CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Top three qualifiers press conference, Part I

An Interview With Cristiano Da Matta, Kenny Brack and Bruno Junqueira Part 1 of 2: Merrill Cain: We'll go ahead and get started with our top-three press conference this afternoon, following today's qualifying for tomorrow's G.I. Joe's 200.

An Interview With Cristiano Da Matta, Kenny Brack and Bruno Junqueira

Part 1 of 2:

Merrill Cain: We'll go ahead and get started with our top-three press conference this afternoon, following today's qualifying for tomorrow's G.I. Joe's 200. It's a familiar top three for us here. This is the same top three in the same order we had last weekend in Laguna Seca.

We'll get started today with Bruno Junqueira, who qualified third this afternoon in the #4 Target Toyota/Lola/ Bridgestone. He had a lap of 59.026 seconds, a speed of 120.089 miles per hour. It gave him his fourth starting position this season of third place or better. Bruno is the only driver to have qualified in the top seven of every race this season. He started third in each of the last three road course events, that being Long Beach, Laguna Seca and here in Portland.

Bruno, if you would talk to us a little bit about your afternoon. Obviously the team has done very well on road courses as our notes pointed out. It seems like you're approaching to dial it in just as your teammate, Kenny Brack.

Bruno Junqueira:  For sure, Team Target is doing a very good job both on
roads, streets and ovals.  That's really important to us.  Starting here
in third place is good.  I'm quite happy with that.  I got a good
improvement from yesterday.  I think it's a good position to start the
race.  I wanted to be on the pole, but I couldn't.

Merrill Cain: One other note. This is the fifth straight race that Team Target has qualified two drivers inside the top five. It's obviously an outstanding performance for them. And Newman/Haas, as well. There you go. I think we're developing a little rivalry between the two teams here.

Qualifying second for tomorrow's race is Kenny Brack, driver of the #12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He had a best time of 58.963 seconds, that's a speed of 120.218 miles per hour. Brack makes his second consecutive front row start, matching his second-place effort from last week. Also Kenny's best ever starting spot here in Portland and his 10th front row grid position in the last two seasons.

I guess it's good and bad. Obviously a great performance from the team, Team Target, a great performance from you for the second consecutive day and week. But just not quite close enough to knock off the little guy.

Kenny Brack: No. We're still missing a little bit. But, you know, we'll see tomorrow if we can swing it around.

But I thought I put a very good lap together. That's all I had. We did a good job today because this morning we had a mishap in communications, and we lost a lot of the session with the technical stuff that went wrong for us. So it was a nice rebound.

You know, it's always like that. The track improves a little bit and you've got to keep up with it and try to get the best car. I think the Target car is a very good car, it's just not enough to beat Cristiano yet for the pole. But we'll keep working at it.

Merrill Cain: Cristiano da Matta is your pole sitter for tomorrow's race. Driver of the #6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He wins the pole with a top lap of 58.679 seconds, a speed of 120.800 miles per hour. It's his second consecutive pole position, the second of his career, and he joins Adrian Fernandez as the only drivers this season to win multiple poles.

Cristiano also earns his second championship point of the weekend. With the effort, it gives him 53 for the season and widens his lead over Michel Jourdain, Jr. to seven points. That equals the largest lead that anyone has held this season. Michel Jourdain had a seven-point lead over Dario Franchitti after the Milwaukee race.

You have the car dialed in this weekend. I know you were pretty happy with the car's setup. You said that the track conditions were pretty much ideal for you today.

Cristiano da Matta: Yeah, of course I'm very happy with the way everything went this weekend for us. I didn't have any type of problems during all the sessions we've had so far. Everything just went really smooth. We were able to improve our car and follow the track conditions quite well.

The only session we weren't on the top of the situation was this morning when we were struggling a little bit with a couple things on the car. After we said, "Okay, maybe this is what's going on," we went back to something similar to what we had yesterday. And the car was, of course, quite good.

I think I was a little bit worried about our qualifying performance. I felt the car will be strong for a race situation, because the car is very kind with the tires and we were able to put many, many fast laps together. The tire wear is not too bad.

So I was worried about the qualifying because I didn't feel like we were gaining enough every time we were trying new tires. I think the warmer weather helped us a little bit on that too. Just the conditions overall, more rubber on the track, everything was very good.

I was able to do my lap time on my first set of tires. The second set I made a few changes to try to make it a little bit more neutral, but it was a little bit over the top and I had a little too much oversteer in my second set. I couldn't go as fast as I did on my first set.

I think we have a pretty good control of what we have right now and what we need tomorrow for the race. It's going to be obviously a difficult race, as many cars are going really fast. I think the Ganassi cars are going to be following me very close, also Christian [Fittipaldi]. But the car is running really good, too.

There are a couple cars that are lapping really close to us. I think qualifying may not the best picture of what is going on the racetrack. And it's a very tough race because it's going to be a very hard race physically because this is our longest road course race. My point of view is that if Portland is not the most physical track, it's the second most physical track apart from Laguna Seca. There are a lot of G forces on this track. The surface is always very grippy. The steering wheel gets quite heavy during race time. It's going to be a pretty interesting race.

Merrill Cain: Before we open it up for questions, I want to note on the performance from the Toyota engines today, obviously the top three spots up here. Cristiano da Matta's pole position is the 14th for Toyota in Champ Car competition. It's the third of the year for a Toyota-powered car after Bruno captured the pole at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, and Cristiano earned the pole at Laguna Seca.

We'll open it up to questions for our top three qualifiers.

Q:  Cristiano, you won races before, but this year all of a sudden
you've won two poles in a row.  Is there a new strategy at the team?

Cristiano da Matta: I have qualified second so many times before and had never won a pole. Last year here I was very close. Obviously at Long Beach I was two one-thousandths of a second off pole. I've been close many times.

We didn't change anything on the way we were working, it just happened that we came to two tracks where our cars run really good. I don't think it's anything different. We don't have a different approach for the qualifying sessions or anything. It's just a little bit of coincidence that we have two tracks in a row that we have such a good setup.

Q: Cristiano, the weather tomorrow is going to be about what it is today - fairly cool in the morning. Does this track change an awful lot when the cloud cover burns away and the sun comes out? What does that do as far as you having to go and chase track conditions to stay competitive?

Cristiano da Matta: Well, it changes a little bit. This track doesn't change as much as some other ones that we go to. But it really does change a little bit.

What happens here is that session after session after session, the track picks up more and more and more rubber. So that's kind of hiding whatever the track temperature and ambient are doing to the car. You always feel the car getting a little better, a little better, a little better.

So it changes, but I think there's a lot of other things that are going to be a lot bigger than the ambient temperature.

Q: Cristiano, you talked a lot about what happened with the car that made you so much better this year. What's happened with you as a driver? Anything in particular you're doing differently as you're approaching your driving this year?

Cristiano da Matta: No. You know, just the normal progress you have as a driver year after year after year. But I think I'm just on my normal form. It's just last year we couldn't get everything we needed to together. But I feel like if I had the opportunity, myself and the team, if we had things sorted out as we have this year last year, I probably would have the same kind of results.

Of course, I always feel like I'm driving better than the year before, otherwise something would be wrong (laughter). But it's not that big of a difference - not as big as the difference of my results are comparing this year to last year.

Q: In the past, this race has been quite a fuel strategy race. Obviously you have different rules this year to try to eliminate that. How do you guys look at tomorrow's race? Do you see strategy coming into it quite a bit in that way? You have different (lap length?), As well this year.

Kenny Brack: Lap length (laughter)? I didn't know that. I thought you said "lap length."

Q: No, no. Kirk is gone, so no more changes in lap length (laughter).

Kenny Brack: Ooooh.

Q: So....

Kenny Brack: I think it's going to be like it's always been this year. It's going to be a sprint race from start to finish with three stops in it or something like that - four maybe. Three probably. And if there are yellows, maybe there will be some more stops.

There might be some people at the back that reverse the order, and if they get lucky, as they did in Long Beach, they will win the race.

Cristiano da Matta: The window here is a lot smaller than other places we've been to, so it makes it more difficult. Especially whoever starts and tries to do something different, I think the possibility to work right for them is going to be a lot smaller.

Bruno Junqueira: You can pass here. I think better than at Laguna or Long Beach.

Q: You can pass here?

Cristiano da Matta: Yes. This track has one good overtaking point, where Laguna there's half an overtaking point.

Bruno Junqueira: None (laughter).

-cart-

Top three interview Part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain