MICHAEL ANDRETTI, (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), on the mental preparation involved in a 500-mile race: "The biggest thing about going to Michigan is that the first thing you do is hold your breath for three days because it is a very...
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), on the mental preparation involved in a 500-mile race: "The biggest thing about going to Michigan is that the first thing you do is hold your breath for three days because it is a very dangerous situation because you are going very fast. You are running wheel-to-wheel for 500 miles. That's why it is such an accomplishment to win a 500-mile race. I have only won two 500-mile races and both were at Michigan Speedway. I led a bunch of races but only led the most important lap in two. I think our car will be competitive for the race. We have been working on the Ford-Lola package and I think we have a shot at the win. I think that the Michigan and Fontana races are going to be the two key races for the championship. Whoever can finish those races will be in good shape for the championship. Reliability is the key to 500-mile races. The race is more mentally challenging than physically. Not that you don't have to be in great shape to finish the 500-mile race. It's just a mentally challenging race since you have to keep focused and concentrate for 500 miles. After that race, you are mentally drained."
JUAN MONTOYA (Target Toyota Lola), on overcoming some frustration at Michigan Speedway this weekend: "It's been great to be starting so many races toward the front of the field, but at the same time, it's been frustrating to not take advantage of our starting spot. A bunch of little problems and some bad luck have been preventing us from reaching the podium recently. Team Target will bounce back and we'll challenge for the points lead before this season's through. These last 10 races are a new season for me, and I plan to finish the races as close as possible to where I've been starting them. [On last year's close finish at Michigan, in which Montoya crossed the finish line just .032 seconds behind winner Tony Kanaan in the second-closest finish in Champ Car history] Last year's race was amazing -- I can still see the image of the checkered flag waving with Tony [Kanaan] just ahead of me. Even though I didn't win, it's one of my favorite memories from my rookie season. After a couple of street races, this two-mile oval will be a bit of an adjustment, but I've had some success on big ovals already this year, so I'm very excited for this race."
JIMMY VASSER (Target Toyota Lola), on returning to the site of previous successes: "I think Michigan was my last pole position, so it will be nice to get back there where we've had some success, and maybe it will carry over into this year's race. Even with a few car problems, we've been able to score some much-needed points in the last few races, and I'm confident the Toyota-Lola will be up for 500 miles this weekend and we can gain some more ground on the points leaders. It doesn't take long for someone to pull away or for someone to make up a lot of ground. All it takes is for a driver to get hot and put together a few good races. With 10 races left, the title is anyone's for the taking, so I would love to jump right back into this with another win at Michigan Speedway."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on building upon his strong finish at Toronto: "The past week has been very emotional with the return home for the Molson Indy Toronto and making it to the podium in front of the home fans. But I don't expect there will be a letdown, especially since the next race is on the Michigan superspeedway. This is the type of race that really gets your adrenaline flowing. It's as exciting for the drivers as it is for the fans, with plenty of ups-and-downs and lead changes. The key is to maintain your concentration and composure to be there for the shoot-out at the end. It's nice that Team KOOL Green has some momentum heading into Michigan, with the third-place finish in Toronto. Sitting fourth in the drivers' standings after the first half of the season isn't exactly where we want to be, but we're in the thick of the battle and we should be able to continue our move up the standings. Hopefully, we'll get on the same kind of roll we did last year, when we finished second in Toronto and had three straight podium finishes after that."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on bouncing back from Toronto's disappointment at Michigan: "It's frustrating for everyone at Team KOOL Green to put in all the time and energy getting the car set up for the Toronto race and then to have it all go down the drain with an incident on the first lap. But you can't dwell on the last race. You have to use it as a character-builder and work toward winning the next one. Team KOOL Green has always shown great resiliency in dealing with adversity and coming back strong. This year is my fourth visit to the Michigan Speedway and I'm really optimistic that we can get on the podium. Last year, we were in contention right to the end and had to settle for fifth. That was a major improvement over our first two races there, when misfortune struck and we weren't around at the end of the race. A 500-mile race really puts a lot of things to the test - car reliability, pit-stop efficiency, sound fuel strategy and crew and driver stamina, to name a few. I'm confident that Team KOOL Green has what it takes to run at the front."
GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on the unique challenges of racing at Michigan Speedway: "The Michigan 500 is a very different race from the street circuits and road courses we've been running over the past month, so what we've learned recently really doesn't translate to what may happen at this track. Nevertheless, we expect to race well, as evidenced by Marlboro Team Penske's performance on ovals earlier this season. The Michigan 500 is a race of attrition, and several times, I've been in a good position halfway through the race and failed to finish. We'll have to see how the weekend progresses, but the important thing is to be there at the end."
MAX PAPIS (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), on the disappointment of being denied a victory in last year's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota, when he ran out of fuel two turns from victory: "God just didn't want me to win that day. But I felt good because we dominated the race. I knew I could win races and I knew the Miller Lite team could win. It was only a matter of time. The Miami win was a special moment. But that was a long time ago now. I think the Michigan Speedway might owe me one this time."
KENNY BRACK (Shell Ford Reynard), on adding to his resume of 500-mile wins, which currently consist of the 1999 Indianapolis 500: "That Indy win obviously made my career because it's the biggest race in the world. But the challenge of winning a 500-mile race in CART is very big. This is our first long race of the year and on high banks. While I've never raced at Michigan, I feel good about Sunday The second half of the season should be a little easier for me. The first 10 races were many new tracks to me. I've been to Michigan, Chicago [for testing], Mid-Ohio and Road America before. So I don't have to worry about learning those tracks. That could give our Shell team a better start for each weekend. It also took us some time to learn about each other - the drivers, the engineer, the crew. Now can be prepared immediately for each weekend. That should help us a lot now."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his enjoyment of Michigan Speedway: "I enjoy racing at the Michigan Speedway. I ran my first 500-mile race there back in 1998 when I finished 12th after starting 24th. Reliability is one of the keys to succeeding at the Michigan 500. Honda and everyone involved with Marlboro Team Penske are giving it their all to make sure we're there at the end. This is a track where starting position is not crucial, although it's always nice to start up front. There are several lines we can run during the race and working the traffic will be important. At the halfway point of the season, we need to maintain our focus and continue to achieve the best possible performance."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), on wearing the new Head and Neck Support (HANS) safety device at this race for the first time: "When I tested in Michigan, the HANS device definitely worked out okay for me. I ran for four hours, and after I was in the car for about an hour and a half, I didn't even notice that it was there. It was a no-brainer for me. I'm still having some trouble with it on street courses, but on ovals, it's definitely a no-brainer. As far as I am concerned, every time the Big Kmart/Route 66 car will be on an oval, I will be wearing this device. [On the endurance required to complete a 500-mile event] "It's a long day at the office. The race takes forever. You just have to be good the whole race and make sure you are up there and the last 50 to 100 miles, and then just go for it. Pretty much if I do what I did last year in Fontana, I'll be fine. We finished third there and ran the fastest lap. We have a good baseline setup for the car and should be competitive. We have run in the top-four in the past four races and only one finish [podium of third place, at Portland] to show for it. We will regroup and come out fighting this weekend."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), on returning to oval track competition: "It's going to be fun to get back to the ovals, especially on the superspeedway in Michigan. This is the first of two 500-mile events we have in the CART season, so it's always something special. Team Player's has shown in the past that it has a fast car on the oval configurations and we're aiming for the top on the Michigan Speedway. But strategy as much as speed will be an important element because most teams will have about seven pit stops. Team Player's is definitely up for that challenge. We're continuing to move up the drivers' standings, but the bigger goal is winning a race or, at the very least, getting another podium like we did on The Milwaukee Mile oval earlier this season. I'm going to put all of my energy into making it happen at Michigan."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), on building upon the success of an earlier test at Michigan Speedway: "We were super fast at the Michigan Speedway when we tested there. We were able to match the fast-lap time that pole-winner clocked at Michigan last year, so that's very encouraging as Team Player's gets ready for the race. It will be my first time competing there under race conditions but I know it's the type of track that fits in with my driving style and I'm going to go all out to be in contention right to the end. I realize that it's a long race, but it's really only an hour more than usual. It's tougher mentally than it is physically, but I've never had any problems concentrating and focusing my attention on the job at hand once a race starts. It's going to be another new experience for me and I can't wait to get going."
MEMO GIDLEY (DIRECTV Toyota Reynard), on his return to FedEx Championship Series competition for Della Penna Motorsports: "It's great to have the opportunity to get out and drive again. I welcome the experience to work with a new team, engineer and personnel. As far as driving on a super speedway, it's great for me. I love the fast turns. While it's not easy to get a car set up on an oval, I enjoy the challenge and think it's going to be a lot of fun."
LUIZ GARCIA, JR. (Hollywood/Embratel/Tang/Banco Sofisa Mercedes Reynard), on making his debut at Michigan Speedway: "Racing at the Michigan Speedway in a Champ Car will be quite an exciting experience for me, and it's something I regret that I couldn't do last season. The experience certainly would have been useful, but I'm not afraid of the challenge. I've raced on super speedways in Indy Lights before, but this will be a big test for me. I think I can do well and score some points, and having come off a point-paying finish at Toronto is good for momentum. It's a long race so a lot of us will pace ourselves and wait until the second half of the race."