An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser Part 1 of 3 Merrill Cain: Let's get started with the top-three press conference today. We're joined by Jimmy Vasser. We'll get started with Jimmy. Jimmy finished...
An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser
Part 1 of 3
Merrill Cain: Let's get started with the top-three press conference today. We're joined by Jimmy Vasser. We'll get started with Jimmy.
Jimmy finished third this afternoon driver of the #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. He earns his second podium of the season, the first since he placed second at Long Beach earlier this year. Sixth consecutive top-10 finish for Jimmy, moving him into a tie for eighth place in the championship.
Talk about what was a pretty exciting race for you. You had some challenging moments in the pits. You mentioned as you came up to the podium here a little bit of a skirmish with Paul Tracy toward the end.
Jimmy Vasser: I've been looking at the points. After an abysmal middle of the season pretty much, we tested really strong in the off-season. We were strong at the beginning of the season, then we really just have been out floating, lost at sea.
Things seemed to be getting better. We still didn't qualify well on Friday. We were in P [position] 6 in the funky weather on Saturday. Starting 12th, it was making it difficult.
My car was pretty good in turn one. I made some passes early. I thought I had a run on [Alex] Tag [Tagliani]. He left the door open. A lot of the guys must have been having some problems in braking, braking pretty early. There was a lot of room there. I took it with Tag. A little bit locked up, but it was still a pass.
I didn't realize that Tag was that close to the back of Tracy. Tag, he was pretty close to Paul. When I slid by Tag a little bit, I just clipped the rear wheels. Victim of circumstance. All my apologies to him. He didn't deserve that. If anybody would understand, I'm sure it's Paul. He's been on the other end of the nose before. Hopefully he'll forgive me.
Merrill Cain: There were lots of comments made about the track this weekend. Obviously, it was a challenging situation for the drivers. Talk to us about how the track held up during the course of the race. A lot of people were concerned about how it would hold up with the other race yesterday. Was it a big issue for the drivers today?
Jimmy Vasser: The track didn't come apart. I think they put so much sealer on it, that section from [turns] 3 to 6 is actually polished marble now (laughter). We're just happy it didn't fall apart.
We're not happy with the surface. The standards need to be higher for these race cars, for these race drivers. You know, surface aside, I think it's a fantastic venue. We probably should have never left this area in 1996. All credit to Ross Sanchez, I think he put a beautiful track in Homestead, but it didn't take. The South American fans, Miami residents, enjoy this style of racing, this atmosphere of racing near the beach, the palm trees. It works.
I think the future for this race looks bright. They can fix it. They can fix the track layout and the surface. I think it has a bright future.
Merrill Cain: I think CART has gone on the record with this, event organizers will look at the layout and make some adjustments going forward next year. All that and more will be addressed at a press conference later today.
Q: Talk about your mental attitude prior to the race. It seemed like from the green flag you were on a mission.
Jimmy Vasser: I don't know. I think I do that every race. The car felt pretty good. A lot of the race, I was stuck behind guys. I had to be patient. When I had an opening, I thought I could make a maneuver, if I could force a guy into a mistake, like Kenny [Brack], he finally split wide, he was breaking pretty deep like me in turn one, I couldn't make a maneuver.
I had passed earlier [Tora] Takagi, I got up to Kenny, but he was really running slowly. I had to just live with it. I knew I was losing time because I couldn't see anybody in front. I had to bide my time to try to get by him.
I think I made a similar move on PT [Paul Tracy]. The car was good. My pace was quick. Where I started and with what was going on, I had to spend a lot of the race at somebody else's pace. You just have to have the mentality, you have to be patient.
We had a pit stop that set us back a bit, too. I think I left it in gear. The left rear tire changer was trying to get the wheel change done. The tire was spinning. We lost probably three or four seconds there on our second stop. We came in right behind Tag. We should have come out in front of him. Our team is the best in the pit stops. Not only did I come out behind Tag, but there were two or three cars in between them, one of them was Tony Kanaan. Tony was really slow. I had to stay behind Tony for about 10 laps. I mean, times were two and a half to three seconds slower than I could run. I lost a ton of time on the track.
Again, a situation where you had to bide your time and you had to relax. Finally he was out of sequence and pitted. I was able to get back on the charge again.
Q: You're the senior member of this group now, this series. On these street circuits, guys tend to be a little more aggressive. Agree, disagree with what happened [the penalty] to Tony?
Jimmy Vasser: I haven't even seen the altercation or the sequence of events that probably led up to that. I can't really comment. I don't know if things were going on lap after lap after lap, crazy maneuvers. I don't know. I don't know what really happened.
I have never seen a punishment like that. We always complain about things and ask the chief steward also to do something to get it in driver's heads that they can't do certain things. Guys are going to continue to do things that aren't acceptable on the racetrack. I'm not saying Tony did that, because I didn't see it.
We complain sometimes that drivers do things that aren't acceptable, not sportsmanlike. It's difficult enough to try to pass. I'm talking about blocking, things like that. If the chief steward does nothing ever, then drivers are going to continue to do it because basically it seems like there's no punishment.
We impress upon the chief steward to start taking action, start to do things. It will get in people's head that maybe they ought to think twice before they pull something crazy.
Merrill Cain: It was the CART chief steward [Wally Dallenbach] who put Tony Kanaan to the back after the incident early in the race.
We're joined by Christian Fittipaldi, driver of the #11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, finishing second for the third time this season, earning his fifth podium finish of the 2002 campaign. Christian has 114 points and moves with one point to fourth place for the championship.
The top five in points after round 16 in the CART FedEx Championship Series are Cristiano da Matta, 212 points, Bruno Junqueira 143 on the season, Dario Franchitti 129 points, Patrick Carpentier 115 and Christian follows up and rounds out the top five with 114.
It was another interesting race for you, Christian. Obviously it's a great day for Newman/Haas Racing. Talk about your race today.
Christian Fittipaldi: Well, the race was actually very good, a little bit physical, especially I would say the first quarter of the race. That was the hardest part for me. After I started getting into a pace, I really didn't have any problems. Toward halfway onwards, I was getting stronger and stronger.
I felt good. The car was good all the time. Up to a certain point, it was probably quicker than the other guys on the track, but it was sliding all over the place, like everyone else was.
Track position was king today. If we didn't have problems on Friday during qualifying, we started where we should have started, probably the final result would have been different. But we had to pay for it, or maybe the way the session went cost me something.
I'm happy to finish second, happy for the team, for shorty [da Matta] who did an excellent job the whole year. He was not only quick, but he was consistent. He deserves to be up there. I wish him all the best in his new career future.
Merrill Cain: Open a can of worms there. You touched on it a little bit. This team has been outstanding all year long, not only with Cristiano, but your side. Pit stops played a key role today. You hopped on the truck when he took his championship victory parade. That just says how much of a team atmosphere it really is there.
Christian Fittipaldi: It was definitely a great effort from everyone. We definitely had a couple of, I would say, races that we didn't finish that cost us a lot of points. Shorty was stronger than I was the whole year, no doubt about that. But we probably would have been a little bit higher up. Unfortunately, that didn't go our way.
We still have three more races to change that. I think that we can do it. Things are going very well right now. We had two excellent spots, especially after the four or five races, where we were really struggling with our stops during the race. They were really slow. We were dropping tires, doing all kinds of different things.
We not only had two solid stops, but also we put ourselves in the [Craftsman] pit stop challenge, that we're going to do in Fontana. It's very important for my crew.
Merrill Cain: Let's open it back up to questions from the media.
Q: How much pressure is it to be second, knowing you have a car that might win, but the guy sitting in front of you is a teammate that you can't knock out of the championship?
Christian Fittipaldi: No team orders today. Even if they asked me not going for first place, I would never lift. I have a different sponsor. I have to try my very best out there. I have to please my sponsor also. No one ever came to me and asked me for a team order. Second, if it was for first place, I would do it. If it was second, third, fourth, I don't care, I would let him by. I'm out there to try to win some more races before I go on to do something else. I can't believe I have 20-something podium finishes and I only have two wins. I'm definitely trying to win a race before the end of the season, and then move on to what I'm going to do next. I don't know.
Jimmy Vasser: What are you looking at me for (laughter)?
Top three press conference, part II