CHAMPCAR/CART: Monterey: Top-three press conference

Top three driver press conference following the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300. June 9, 2002 An interview with Cristiano da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Kenny Brack. Part 1 of Merrill Cain: Following today's...

Top three driver press conference following the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300.
June 9, 2002

An interview with Cristiano da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Kenny Brack.

Part 1 of

Merrill Cain: Following today's Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterrey Featuring the Shell 300 we are joined by Christian Fittipaldi and our champion, Cristiano da Matta, as we await Kenny Brack. We will start out with Christian Fittipaldi, driver of the #11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He posted his best finish of the 2002 season and his best ever at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, finishing second today. It's his best finish since winning the 2000 event at Fontana and his third top-five effort of the season. Christian, we talked a little bit after the race today, obviously your pits today played a very key role for you as you were able to get out ahead of the competition. Talk about that a little bit and just an overall assessment of your day today.

Christian Fittipaldi: My pits were very quick. My crew is doing an excellent job. That's why I think we're first in the pit stop contest right now. And I hope to keep it up until the last race of the season. We're going for 50,000 bucks at the last race of the season. And I would be really happy if I can give that, a million dollars for the race and a million dollars for the championship, to my crew. But I know it's going to be tough. The battle in this series is very hard. Every one right now is thinking the same thing. But we will try at least on the pit stop contest to do our very best. Every one thinks that the pit stops were key today. But they were good, I don't think that they were bad, but in my opinion that was key today - second stint. When I was in clear air, I managed to run pretty quick. Brack was about 10 or 12 seconds in front of me and when he came into the pits the difference was down to about three seconds. And then he came in about two or three laps before I did and I managed to stay out there on hot tires and still put on some decent laps. I think that was really key.

Merrill Cain: A couple quick nuggets before we get on to Kenny Brack. It's the 17th podium finish for Christian and it vaults him into a tie for third place in the CART FedEx Championship series with 43 points. We're now joined with Kenny Brack. He finished third today. He posts his best finish of the 2002 and the best-ever at Laguna Seca. It's also his first podium from finishing second a year ago. And it's the 11th podium finish of his career. Kenny, if you would, talk a like bit about your effort today as well, you obviously had a great run. You started out second, wound up third on the day and recorded your first podium finish of the year. I know it's been a frustrating year up to this point.

Kenny Brack: Well, it's been a frustrating year, but it was a good day for us. Our Target Toyota ran good today and it's been running good all weekend. I think that what Christian was talking a little bit in here, in the middle of the race we caught traffic so we thought we would pit a little earlier to get rid of that. But when we joined the track again we had traffic again. So I think that was what made Christian get in front of us. He was faster, but I don't know, we may have been able to keep him behind if we would have gotten out in front again. But we will take third. That's a great result for us. That's what we had today. The Newman/Haas team is really strong here and we knew that going in. So we're happy with third.

Merrill Cain: Toyota Lola's capture the top-three spots on the day. A couple other Toyota notes as well, four of the top-four spots and six of the top seven today for Toyota-powered drivers. It's also the first time for Toyota in Champ Car competition that they have swept all three podium spots as well. We move on to your champion, Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. It's his second win of the season, the first coming in Mexico in the opening race of the year. This is the sixth win of his career. It's also his first Laguna Seca win and his fourth in the last seven CART FedEx Championship Series events dating back to last season. Cristiano, no one was going to touch you today, it was pretty obvious. You had great pit stops, you stayed in front of the competition for most of the day and the only thing that hampered you was running into traffic, but a dominant performance to say the least.

Christiano da Matta: For me it was a perfect day. I was of course worried about the start, but I had a couple of very good guys around me like Kenny, Bruno [Junqueira], Christian and Tony [Kanaan]. I was a little bit worried about the start, but I managed to get a good one. In the first stint it was quite close, the second stint my car was very good. I was able to run away. On the third stint I had a little bit of a problem. We tried to make a couple changes in the car but we still don't know what happened, but I lost some speed in that stint. And it was a critical moment because at speed that my car wasn't running great. It was probably my weakest stint. At the same time I caught traffic and I didn't have enough performance to get very close and to fight the traffic. So we had to change our strategy a little bit and pit a little earlier because there was a big line of cars in front of me at the second point. And after that, after we pitted again I had to manage to put a couple of quick laps together because I knew Kenny and Christian were still out on the track. So I had to avoid them to put too much of advantage on me while I had cold tires. We managed just to go out of the pits ahead of them. And after that, I was pretty comfortable because I think it was their time to catch the traffic and for me it was a little bit easier to control the difference. And my car was back to the way it was in the beginning of the race and in the second stint. So I was able to relax a little bit and control the gap a little bit better.

Merrill Cain: A couple other notes before we get on to questions. Newman/Haas Racing they finished one, two for the 7th time in the team's existence. The second time here at Laguna Seca Raceway that they finish one, two. The father/son duo of Michael and Mario Andretti accomplished the feat in 1992. It's the first time the Newman/Haas teammates have finished one, two since 1999 when it was accomplished at Road America. Christian finished first, Michael Andretti finished second. Let's go over quickly the top five unofficially in the point standings. Cristiano da Matta, on the strength of today's performance, takes over the points lead. He how has 51 points on the year. He is followed by Michel Jourdain, Jr. with 46 points. Christian Fittipaldi moves into third with 43 points on the year. Bruno Junqueria is fourth with 38. Dario Franchitti is fifth with 35 points for the year. Let's open it up for questions.

Q: Kenny, if you had started on pole today, could you have caught or could you have held off Cristiano, and if you had started on pole could you have won this race?

Christiano da Matta: No. (Laughter.)

Kenny Brack: That's hard to say. I think that on speed he was faster than I was, but on the other hand it's hard to pass here, so I think that my car would have been pretty wide. So who knows, it's hard to say. I don't know.

Q: Kenny, we have sort of heard from Cristiano about how I think in the second stint he said his cars was really, really working well and he was able to get a pretty good gap on you. Was your car perhaps not the same or maybe not working quite as well? What was going on there?

Kenny Brack: Well, in the second stint we made some changes in the first stop. And for the worst I think because we lost about three or four tenths of a second during the stint. But then we adjusted back in the last stint. So we were back up to a little better speed there in the end. But you know, it is what it is. You try to make small changes to see if you can improve stuff. And sometimes you do and sometimes you don't.

Q: Cristiano, can you talk about just what you've been able to accomplish on a road courses and how much of that is car and how much of that is just how comfortable you are on the road courses?

Christiano da Matta: Well motor racing is a team sport. I don't do anything by myself. It's a combination of everything. Of course, we have great chassis, we have a great engine and the team has very good mechanics. We understand what we need for the road courses very well. I'm driving okay too because that is one of these factors. If one is missing, you cannot get any performance out of the car. You're not going to be winning races. To win races we have to have everything right there and that's what Newman/Haas has right now. Finishing one, two today is a pretty strong performance for the team. Of course it makes us feel bad about our performance on the ovals, but I believe we're getting closer. In Milwaukee we're already a lot closer. Christian finished fourth in Milwaukee, I was running fifth or six when I had the mechanical problem. So we're getting closer too because we were just so far away at the beginning that we made huge, huge gain from the races. But even though we made the huge gain we were so far behind and we're still not up to speed. But we're definitely on the right track and we're getting there. The good thing is we know that the Lola chassis is good for ovals and we know the Toyota engine is good too. And it's just a matter of working out what the car needs as far as set up. So it's just a matter of a little bit more time until we're going to be fine with the ovals too.

Q: Guys, a lot of people felt that it was a pretty boring race from a spectator point of view. CART is trying to improve its television image and a lot of people would say this is very similar to F1 racing, which gets a lot of credit for being boring. Is there anything we can do to improve the racing on this circuit?

Christian Fittipaldi: I tell you, it was boring for you guys, but it was really fun for us in the cars. And that is what racing is all about, I think it's about having the quick cars out there and may the quick cars win. And may the slow cars not win. I don't think last year was a fair race with all due respect to Max [Papis]. He is a great driver, but he started dead last, he didn't pass one car on the track, and he won the race. I don't call that racing, I call this racing. But maybe we have different opinions.

Kenny Brack: I'm with Christian too. And I think that Laguna Seca is like that because of the layout and everything because it's a very difficult track to pass on. It's not anything that has nothing to do with our type of racing or anything. It's just that the straight away here is short. And it is just more difficult to overtake. It's just like when I used to race Indy Lights here it was almost impossible to pass. And you watch every other race here it's very difficult to pass. It's just something about the track, I don't think it has anything to do with our racing, but as Christian said, I think the race for us from inside the car was great because we are pushing the maximum all the time and you're on the very edge all the time and it's just probably a little bit more complex for the spectators to understand. Sometimes the competition is not on the race track but it's just the lap times, the gaps and everything, it's probably a little bit more advanced sometimes the spectators because they miss the passing and everything. But there was some close racing too. At one time I got through a big line of six cars that I was behind and they were fighting, fortunately for me, but they were running close.

Kenny Brack: I think that covers it.

Q: Would you talk about tires today?

Christiano da Matta: Well Laguna is always a hard track for tire wear. I was actually surprised that my tires were able too stay as well as they did throughout the stints. At the very end of the stint my rear tires start to go away a little bit. But they were a lot better than my expectations. Bridgestone makes a very soft tire and usually the tire wear is high. But I think the temperature helped a little bit. The tires of course are very good and the soft compound held up quite well. So I had no concerns about tire wear today.

Kenny Brack: It was pretty good out there today I think.

Q: Talk a little bit about passing opportunities at Portland. You're headed there next weekend and traditionally the best racing we have had at Portland is whether the weather has been the worst. And hopefully we're going to have some, we're going to have some really good weather and I'm hoping we're going to have some good racing there too.

Kenny Brack: I think Portland is maybe a little bit easier to get a run on somebody than Laguna, because at least it's got a pretty big straight line there with an exit on to the straight now where you can have quite a few different lines. And it's a real slow corner after the straight, so you have a very heavy breaking zone there. So there are not a lot of overtaking spots on the track, but at least there is one good one.

Q: Cristiano, could you talk a little bit about how good your car was today, and I asked if Kenny could have won from the pole and he said no. Could you expand on that and if there was anyway that anybody was going to prevent you from winning this race.

Christiano da Matta: Well if there is, I'm not going to say anything. No, it's difficult to say. In racing there are no 'if's' - it's just the way it happens. Those things are just impossible to know. And I think my car was pretty strong today. I think if Christian had started closer to me it would have maybe been harder. I would have had more trouble controlling the difference I had during the race. But the thing is, you cannot consider 'if's' in racing, just as you can't change things in life after they happen.

Q: Kenny, it seems like Cristiano's team just had a car that nobody had an answer for today. Everybody else was several seconds behind on the learning curve.

Kenny Brack: Well I think that if you look at their performance here, even in the earlier testing and stuff like that at this track, I think that it was no surprise to anybody that they were fast. I think that in spring training Cristiano dominated every session here. Ourselves, we were very, very average. So maybe they have improved. But not as much as we have, because we were very average when we were here and now we're at least on the podium and qualified second. Maybe we had a shot at the pole. So we have had a big improvement since spring training. I know the Target team has done a fantastic job improving my car. I think that we know what direction we need to go in and hopefully we can close the gap even more. We intend to make life dreadful for them sooner rather than later.

Merrill Cain: Any final questions? Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today. Congratulations on a great race. We will see you in a week in Portland.

--CART--

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi , Kenny Brack , Mario Andretti , Cristiano da Matta