CRISTIANO DA MATTA (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), on the challenges of racing in Japan: "Japan is a tough race. I had a good car there last year but we had a problem in qualifying and so I had to start way back and fight for every single ...
CRISTIANO DA MATTA (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), on the challenges of racing in Japan: "Japan is a tough race. I had a good car there last year but we had a problem in qualifying and so I had to start way back and fight for every single position. I worked my way up to fourth place and consider that race one of my best last year. I was happy with my performance, and happy with Toyota's performance. I like the track and am looking forward to racing there again this year with Newman/Haas.The race is really popular with the Japanese. That is the way CART is trying to get it everywhere. After we race there, they wait another 360 days for us to come back and are excited to have us race in their country. It makes you feel good to go to a place that is so excited to see you, and your series. It's nice to know how much they like CART and enjoy our kind of racing. Last year I saw Tokyo for the first time. I went there for a couple of Toyota appearances and was able to see some of the city and get to know it a little better. There is a lot to do. I had a lot of fun and am definitely looking forward to going back this year. It would be even better if I could bring a souvenir back from my visit to Japan. A trophy would be a very nice souvenir! [On the 300th CART event for Newman Haas Racing] When I found out Newman/Haas Racing was going to have [its] 300th race in Japan it didn't really sink in until I thought about how much effort goes into being in 300 races. Even though I have only been with the team since last November, I can tell you that they never took winning any of their 59 races for granted. Instead of basking in the glory of the 59 wins, they were concentrating on why they didn't win the other races. With every win they get, it makes them want more. As a driver, that is an incredibly motivating environment."
CARL HAAS, Newman/Haas Racing co-owner, on the team's 300th start in CART competition: "Newman/Haas Racing has had many highlights over the years, so it is hard to say which one has been the most memorable. The opportunity to have Paul Newman as a partner and Mario Andretti as our driver for the last 12 years of his illustrious career provided many rewards both professionally and personally. Newman/Haas Racing's first win in 1983 and our first championship in 1984 were exceptional highlights. Having the first father/son team when Michael joined Mario, in 1989, culminating in Michael's 1991 championship and the Marlboro Challenge win on the same Laguna Seca weekend, was another memorable moment for the team. Bringing Nigel Mansell over to race in the U.S. brought a lot of excitement to the team and the CART series with Nigel bringing the team its third championship in 1993 when he was still the reigning World Champion. The most recent highlights have been Christian Fittipaldi's win at the Marlboro 500 in California and Cristiano da Matta's win in Mexico in his debut with the team. Both drivers have a lot of talent and we are looking forward to more exciting races with them. As with any team, the employees are the backbone and Paul and myself have assembled some of the best in racing and their efforts have contributed to our wins, pole positions and level of competition over the years."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on his enjoyment of racing in Japan: "Going to Japan is always one of the highlights of the season - the race track, the fans, the sushi are all fantastic. For the second year in a row, I'll go there leading the points [currently tied for first] and it's a great position to be in. I'd also really like to give Honda its first win at Motegi, and I think we've got our best shot ever at doing that. Honda has been a great partner over the years and I know everyone at Team KOOL Green would be very happy to see that happen."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on his anticipation of returning to Twin Ring Motegi: "I'm probably looking forward to racing at Motegi more this year than ever before. I had a great race last year and very nearly won [Franchitti finished second], so that's a real positive. Plus, Iain [Watt, Chief Engineer] and I are really communicating well and last race at Nazareth he and the Team KOOL Green crew gave me the best car I'd ever had there. So our momentum is up for Motegi all the way around and I think we're in quite a good position for a successful weekend."
MAURICIO GUGELMIN (Nextel PacWest Toyota), on his return to FedEx Championship Series competition: "Health wise, I am now back to 100% and I'm ready to get back to racing in Motegi. The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for me and my family [following the passing of his six-year-old son, Giuliano], and I would like to thank everyone for all of the support they've shown. I have been overwhelmed with all of the condolences we have received, and it reminds me of just how many friends I have all over the world. As far as this weekend is concerned, Motegi is a great place to race and I have enjoyed various degrees of success there over the last few years. We've managed to put together some good performances at Twin Ring, and I won't settle for anything less this time around. I plan on representing Toyota well in Japan, and I think that with [teammate] Scott's [Dixon] victory in Nazareth, we are on the right track to continue our momentum. My team (PacWest) is on a high right now, so I know we will be prepared to compete at the highest level. It will be nice to see all of my friends again and climb back behind the wheel of my car. I'm sure she has missed me."
SCOTT DIXON (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota), looking forward to teammate Mauricio Gugelmin's return at the Firestone Firehawk 500: "I'm very fortunate my teammate, Mauricio Gugelmin, will be back in action with me at Motegi. I've never raced there before, and his knowledge and information will really help me. Obviously, we had a great run at Nazareth and proved to be strong on ovals with the Toyota Reynard package. The team is still on such a high from our win and I'm sure we'll carry that momentum onto Motegi. It's still all sinking in and this week has been pretty hectic, but now it's time to concentrate on the next race. I'm currently seventh in points, and with Milwaukee coming up after Motegi we need to continue earning points, which will really help us in qualifying."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Kmart Toyota Lola), on the growth of FedEx Championship Series racing in Japan: "The race in Japan is getting more popular each year we go back. I think there has been a big increase in fan interest since the first year we raced there. With the Japan invasion of not only drivers but also engine and tire manufacturers, I think we can only continue to grow in Japan. I am looking forward to going to Japan. We had a minor pit problem last year during the race but we still had a pretty quick stop but only took on 25 of 35 gallons of fuel so we had to pit earlier than everyone else the next time. Even though that happened, we would have been okay except when we got back on track, a yellow [flag] came out and everyone else got to pit under caution and we fell way back. I like the track though and we have had a good car there in the past so we hope that gets us off to a good start this year. It was good to get some points in Nazareth. Hopefully that will get the ball rolling in Japan. [On the 300th CART event for Newman/Haas Racing] Carl [Haas] and Paul [Newman] have done a great job over the years making Newman/Haas Racing one of the legendary teams in CART. I'm proud to be associated with Newman/Haas Racing both professionally and personally. I have a great relationship with Carl and Paul and the entire team. They are all like a second family to me in many ways, which is important given the amount of time we all dedicate to the sport we love. They are all racers at heart and that is one only one of the things that makes this team exceptional."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), looking forward to returning to Japan following a one-year absence: "I wasn't able to compete at Motegi last year because I was still out with a broken wrist, so I'm looking forward to this year's race on the Twin Ring. My main focus is on winning the race, of course, but I enjoy the whole atmosphere surrounding our race week in Japan. I'm planning to spend some time walking through the downtown sector of Tokyo and just taking in the sights and the people and the Japanese culture. I know that wherever I go during the racing season, I'm always trying to find a restaurant that has good sushi, and I don't think I'll have any problem doing that during our visit to Japan. I've raced twice before at Motegi and although I wasn't too successful, I like the track a lot. It's shaped quite a bit like the Gateway oval where the CART series used to race, except it's a quarter of a mile longer. I finished second twice in Madison, so maybe that can serve as an inspiration for Motegi. I'm sure it's going to be a very fast race with a lot of good wheel-to-wheel racing because of the wide track. It's going to be tough but I know Team Player's is up for the challenge."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on the memories of his rookie season at Twin Ring Motegi: "Racing on the Twin Ring at Motegi as a CART rookie last year was quite an experience. In fact, the whole trip over to Japan was something I'll always remember. The people enjoy motor racing and, as a driver, it really gets you into the mood. Even the autograph-signing sessions we had were something special. There are so many people who turn out for the sessions. Now that I've gone through that whole experience once, I think I'll be better prepared for what to expect. We just missed getting into the points at Motegi last year [by finishing 15th]. I'm confident we can produce some good results this time. I'm disappointed with the outcome of the first three races this season, but I'm certainly not discouraged. Team Player's is working extremely hard and it's only a matter of time before a few breaks come our way and things start to fall into place. There have been signs in each of the first three races that we have the car to be right in contention. We're going to keep plugging away and I'm convinced that it's going to pay off soon. There's a long season still ahead but there's no doubt that we're hungry to start racking up some points."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard), on his past successes at Twin Ring Motegi: "Motegi is one of the nicest race tracks that we compete on. We are very excited to go back to Japan, especially after a good performance in Nazareth. Hopefully we can build up our momentum. This is a track that we know, and on which we have been very successful. We are bringing our own luck this year with Shinji [Nakano, teammate] and also Honda, who I will be with for the first time since I've been competing in Japan. I think we will be very competitive. It will be a very important race for Shinji, and he's come a long way. Even though the results aren't there yet, we can see that the improvement on Shinji's side is tremendous compared to last year. Hopefully, we can put everything together for the team this weekend and start scoring some valuable points in the championship."
SHINJI NAKANO (Avex/Alpine Honda Reynard), on racing in his homeland: "This is the first time this year that I know the track. [Nakano missed Nazareth and Long Beach last season while recovering from a testing accident at Milwaukee] Of course, Japan is my country and my family is there, my friends are there and all of my fans are there. This weekend is really, really important for me and also for Honda. I want to show them that 'I am here.' The race at Nazareth last weekend really helped my confidence on the ovals. Last year, after [the crash at] Milwaukee, I didn't have any good races on the oval tracks. Qualifying fifth at Texas and running in second position for a few laps at Nazareth was very exciting for me. Last weekend really helped me to get ready for Motegi. I learned a lot of things, including how to save fuel on the ovals. Now I just have to put everything together this weekend."
TORA TAKAGI (Pioneer/DENSO Special Toyota Reynard), on the expectations he faces when racing in Japan: "I have never run on the Motegi oval before, but after running the CART race at Nazareth and [getting] practice time on the track in Texas the week before, although this is a different kind of oval racetrack than I have ever run before, I now have a better idea what oval racing requires as far as running the race distance is concerned. Motegi is the biggest pressure race for me as far as the fans, sponsors and media are concerned. There are many expectations of me there, but to be realistic, I am still learning ovals and we have room to improve on the racetrack. We'll see what happens."
ORIOL SERVIA (Sigma Autosport Ford Lola), on last year's opening-lap accident in Japan: "Last year I was trying to be safe, but the car just went away from me I think I lost downforce or something within the wing. I don't really have an explanation. Having said that, Motegi is a place I like because the track and the facilities are very nice. Turn One is very fast while the other ones are quite technical and difficult which make for a good combination. I think we're going to be strong there after our performances in qualifying at Texas and Nazareth."