An interview with Cristiano Da Matta Dario Franchitti Bruno Junqueira Part 2 of 2 Merrill Cain: You guys all had a chance to take a look at what this course was like. What's your approach for the race tomorrow? Cristiano Da Matta: Well,...
An interview with
Cristiano Da Matta
Part 2 of 2
Merrill Cain: You guys all had a chance to take a look at what this course was like. What's your approach for the race tomorrow?
Cristiano Da Matta: Well, it's been like this last couple of races we've had. It's a very long race. It's going to be pretty hard on the cars with the number of laps in this place. This track is particularly hard on the brakes. We have hard braking here like we do at Mid-Ohio, but we don't have the long straights to put the brakes back down, so it's going to be concern number one.
Starting is a little bit of a concern because this is the first time everybody is starting this racetrack. Turns 1 and 2 go way left and right and there is just a little short chute between the two. We've seen a lot of action from the Formula 1 race, so we've seen it before. Hopefully we can do a little better than that.
But there are lots of competitive guys and competitive cars out there. I think it's going to be a tough race, like every race this year has been. The pace for every race this year has been like the qualifying pace, and that's why I everybody likes to watch. That's what we like to do, just get in there and race as hard as we can, without having to worry about fuel and without having to worry about anything else. It's a pretty tough race, as usual.
Merrill Cain: Also, to clarify, the extent of the red flag period was caused by some oil on the track. Under the new qualifying rules mandated by CART, we extended the qualifying session by about nine and a half minutes in order to satisfy the 30 minutes of guaranteed green flag time.
Q: Where do you see the best passing opportunities here?
Cristiano Da Matta: Good question. I think on this track there are three places where it's possible to pass. I don't think any of them are easy. I think the three places are very hard. One place is into Turn 1. It's pretty difficult to pass in, but I think it's possible. The other one is into the hairpin. It's the same thing. It's pretty difficult, but possible, too. And the other one is into the last chicane. The last chicane, from what I've seen on TV, is not a very easy place, probably the worst of the three because every time I've seen races here people are trying to dive on the other side of the chicane. They go up the chicane and they run over the curve and everything, so it's not probably the best place.
But I think those three places are possible to pass in. It's not going to be easy because, of course, you see that everybody is running very close as far as lap times. So, every time cars get closer on lap times, the more difficult it is to pass, but I think it's possible.
Q: Coming back to the last chicane in Formula 1, we saw other drivers hitting the wall, especially three world champions in the same race a few years ago. Is there any concern about that? Did you find that chicane really difficult to go through?
Dario Franchitti: Yeah, it's a challenge. There's no doubt that it's one of those places that invites you to carry a lot of speed in because it's so open and wide, until you realize the track is maybe just a small piece in the middle. There's so much open space there, so you have to be careful of that, first of all. And again, you must not take too much curb because the top bottoms out on the curb and then you lose steering, and into the wall you go. So I can see why people have gone off there before. A couple of times in the past two days, I came pretty close myself.
Cristiano Da Matta: It's difficult, especially seeing the things Dario said about the curbing. All of a sudden, you can find yourself with the front wheels not on the ground and you're along for the ride. It's a pretty tough corner.
Q: As you said, you had a bit of a struggle yesterday and never really got quite right in qualifying and here you are second on the face of it. You must have got in pretty good shape today. Is that true, or do you still have to make some work to really make it right for the race?
Dario Franchitti: We still have a bit of work to do, there's no doubt. We are certainly a lot better than we were yesterday. I mean, yesterday was bad. We really, really struggled.
But yeah, as I said, there are a couple of ideas still getting bounced around back in engineering already for tomorrow. Hopefully, I will give it a little bit more and we can give this guy [da Matta] a hard time.
Q: After a delay, what does it do as far as presenting problems for you when you have a delay of that length?
Dario Franchitti: You get really warm in the car. (Laughter).
No, it's fine. Actually, it gave us some time to sort of think what we were going to do on the car and make a couple of changes. Everybody goes out on the pit lanes together and you get in a lot of traffic. It's pointless to rush out there and sit in traffic in the last eight minutes of the session. It's very difficult, if you back off when you are in front, then the guy behind you catches you, so you have to get on the other side of the track to get into clear space.
Q: Did you tell Cristiano at the start if you expected a bigger man to get the lead going into Turn 1?
Dario Franchitti: I could tell him what I want but he won't listen. (Laughter.)
Q: Dario and Bruno, the last four or five minutes were really exciting because you guys kept trading the pole back and forth. Were you guys keeping track on the radio? Were they telling you when you were P1, and going back and forth? Was it surprising that he was able to break 1 minute 19 seconds?
Bruno Junqueira: Not for me. I just secured my position and lap time. I thought when I move to P2, I thought it was Cristiano, but then they said that it was Dario, and was I second, then Cristiano.
Dario Franchitti: If my guys talk to me in qualifying, they know they'll get an earful on the radio. You are pretty focused in there. And I was giving it everything I had today. It was one of those occasions where I went out and certainly had no hope in hell of getting a good result in qualifying. I thought I'd see what I could get out of the car when giving it 100%, and that's what I did.
I think I could have been closer to Cristiano's time on a perfect lap, but as I said, I got a bit greedy over the chicanes.
Q: Cristiano, the final tally was 6.123 seconds off [1999 CART Champion, Juan] Montoya's qualifying in Formula 1. That's better than you predicted before on Thursday. Is that what you expected or are you pleased with CART for being that close?
Cristiano Da Matta: Remember I said between five and seven seconds? I didn't know it was going to be that accurate. (Laughs).
No, I'm pretty surprised. Especially being two to five seconds off the times over there [F1]. We all know how much difference this makes. I looked at the Formula 1 lap times on this same track for the last few years. Somebody showed me them this morning and for last four years, the pole was 1 [minute] 19-something in 2000 or '99. It was 1 [minute] 18.4 [seconds] I think in 2000, and then 1 [minute] 15 [seconds] the first year after the tire wars started. Then it was 1 [minute] 12 [seconds]. So it improved six seconds just after they changed tire manufacturers.
So I think speed-wise the cars would be equal if both had similar compounds. I would say we would be within two seconds, which is pretty damn close for the difference on the budgets (Laughter). I think it's only $200 million. I think our engineers are looking very smart right now.
Dario Franchitti: The other thing is that our cars are much heavier. Some 400 pounds or whatever heavier. I was actually surprised because I know in the last couple of years, we have taken the cars down by taking boost away - basically for the ovals more than the road courses.
If we came here with the '99 spec cars with soft tires and big boost, I think we would have embarrassed a few people, for sure.
Q: Was this the most difficult of the six poles you've won this year?
Cristiano Da Matta: This one was pretty difficult, but I think the most difficult one I had this year was Elkhart Lake on Friday because Bruno got it back from me Saturday. On Friday it was pretty difficult.
This one has still had a little bit of a gap in front of Dario and Bruno. There were many other places that we were all a lot closer together. So, I don't think it was the most difficult, they all are. But this was definitely not the closest.
Q: Are you looking forward to the start tomorrow, given that you've got the tight chicane and then on to the front straight? Do you anticipate any problems keeping the field close enough together?
Cristiano Da Matta: Well, I hope not.
Really, if you look back at the last couple of races, all of the starts have been very good. We are trying to keep it up. As you know, in a 118-lap race, the first corner is important, but it's not that important. I think everybody is going to be pretty smart. Hopefully you're not going to see any crashes and we're not going to leave any cars at the beginning. Hopefully I'm going to keep my nose clean.
Q: Dario, are you going to look at a replay of the start at Toronto with your teammate [Paul Tracy] jumping ahead of this guy [da Matta]?
Dario Franchitti: I think I'll look at the Elkhart Lake start. I think that was a bit more impressive. (Laughter). You just have to take your opportunity if it comes.
Merrill Cain: Thank you very much.
Top qualifiers press conference, part I