, Sr. in 1971 to accomplish the feat. The win is the 22nd of his career, matching him with Emerson Fittipaldi for fifth on the all -time list. Paul, you have had a couple in your career taken away by some of these same circumstances. Nice to get one back in a similar fashion.

Paul Tracy: It was a great day today, a tremendous race. The pace was very, very quick. And today I got a good jump on the start. I was able to get in the lead and I was really just maybe driving a little bit too conservative because I felt I didn't want to use the tires too hard until the last five laps, and that pretty much allowed Michel to stay in my draft and get a lot better fuel mileage than me. I had to pit a lap earlier than him because I wasn't making the fuel mileage. He got out of the pits in front of me. We raced around. You know, I tried to make a pass on him, and he took me over to the wall. That was a little bit sketchy. We bumped wheels and I was up against the wall. You know, I made a move on him, and he moved over on me. So that was a little bit frustrating. Then the yellow came out right after that.

After that, we went green again, and he was very, very quick, and very fast, very difficult to stay with. I had to drive 10-10ths just to keep him within about two or three seconds. The race progressed. You know, again, we were kind of behind the eight ball on the strategy. I think we had to pit a lap before both Michel and Bruno. Bruno made a very good pit stop. I think he probably short fueled and beat me out of the pits again and we had a nice little race for a couple of corners in the back section. In the tightest, narrowest spot on the track, we were side by side. So that was good and clean racing.

Again, I had to chase down Michel because after Bruno and I battled for a couple corners, Michel pulled away quite far. I was able to just chase and chase and chase and caught back up to within a couple seconds. I was waiting for the last pit stop. Again, I had to pit a lap earlier than him. I made my stop. I was really driving hard on the laps coming in because I knew that we had to get out in front of Adrian because he was on a different strategy. We beat Adrian out. And they told me, you know, to go as fast as I could on the out-lap, that Michel was in the pits. They said, "Go fast, he's still in the pits, he's still in the pits." The next thing I knew, they said, "He's still in the pits," and I was down at the end of the front straightaway. So it was a frustrating day I think for him because he definitely was fast and we had some luck today, which was nice.

Mauk: Paul, tell us about that last out-lap that you just alluded to coming out of the last pit stop. Obviously, coming out on very cold tires and you knew Adrian was coming behind you.

Tracy: I knew we had a 34-second gap to Adrian. We needed about a 32-second gap to get out in front of him, barring we didn't have any problems on the pit stop. We put new tires on and fuel, and we got out just out of the pits maybe 50 or 60 yards in front of Adrian. I was able to hold him off. You know, it's always very important to get in and out of the pits very fast and do your first lap quickly and get the tires up to temperature. I think that's where we've really been able to make a lot of gains on everybody.

Mauk: Before we go and open it up to questions, Paul's win today gives him 64 points in the championship, giving him a 26-point lead over Bruno Junqueira, who now moves to second, Michel Jourdain is third with 34 points, Adrian moves to fourth with 28, and Jimmy Vasser rounds out the top five, he has 20 points in the championship.

Q: What does this start mean to you?

Tracy: Well, I tell, I mean, momentum is everything. And you have to take advantage of it when it comes because when good luck is shining upon you and things are going right, if you don't take advantage of it, then you're a fool. You know, to have 64 points three races into the championship, I mean, I think I'm only about 35 points off of what I made for the whole of last year, in the first three races.

So, I mean, it just seemed in the last couple years, just could never get any momentum going. You know, I'd have one good race and three bad races, then one good race. You know, it just kind of went like that. So to start off the season well and be driving well and feeling strong mentally and health-wise. And the team now is really -- you know, the confidence of the team I think coming into this year, they got a taste of winning last year with Pat and running at the front. And now that, you know, as a team, once you start winning, you know, you just get more and more confident, and the team gets more and more confident. They had a lot more conviction with the decisions they make on the racetrack as a team, when you pit, when you don't pit, and how you do your job. So, you know, everything's just going really well. You know, when it's going well, you have to take advantage.

Q: Paul, talk us through the very start of the race where you seemed to be ahead even before the green flag flew or as the green flag flew but before the line.

Tracy: I talked to Michel at the start, and he didn't want to have everybody stacked on top of each other at the first corner and risk a potential accident. The starter said he wanted to see three to four rows lined up. You know, we came out together side by side, and it was a fairly quick roll-up in second gear and we waited, waited, waited. You know, I jumped the throttle where I thought that we should. We were pretty much simultaneous. I hooked up and got through it without any wheel spin, and into third gear. I think he probably spun the tires just a bit, and that's all it takes. I mean, you just -- a fraction of a second, you get half a car length on a guy, and that's it. I think the starter saw that everybody -- he had a pretty good lineup, and that's what was important.

Q: Did you think about that as you were coming around the hairpin, that it was important to get that start?

Tracy: Well, it's always important to get the start. And it all depends what side of the track you're on. Where I was on the track was on the line. You know, you come off the hairpin and then you start to come towards the inside of the track for that bend. And he was on the outside. And it was kind of a similar situation that we had in Mexico, when I was on the front row with Sebastien. I was off line in the dust, and I went to go and spun the tires, and he got a good jump on me. You know, these cars, they make so much power, no traction control, I mean, you can spin the tires rolling away in third gear when they're cold. So it's important to be able to get the tires to hook up on the start or else you can lose a couple positions.

Q: Everybody was talking about the pace of this race.

Tracy: Fast.

Q: What do you think was the reason for that?

Tracy: I don't know. The tires were really good. The tire that Bridgestone brought for this race was really consistent, and you could just run hard and hard and hard. You think "The tires are going to start going away on me," if you just start pushing faster and faster and faster on them.

You know, it's just -- I don't think I've ever driven a race that's had as high a pace as that for such a long period of time. I qualified at eight-seven, and I think my quickest lap in the race was a nine-one, so it was only three- or four-tenths off of what I qualified with. That was at the end of a stint with 25, 27 laps on the tires. So that goes to show you the kind of job that Bridgestone has done, you know, the job that the teams have done, that the guys can run on these cars this hard, and the engines, you know, it's 10-10ths the whole time.

Mauk: The fastest lap of the event was turned by Michel Jourdain, lap 77, when he was pushing to try and stretch that gap out, 1:09.03.

Part II


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Al Unser Sr. , Michel Jourdain