An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser Part 2 of 3 Q: Jimmy, you had been the mainstay in the CART series. You've seen a lot of the young guys like Cristiano and Christian kind of come and go. What are...
An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Jimmy Vasser
Part 2 of 3
Q: Jimmy, you had been the mainstay in the CART series. You've seen a lot of the young guys like Cristiano and Christian kind of come and go. What are your thoughts when you look over and you see the drivers coming in for two or three years, then moving over?
Jimmy Vasser: You know, I appreciate the mainstay comment, but I think guys like Michael [Andretti], there's been a lot of guys that have been mainstays in this series. I appreciate that.
I've had teammates come in and do great things, and move on to even greater things. I think that's fantastic. I think that CART's level of competition is very, very high, world class, and it has been. I hope it continues to be. It's got to be to produce champions in our series - like [Alex] Zanardi, his seasons were phenomenal. I really believe at the time he was the best race car driver in the world. I dealt with [Juan] Montoya, as well. Very similar in a lot of ways. Montoya I believe is one of two or three of the best drivers in the whole word.
Cristiano da Matta has done similar things in a similar series. This racing series produces not only great drivers but great team personnel that can move into the top ranks of motorsport all over the world and win. I think that says a lot about the racing series, where it's come from, where it has been, what it's produced. That's basically what I've seen.
Q: Diplomatic answer.
Jimmy Vasser: What kind of a comment is that? Are you saying it wasn't heartfelt?
Q: I'm sure it was, but I think the question is looking forward, when drivers have developed a reputation, then they go on to something else. What does that say about CART, about where it is at this point?
Jimmy Vasser: I think I just answered that.
Q: The series is losing good drivers.
Jimmy Vasser: CART is not Formula 1. CART isn't NASCAR either. It's different. Formula 1 is something very special. A lot of drivers come up and aspire to be Formula 1 champion. CART, it's not Formula 1. It's not a world championship, but it's a very highly competitive, high-level series. It's not tiddly-winks. It's not smash-'em-up Saturday night derby. This is high-level racing. It produces high-level drivers, personnel, engineers, that can move into top levels of any sport. I think that says a lot about what CART is. It's not minor leagues.
I'm not really sure what you're getting at, what you want me to say. I think I've said that twice now.
Merrill Cain: Any final questions for Jimmy or Christian?
Q: Did you feel you maybe you had the winning car but didn't have the track to make it work? Jimmy, you made more passes than anybody on the track.
Jimmy Vasser: You always think you can win the race, right? Certain circumstances happen. But I was never at the front of the pack. I never had the track position. The farther you get forward, the more difficult it is to pass people.
I'm pleased with our run today. I think we got everything we could out of it.
Q: Did you feel that way, Christian?
Christian Fittipaldi: I felt if I had started in the top four, things could have gone a lot different for me. I was pretty quick every session apart from Friday, which qualifying was actually a joke like we had. God knows how many red flags we had. I had two laps going that would have put me P [position] 3. On one of them I got traffic on the last corner. The other one, I got a red flag like on the very last corner.
I guess that's how the series is. It's not the first time that that happened. It happens to probably a lot of other drivers. But my car was quicker than where I started. The only thing I could do is put a lot of pressure on the guy right in front of me. This is what I did.
Dario [Franchitti] was all over the place. I don't think his car was really that stable. He almost clipped the wall like a couple of times during the race. He was really driving well until when he probably braked. Looking from behind, I don't know what happened. He dug himself into the tires.
Q: Formula 1, we've had Brazilians successful. Indy, we had Emerson [Fittipaldi] successful. Now in CART there are more Brazilians. Do you expect that in NASCAR we're going to have some Brazilians successful, too?
Christian Fittipaldi: I don't know. It's going to be a huge learning curve for me. It's probably going to be the hardest thing I've ever done in my whole entire life. It was a hard decision that I had to take. One of the reasons that I did it is because of the group that I am together with, what they offered me on a three-year plan, being together with like Dodge also, that's definitely very strong.
We're already starting right now. I'm actually testing tomorrow and Tuesday, then I'm running again the following Monday and Tuesday. We're probably testing as much as we can until the end of the season to get a lot of miles, to try and start as strong as possible next year.
It's going to be tough. It's not going to be easy. People in general underestimate what NASCAR is. It's 20 times more competitive than what people think it is. If I make it to a very high level there, I'm going to be absolutely really, really happy.
Q: Christian, where are you testing?
Christian Fittipaldi: Atlanta. The following week, I'm going to Rockingham, The Rock.
Merrill Cain: We are joined by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. Winning his seventh race of the year, becoming the fifth driver to win as many races in a season. He clinches the CART FedEx Championship series title.
Cristiano, what can you say, you got a break early in the race. I know you felt bad for your friend and housemate Tony Kanaan early when he got put to the back of the field after an incident. You took advantage of that, you did what you had to do and got some great pit stops from your team. What does it feel like to win the championship?
Cristiano Da Matta: Well, of course, it was great to win the championship. It's a feeling that is impossible to explain. But it's very good.
I remember the time I saw Tora and Kenny and also Tagliani. We stayed out. I wasn't quite sure because I didn't know exactly how many laps we were at. At that time I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be like. I saw there was only Tony left in front of me. I didn't know they were going to put Tony to the back of the line. I saw Dixon crash, Tony put to the back of the line, so I kind of figured out what happened between them both. I didn't have a chance to see the incident, of course. I felt bad for Tony. He's been trying to get his season together but had a hard time so far.
It was the opportunity I was looking for. Starting seventh, I had my position on the start. I was very, very conservative the first couple laps. I think Kenny was holding us up, holding me back, and Christian a little bit, the first couple laps.
My car wasn't that great. Dario was all over me. Christian was, too. I just couldn't pull away. My guys gave me a great pit stop. The first pit stop was tough for everybody. I just came out in front of Dario. I knew Bruno was leading. It was going to be two pit stops more [than us]. It was very likely to work on that strategy.
In the second stint, the last two laps, I was able to pull away from Dario a little bit. I got maybe a two-second lead. I needed to go in and come out knowing that I was going to for sure come out ahead of him. I came out ahead of him. I also came out ahead of Bruno, which was very good.
After that, it was just pretty much a tough race. I knew Dario made a mistake. He was a lap down. He was out. I had no idea where Bruno was. I didn't want to ask my team where he was because by that time I was already thinking a lot about the championship. I knew I wanted to win the race no matter what. I knew I had a pretty good chance. I kind of forgot.
I knew Dario was out. I didn't know where Bruno was. I felt like I had to forget about these two guys right now and just drive my race. I drove as hard as I could, and, of course, not doing anything stupid. I was leading. I was on a racetrack that is very easy to make mistakes. I'm sure everybody saw how easy it is to make mistakes in this track, throughout the practice session, throughout the race.
Those yellows at the end, they upset me a little bit, too, because I was ready to open a little bit of a gap, have a little bit of breathing room. We had a yellow, restart, which of course is not what you want with five, 10 laps to go. Then another yellow, another restart. To that point, I just hoped there wasn't another yellow. No yellow ever came.
It was good driving to the checkered. Probably maybe the biggest win I have had this season. It's good being back in first place, of course. But even better that I was able to get the championship here today.
Merrill Cain: Joined by the Vanderbilt cup next to you, almost as big as you. Could you have written a better script for this whole situation? Coming home here to Miami, winning in front of your adopted hometown, being able to take the championship with the victory instead of having to clinch it with second or third place?
Cristiano Da Matta: I think there isn't a better way to clinch the championship than with a victory. Sometimes if you clinch it with fifth place or fourth place, everybody forgets pretty quickly that you won many other races before. When you clinch it with a win, it just kind of makes it pretty obvious that you were competitive the whole year. You won the race, and because of that you clinch the championship.
I wasn't expecting to clinch the championship here because I knew it was going to depend on Dario and Bruno's results. I know it was going to be tough to score 10 points more than Bruno or six points more than Dario. I knew it was going to be a tough situation. But I also knew that if I would be able to maintain the gap I had to win coming into this race, it was going to be pretty difficult for them to catch me in three races left, with the 58 points I had ahead of them before coming here.
I don't know, starting sixth, I wasn't expecting to win the race. I think Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan had pretty good cars, and it was going to be difficult to fight them on the racetrack.
The bottom line is that they made mistakes. We never made a mistake. It's been like that many times during the year. Many, many times, I think probably 70% of the time, faster than everybody else. The other 30% of the times, we were faster than anybody else, didn't make any mistakes, apart from Mid-Ohio. I think that's still for me a good record. It's only one mistake for the season. I'll try to keep it clean the last three races.
Top three press conference, part II