LEHIGH VALLEY GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY TOYOTA "QUOTEBOARD" GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), remembering last year's historic victory at Nazareth: "Nazareth is the site of my first oval win and the 100th win for the team; it was a great day...
LEHIGH VALLEY GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY TOYOTA "QUOTEBOARD"
GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), remembering last year's historic victory at Nazareth: "Nazareth is the site of my first oval win and the 100th win for the team; it was a great day for all concerned. Nazareth is a very tough track, very mentally demanding. There's never a second where you're not fully occupied. Racing at Nazareth is an entirely unique experience and I hope we can repeat what we did there last year. It is also close to the team race shop in Reading, so a lot of the shop-based guys and their families come to the race, and it is close to New York, so it's important for Marlboro. From that point of view, this is a big race for everyone at Marlboro Team Penske."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on his wealth of experience at Nazareth Speedway: "I've probably run more miles at Nazareth than any other track on the CART schedule, and I've had a lot of good results there [wins in 1994 and '97, poles in 1996 and '97]. It would be great to get Team KOOL Green's first win at Nazareth and at the same time win the last CART race there. We would score some big points and it would give us tremendous momentum heading into the race in Japan. We've got these three ovals in a row [Milwaukee follows Japan] and it's important to do well at each of them if you're going to contend for the championship."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on the challenges of Nazareth Speedway: "Nazareth is a very unique oval that can be fun to drive, especially when the car is working well. But on race day, with 28 or so other cars out there, it's like rush hour on the L.A. Freeway at 180 miles per hour! You've really got to anticipate traffic and stay on top of what's happening ahead of and behind you. There is absolutely no room to relax and concentration is critical. Paul [Tracy, teammate] and I would both like to give Team KOOL Green a win at Nazareth. One of our famous one-two finishes would be even better, with me out in front, of course!"
HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his assorted misfortunes at Nazareth Speedway: "Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck at Nazareth. But this year, especially since it's the last year CART is scheduled to race there, I hope to turn my luck around. Nazareth is actually one of my favorite tracks because I really enjoy the challenge of short oval racing. My teammate [Gil de Ferran] won this event last year so Marlboro Team Penske should be in a good position to perform well this weekend."
TONY KANAAN (Hollywood Honda Reynard), on last week's postponement of the Firestone Firehawk 600 Presented by Pioneer at Texas Motor Speedway: "The best thing about going to Nazareth, at this point, is to be able to say that for sure we will race this weekend ... unless, of course, there's snow on the ground when we wake up on Sunday morning! I'm glad everything went okay last weekend. We got out of Texas in one piece. Everybody in the CART community got together and agreed to do something that was very sensible. It will be a bit of an uncertainty at Nazareth for us because we never tested on a one-mile oval with our current package. But we've been competitive everywhere we've gone this season. I've been in the top four in every practice session so far this year, so I'm very confident we'll be in good shape at Nazareth. It's a cliche, but we're taking life one race at a time. Let's see what we can do to really make the team more successful. And, finally, Alex [Zanardi] got back with his luck in practice and qualifying at Texas, and I think he's going to be strong at Nazareth, too. I guess people in the beginning of the '98 and '99 season said I wasn't capable of racing on a one-mile oval, that it wasn't my kind of track. I proved them wrong when I had the car to do it last year. At Nazareth and Chicago and Milwaukee, I had never finished a race in the points on a one-mile oval. But last year, we did well at all three small ovals. This weekend, we have to keep our heads straight. It's not rocket science to find a setup, but you have to work together as a team."
ALEX ZANARDI (Pioneer/WorldCom Honda Reynard), on his pursuit of a good finish at Nazareth Speedway: "There are obviously concerns in the sense that we know that the cars at Nazareth are not going to work as well as we want because we are going to run a lot less downforce due to the rules that CART is imposing concerning wings. So it's left to be seen how different cars will react to these changes. Other than that, I am excited about going to Nazareth and trying to have a good race, and most of all to try to see the checkered flag, which has been something of an elusive target in our first two races. In reality, it was nice to have a decent qualifying in Texas [sixth], but unfortunately, we couldn't have a race. The scenario is going to be different at Nazareth on the small oval, of course. We didn't race at Texas, [but] on one hand, you can say I did my winter oval testing [there]. Certainly I thought before the start of the season if I was going to have problems this season it would be from Texas onward because I didn't do any testing on ovals over the winter. But, I went to Texas and my fifth lap out I could stay flat all the way around the track. It proved once again that on the oval it's a question of letting the car do the job and making the car perform well. This is what we'll try to do at Nazareth, and if we're good enough to achieve a good setup, and we have the car running good, then you're likely to see me smiling at the end."
MAURICIO GUGELMIN (Nextel PacWest Toyota), on his recovery from the bumps and bruises he sustained last week at Texas Motor Speedway: "I obviously had a pretty tough weekend in Texas last week, but I'm feeling pretty good and will be ready to get back in the car at Nazareth. I've been doing a lot of physical therapy this week, and spending a lot of time in the Jacuzzi to loosen up my muscles. The key to overcoming soreness in the muscles it to remain as active as possible, so I have been swimming, taking walks, and pretty much going about my daily routine as much as possible. I'm looking forward to going back to Nazareth because I actually enjoy racing on the tri-oval. Fortunately, I have had some pretty good success at that track in the past, with a couple of top-ten finishes. Last season, I enjoyed my best finish of the year at Nazareth [second], and it was great being back on the podium after a couple of seasons away. My crew has worked very hard in the last few days preparing another car for me since the one I crashed in Texas sustained some major damage. Those guys really work hard for me, and for PacWest, and I want to make sure they are recognized for their efforts. I know it's tough trying to turn the cars around for back-to-back races, but we've got some of the best crew members in the business and I'm certain we'll be ready to go. It's always important to get back into a car as soon as possible after an accident, so as long as there is no snow on the ground, I'll be ready."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard), on his affinity for Nazareth Speedway: "Nazareth is a track that I know very well. I enjoy racing there. I think it is one of the toughest ovals. I haven't had particularly good cars in qualifying, but have done well in the race. You need a good car there to perform well. Last year wasn't fun. It was way too cold. Since it's later in the year, I'm hoping the weather will be better this time. As I said from the beginning, I know Shinji [Nakano, teammate] is going to surprise a lot of people, as he already did in Texas. Nazareth is a track he doesn't know, so we are going to work very closely to make sure that he understands the art of driving these ovals. One of the main things that I have been trying to teach him is that sometimes you just have to be patient."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on injured wrists and Nazareth Speedway: "It's funny how things go sometimes. Last year, my first race after I injured my wrist was in Nazareth, where we had been snowed out in April. This year, because the race in Texas was postponed last Sunday, my first race back from a wrist injury is again going to be in Nazareth. Even though we weren't able to race in Texas, the fact we had practice sessions and the qualifying was important for me because it gave me the opportunity to test my wrist under competitive conditions. It's still a bit tender but I'm really happy with the way it held up during the weekend. Team Player's had a super car for the race in Texas and I'm confident it will be the same for Nazareth. I know that with the short oval there is still going to be some stress on my wrist from the turning, but with the postponement in Texas, the wrist has had some extra time to heal and that's going to help. I've had some success in Nazareth, including winning the pole there in 1998, so I'm optimistic about our chances on the weekend."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), on opening the FedEx Championship Series oval campaign: "With the postponement in Texas, the race in Nazareth will be our first oval race of the season, and based on what Team Player's was able to do in the practice and qualifying sessions last weekend, we should be very competitive on the Nazareth short oval. Like everyone, I was disappointed that circumstances prevented us from racing last weekend. But I still had the opportunity of working with Tony Cicale and the Team Player's crew in practice and qualifying. That enabled me to continue to build on our strong rapport and learn a few more things that will help me when certain situations arise. I had quite a bit of experience racing on the Nazareth oval when I was in the Atlantic series and, last year, I competed there as a CART rookie. Things were a little unusual in Nazareth last year. We didn't have our weekend racing routine because we had already qualified a month earlier, before a snowstorm caused the race to be postponed for a few weeks. This time, I would imagine that the snow will stay away and we'll have a normal race weekend. It will be good to have that continuity because our next three races are on one-mile or 1.5-mile ovals."
ORIOL SERVIA (Sigma Autosport Ford Lola), on his optimism looking ahead to Nazareth: "It's unfortunate about Texas, but I agree completely one hundred percent with the decision. As for our next race, I believe we're going to be in very good shape for Nazareth after our qualifying performance at Texas. We're looking at that race in an optimistic way. The Lolas have been good on the ovals so far and the last time I was in a Lola at Nazareth, I was on the pole [Indy Lights, 1999]. Last season, I out-qualified my teammate [Cristiano da Matta] there, so I really like that place and I think we're going to do well in the race."
SCOTT DIXON (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota), on the difficulties of driving at Nazareth: "I like this track and it's unlike any other track, which makes it challenging. It's a hard track - you can't run flat out on this track like you can on others. I'm the only rookie who has racing experience at Nazareth, so that's definitely an advantage - I finished fourth at Nazareth in the 1999 Dayton Indy Lights race. Rookies got three extra days to test [this season] and we chose Nazareth because we struggled a little on the short ovals and we all felt we could learn a lot by testing there. We had a good test last month and we know what direction we want to go. The Toyota Reynard package has been reliable, which is a big plus. Because it's an oval, strategy and pit stops will be very important. We need to work hard and do our best and come out with a good result."
NICOLAS MINASSIAN (Target Toyota Lola), on his growing affection for oval-track racing: "I am really starting to enjoy oval racing, especially at Nazareth. It is very wide and has several lanes of racing. We have tested there twice over the last few months and I have really enjoyed testing at Nazareth. With all of the turning and shifting that you do there, it is very similar to a road course. This place is very technical. You need to know exactly when to brake, shift and accelerate to turn fast laps."
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (Target Toyota Lola), on the importance of an oval-track testing program: "We have done a lot of off-season testing on oval tracks. We have tested [at Nazareth] twice and I am becoming very comfortable with the car and how to drive the track. I was able to learn a lot about the place in those testing sessions. My team has given me data and information about where to shift, what lines to take in the corners and where to brake. And since this team has won there three out of the last four years, I listened to every word they said. I feel very confident going into this weekend. I'm ready to give Chip and this team our first victory of the year."
SHINJI NAKANO (Avex/Alpine Honda Reynard), on making his first career appearance at Nazareth Speedway: "This is another new oval for me. I watched the race tapes and it doesn't look easy. The shifting for this oval is another thing I will need to get used to. I am not worried because I have Adrián [Fernandez, teammate] and Tom [Anderson, co-owner], a good team, and engineer, Martin Paré. I have to learn the track but I will have a lot of help. I have confidence because I have a teammate and I am in a good team with a bunch of good people. I trust these guys. I have not finished a race on a one-mile oval, so this will be a learning race for me. I know they will give me a good car, and I just have to do my job."