CHAMPCAR/CART: Miami: Cristiano da Matta press conference

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta , Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser Part 3 of 3 Q: About Christian, he said there were no team orders. Did you ever discuss during the season what to do if you were both going for the ...

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta

, Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser

Part 3 of 3

Q: About Christian, he said there were no team orders. Did you ever discuss during the season what to do if you were both going for the lead?

Cristiano Da Matta: No, there weren't any team orders whatsoever. I thought if I would come to them and I would ask for something, I would ask the team to keep Christian. I think I felt like I was able to hold the situation and I wasn't going to have to ask for him. I know Christian was competitive, but I also know he's a very smart guy, and he wasn't going to try any bonsai move on me. I also know this track is pretty difficult to pass. I knew he had a very strong car here. Actually, he had the fastest lap of the race. But he's a smart driver. I knew he wasn't going to try anything crazy.

I was happy the team didn't say anything, too, because it's not racing like this. You end up having a different taste if you would have any team decision on that.

Q: Speaking of your teammate, he kind of let it out of the bag, he congratulated you on winning the championship, then wished you best of luck in your next venture. Can you tell us about your next venture?

Cristiano Da Matta: I think I'm going to be his teammate next year (laughter).

I still don't have an answer. I still am not decided. Nothing is decided yet. I know there are a lot of rumors that something is decided, but it's not.

I cannot deny I'm not talking to Formula 1. I have a deadline, and I am still waiting to see what CART is going to be next year. You know, when you have a relationship as good as the one I have with Newman/Haas, as good as I have it living here in America, I mean, and everything counts this time. It's a pretty big move to change a career like this. I know it's a pretty big opportunity on the other side, too.

It's still depending on me to decide that a little bit, [team owner] Carl [Haas], still depending on Toyota, too. It depends a little bit on the three parts. Everybody expects to hear something this coming week, but you won't.

Q: You're not going to Japan on your way to Australia?

Cristiano Da Matta: No.

Merrill Cain: Your next venture is Surfers Paradise?

Cristiano Da Matta: Yes.

Merrill Cain: Today's victory is the ninth of the season for Toyota, as Cristiano mentioned, the 20th in the past three seasons for Toyota. The 1-2 finish is also the manufacturer's sixth of the season.

Q: Talking to your father, I said, "When did you know he might be something special?" He said, "Five years old." When you came over here, you weren't sure what your career was going to be. Put in your own words what you've gotten out of America, what you thought you would get out of America and after running Indy Lights.

Cristiano Da Matta:  Well, I came over here initially, and it's a very
interesting story.  When I came over here, I still had Formula 1 in my
head.  Because of budgets, sponsors, in motorsports, you have to dance
according to the music.  I wanted to dance samba, but they ended up
playing jazz.  I had to come to jazz.

I came to the United States, and it wasn't the move I wanted to do at the time because I had offers from the biggest and most competitive Formula 3000 teams in that next year. I came to Indy Lights thinking, "Okay, it's racing." I knew how good the CART series was, and the Indy Lights series. I had a couple friends racing here, including Tony. I'm very happy racing here. I was very impressed with the competitive level in Indy Lights. So I came here pretty happy, enjoying racing. I found like a family, too. I just joined the team. I just loved the way they were. They were very easy-going guys. [Newman/Haas General Manager] Brian [Lisles] is a very easy-going guy. Complete no BS guy. He's just into racing, into performance. I kind of thought, "Wow, this is a lot like me."

Quickly I stared to collect results. I started, right away, before the series started, I started to take this Formula 1 thing out of my head. I started to think about CART, the Indy Lights championship. I had a pretty good season. I won a lot of races, which was more races won than Tony, who actually won the championship that year, but I wasn't as consistent as him throughout the season.

It was just the beginning. The next year I was able to race 4000. Actually they had a Champ Car team. I was able to get closer to the series. I was able to hear what's going on, to know how the tires work, how the chassis work, how to change it, become friendly with some of the engineers on the Champ Car teams. It was a very good experience for me to learn not only about racing but also about what racing CART was like.

Indy Lights was competitive, very competitive. It was very competitive. But, of course, Champ Cars are a different level. I was able to see that from up close. It was good for my career. By that time, I was thinking that Formula 1 sucks and I wanted to do CART, by the end of '98 (laughter). You see how you can change your mind.

Of course, if you're working with good people, you get more motivated because you're learning more and you improve yourself more. Then of course I had the opportunity to join PPI at the beginning of '99. It was a team with a very good budget, but a new team, with this Toyota engine that wasn't worth a dime at the time. "I'll try it." It was my opportunity.

I started working with Toyota since '99. I felt how quick they were able to progress. When I joined PPI in '99, they had the worst power, worst fuel mileage, heaviest engine. My best result in '99 was fourth place. In 2000, they came with a new spec, completely new. I was impressed with how quick they were able to progress. Also PPI, I was impressed with how quick they were going to progress. With the future of the team, I had to go someplace else. I had the opportunity with Newman/Haas. It was something like that I was looking for because I knew it was the kind of team I was going to be able to fight for the title.

Of course, I was happy when I knew they were going to be joined by Toyota in 2001. I knew everybody there. I was part of the engine development program. I kind of grew up with the engine I have until '99 and 2000. 2001, I felt like I was ready to fight for the championship. Certainly Toyota felt the same way. It was just a matter of consistency. I probably made some mistakes last year. But I think the biggest thing was last year, Lola wasn't the best car to have. We had a difficult time against the Reynard last year.

We were able to focus on those areas. They made huge progress on the car between last season and this season. Definitely Lola/Toyota this year was the best package to have. Maybe it would be better to have a better combination. But overall, the big picture, Lola/Toyota, I think it was the best combination, the most consistent combination this year.

It's just a happy feeling. It feels to me like I didn't have here and I just drove the car. It was like a fruit of my work with Toyota, Newman/Haas. It was just everybody's hard work together. We got ourselves to a level this year, a level of consistency, a level of speed, everything - that nobody could match.

It feels very special. It feels very good to me to be part of hard work. I knew we were collecting the fruit throughout the season because we had so many good wins, good results, so many podiums, but of course the main thing was the championship. I owe this championship to the whole Newman/Haas team, Toyota, Lola, just a great team effort.

Q: As you were just going through all that, it started to dawn on you it seems that this was not easy, this championship was years in making. Is that a pretty good assessment?

Cristiano Da Matta: Yes, I agree. I think it's becoming more and more true, race after race, year after year. Nothing was ready. When I joined PPI, when I joined Newman/Haas, I found nothing ready there. We had to work hard together to get our act together. Finally being able to win together, collect all the fruit together, to win the championship together. It's very, very rewarding for me to be able to be part of such a group. It makes it feel even more special. If you join a team that is already on the top or something like that, it's different. But we kind of grew up together. That's the special feeling.

Q: What were the emotions as you went under the checkered flag today?

Cristiano Da Matta: I think I still don't realize. It just feels good. Instead of 135 pounds, I'm probably 100 now. I feel a lot lighter (laughter).

Q:   Broadcasters here said you have an apartment here with a couch and a
couple trophies.  Is that so?

Cristiano Da Matta: I actually never spend a buck furnishing the place because the couches I have are from my good friend Tony Kanaan. He bought himself a new house that came with some couches. They were nice, so he gave me his old ones. The trophies, I got all them this year. I'll keep the money in the bank.

Q: In Chicago when you won the first CART race, someone asked you what it felt like to be a winner. You pointed out you won a lot of races before. Maybe the championship hasn't sunk in yet. You've been consistently winning. How does that affect you? Does that give you turbo charge power to win the championship?

Cristiano Da Matta: I think winning, one of the guys that most understands about racing I've ever met, is Carl Haas. He tells me, "To win, you need to keep winning." It's an interesting phrase he has, but it's true. When you start winning, winning, winning, you get to such a level of confidence, such a level of control when you're driving the car, I mean, everything. You make less mistakes because you know exactly where the limits are, you know you don't have to pass the limits to find out where they are. You're right there at the time element. You know where you need to go a little bit more. That makes you so consistent, and it's so difficult to make mistakes.

For everybody else, it becomes more difficult to beat you. It works not only for the driver, but for the team, too: for the engineers, the crew in the pit stops, the preparation of the car, everything. As they are preparing the car, they think, "I'm a hundred percent sure I'm doing the right thing. I don't have to try to do a little bit different here or there." As a human being, as you're challenging the limits, you're always trying maybe this little different here, little different there, and maybe it comes out better. But when you're winning and everything is working, you think "I know it's going to work, I'll do it like that." You become a lot more difficult to beat as a team.

Q:   Did you walk to the track today?  All weekend guys were spinning
off.  Did you ever go off course or have a spin?

Cristiano Da Matta: No, I never had a spin this weekend. I didn't walk the track this morning. I got here kind of late. I'm not a morning person. Morning warm-up is at 9 a.m.. For me to get here at 7:45 was already a struggle. My engineers came to me and said the track looks exactly the same after the race. I usually walk the track on Thursday and Wednesday, but I never did it this morning, no.

Q: Did you walk from your home?

Cristiano Da Matta: Walking from my home, no. Yesterday I rode my scooter here. I have a problem with the gates in my apartment building. The gate, even if you press the remote control, it wouldn't open. So yesterday, Saturday morning, 7:00 in Miami, nobody was leaving the building, so I sat there for 20 minutes and the gate wouldn't open. So finally a guy comes out and opens the gate. So I got here a little late yesterday.

This morning I didn't want it to happen again, so I got my car. I knew my dad was coming. I asked him, "Can you come on the scooter because you can afford to get there late?"

Q: Have you ever won a trophy that's almost as big as you?

Cristiano Da Matta: I've won be some big trophies, but nothing that means so much like this one. This one means a lot to me. I always, growing up, not only as a kid, but as a teenager, in my 20s, I always looked with a very, very special eye to the guy that won the CART championship because I knew how competitive the series is. I always have a lot of admiration for whoever wins this championship.

For me, it means a lot. I mean it. It means a lot. Maybe it's not the biggest one I have, but definitely the one that means more to me.

Q: In light of what you just talked about, your future, a decision to make, how important is winning to you?

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, I think in racing, winning is everything. There are two sides. One thing is the challenge, to keep improving yourself, pushing everybody, the team. This side is very important. But this side means nothing if you don't have the opportunity to win. If you just keep on getting better and better and better, your team and everything, but you keep on finishing 20th, it doesn't mean anything.

You have to get better and you have to see the results so you know you're getting better. Not only for you and for your team, it's something that is just racing. Even if you know you're doing a great job, you're not getting the results, it doesn't matter. You need to get results because you need the recognition from all the general public, from all the press, so you still have sponsors the next year. You have to keep on winning.

It's why you race. Of course, racing, driving the car, is fun, but more fun than this is to race the car and know that you do it better than the other guys.

Merrill Cain: Thanks, Cristiano. Congratulations on a great win today. Congratulations on the championship, continuing to prove that you're the man.

-cart-

Top three press conference, part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Christian Fittipaldi , Tony Kanaan , Carl Haas , Cristiano da Matta