CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Top-three race press conference

Top Three Driver Press Conference Following The G.I. Joe'S 200 June 16, 2002 An Interview With Cristiano da Matta,Bruno Junqueira And Dario Franchitti Merrill Cain: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Let's get started with our top-three ...

Top Three Driver Press Conference Following The G.I. Joe'S 200
June 16, 2002

An Interview With Cristiano da Matta,Bruno Junqueira And Dario Franchitti

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Let's get started with our top-three press conference today following the G.I. Joe's 200. We'll start off with Dario Franchitti and Bruno Junqueira as we await our champion, Cristiano da Matta.

First up today we'll go to Dario Franchitti, driver of the #27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone. He takes his third podium finish of the season, finishing third today. It matches his best ever Portland placing. Dario has finished in the points in each of his last four trips in Portland. The finish gives him 49 points on the season and moves him into a fourth place tie in the points championship.

Dario, if you would quickly go over your afternoon. I know you faced a lot of pressure from Townsend Bell toward the end of race, had a few problems with braking, but you were certainly able to hang on and collect some great points towards the end there.

Dario Franchitti:  Yes.  One of the biggest things in Portland is the
start and the first corner.  We eventually got going.  It was kind of
frustrating there.   But it was one of the few good starts I've made in
Portland.  I managed to go from seventh to fourth.  And it was the first
full course.  After that, we were pretty much flat out all day.

I had a small problem with the car and the brakes, particularly as the tires wore down. And that was what caught me at the end there with [Townsend] Bell. We lost a place to Bruno at the first pit stop. The car was pretty good up until probably the second stop and then it went off a bit.

We were just pushing all day. Again, at the end there, the same thing with the brakes. I was running pretty good times with Bell behind me and keeping a good gap. I was quite happy with that. And then he just caught me out going to chicane and I had to straight-line it after that. After that I had to slow the pace a bit and take it a bit easier.

Not the best result, but we'll take it. We'll go and do our homework. We head to Chicago next, and then we've got to get things sorted a bit more on the road courses to challenge certainly Cristiano. The Target guys are pretty strong as well. We'll take it from there.

Merrill Cain: Bruno Junqueira, finishes second today. Driver of #4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He takes his third career podium with the run. The finish is Bruno's best on a road course since he won at Road America for his first victory in CART last season. It also moves him into a tie for second place in the championship with Michel Jourdain, Jr. Both of those drivers have 54 points on the season.

Bruno, a great run for you. Obviously unfortunate what happened with your teammate Kenny [Brack] after he was leading the race after coming out of the pits. But you kind of picked up the baton from there and certainly put a good rush on Cristiano.

Bruno Junqueira: Yes, I feel Team Target did a very good job to give me and Kenny very good cars. It was a shame what happened to Kenny. It would have been an exciting race if we had all three cars together.

I had a very good car. Unfortunately, the start didn't work out very well for me because I put it inside, and Kenny just moved inside of Cristiano. I had to move over and I lost two positions. I had to be patient and pass Dario and [Alex] Tagliani in the pit stops.

After the car started to push, I was like 13 or 14 seconds behind. Cristiano came, and my car was really, really good. I couldn't close the gap on them. So I just followed them and tried to see what would happen. Unfortunately, Kenny went out. I knew that the race would be between me and Cristiano.

But I was a little bit faster than Cristiano, but not enough to get a safe run and pass him. I think it is too early in the championship to try a big move and put both Toyota cars out of the race.

I went more conservative. I tried to make him make a mistake, but Cristiano drove really well. He didn't make any mistakes. And when you don't make mistakes, and we have the same Toyota engines, it's really difficult to pass him.

Merrill Cain: A couple other notes here on Bruno before we open it up for questions. It marks his third top-four finish in the last four races. Also it's the second consecutive race that Toyota has led every lap. For the second consecutive race, Toyota power cars finish one, two with Cristiano leading, and then Bruno Junqueira by 6.25 seconds. Rookie Townsend Bell fell short of making it a one, two, three finish for Toyota. He came home in fourth place.

Before we are joined by Cristiano, let's open it up for questions for Dario and Bruno.

Q: Bruno, were you aware what happened to Kenny's wheel? Were you concerned if you knew about that wheel failure?

Bruno Junqueira: I saw that wheel coming off, but I don't know. His pit stop was really fast. I don't know if it was because of that or how much fuel they put in.

Anyway, that was a shame for Kenny. I think he led a lot part of the race. He had a good car. His car was as good as mine. It could have been a Target one, two.

A good place to pass here is the straight into Turn 1, and you have to do that fast chicane. And every time I got really close to Cristiano, I lost down force.

If Cristiano was behind Kenny, I'm sure it would have made it a little easier to pass him. I had one or two chances when they were in traffic and when Kenny was leading Cristiano. But I thought it was too early to try to make a move. Then it was a shame for Kenny. But I hope that he'll be back. He will be strong in Chicago.

Q:   They were saying possibly a mechanical failure in the wheel, the
bolt that holds the wheel nut in.  You weren't aware of that?

Bruno Junqueira: No, I didn't know.

Q: When you came out on your third pit stop, going into turn one, it looked like you maybe had cold tires when you went wide. Can you talk about what happened there?

Bruno Junqueira: Yeah. My team was saying, "Come on, Bruno, push hard on this cold lap." Maybe I got a little bit too excited. I was really good in the other two cold laps and passed Tagliani in the first one. In the second one I made up a little time. I went a little bit wild. I kept it on the track, but I lost a little bit for Cristiano.

But my car was really good. I might have lost two seconds, but I managed to close in on him again. But getting close is one thing; passing is the another.

Merrill Cain: We are now joined by Cristiano da Matta, the champion of the G.I. Joe's 200, driver of the #6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He takes his third win of the season, seventh of his career and second in a row. It moves him ahead of Helio Castroneves who tied for 15th on the all-time CART list.

Cristiano has also won five of the last eight CART races dating back to last season. He also becomes the first driver since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win three times in the season's first six races and becomes the first driver to sweep all 23 points available on a weekend under CART's new road and street course qualifying rules.

What can you say? Another perfect weekend for you. It was obviously an awesome performance out there. A little bobble there with Kenny allowed you to slip into the lead, but you certainly had a lot of pressure put on you by Bruno after that. Talk about your performance today.

Cristiano da Matta: Yeah, for me it was a very tough race from the beginning to the end. I had just no time to breathe. Kenny was very fast. He put a good move on me at the start. There was no way for me to protect that. He took a big risk. And I saw that if I tried to do anything, we were going to crash right there. He was probably thinking that if he didn't take the lead there, he wasn't going to take the lead anywhere.

But I was actually surprised at how much speed he had, or maybe I just didn't have as much speed as I thought I was going to have.

But it was tough to keep up with him. I was able to keep close, but not as close to do anything. He, of course, had a little bit of trouble with traffic, so I was able to close the gap a little bit. And in the meantime, Bruno kept on closing the gap on us because I think he had a couple of problems on the start or whatever. I was watching, of course.

But it was a tough race. After Kenny had the problem with his pit stop, I had Bruno behind me, so I just didn't have any time to breathe. I was just pushing as hard as I could all the time.

It was probably one of the toughest races for me I've ever driven. We kept up the qualifying pace pretty much from Lap 1 to Lap 110. That was pretty difficult. It's very, very difficult to maintain yourself, of course, when you're concentrating and not make any mistakes and putting good laps together all the time. That was pretty tough.

But I think my team did a very good job. I think the mistake Ganassi made on the pits with Brack was a little pressure they were feeling because both times we came into the pits, I was right in his gearbox. I think they felt like they had to make a quick stop and probably made some mistake during the pit stop because, as he was coming out of the of the pits in front of me, I saw there was something wrong on one of his rear wheels.

My crew did a very good job without making any mistakes- they also didn't put any wheel wrong. And it was just a fun race. I'm very glad to see this race at Portland to turn out to be such a fast race, such a tough race, a very high-paced race, very fast-paced race, and very different than it used to be in the past where everybody was just trying to save fuel - apart from Gil.

But this way is a lot more fun.  It's probably one of the most fun races
I've driven.  I'm very, very pleased today.

Q: Cristiano, before Kenny had problems, the pace dropped off a couple seconds.

Cristiano da Matta: There was some oil on the track at that time. It was very, very slick from turn one all the way to turn six. We were in the situation with traffic, too, at that time, and I had to put a couple wheels off the line, and I picked up a couple marbles.

At the beginning, there were so many cars ahead of me and I couldn't see the surface very well. So I thought, "Wow, maybe this is all marbles." Actually Kenny pulled away a second in front of me, I could see there was oil there. But it was very strange. I don't know where it came from.

Q: Then it cleared up a bit?

Bruno Junqueira: It started to improve slowly.

Cristiano da Matta: It was improving slowly.

Dario Franchitti: A couple guys spun at that point.

Bruno Junqueira: That made the race really difficult to run over the oil, I'm telling you.

Q: Cristiano and Bruno, you've raced against each other since you were kids. This is the first time you've gone head-to-head in CART. Can you talk about what it's like to be fighting your buddy from back home?

Cristiano da Matta: I guess it's nothing new for us, just for everybody else (laughter).

Q: Can you talk about how often you've done this back home in Brazil when you were youngsters?

Cristiano da Matta: We actually only raced together in the same series on the Brazilian F-3 in '94 because when we were racing go-karts, we were actually teammates, but Bruno was racing for Juniors, and I was racing on what is Formula A.

Bruno Junqueira: We never racing together in go-karts. We both raced Formula 3 one year, but I had a Class B car, he had a Class A car. So we've never ever really raced like today. We were teammates. When you're young, we used to get my father's truck with Cristiano and Cristiano's father, two mechanics, and all the go-karts on the back and go to Sao Paulo to race. We drove six, seven hours, arrive in Sao Paulo, got to the hotel and slept on top of the go -kart factory.

Cristiano da Matta:  In the morning, you would wake up with the guys
hammering.  That was the alarm clock (laughter).

Q: Was it fun racing today out there?

Cristiano da Matta: It was fun. I wish he [Bruno] was a little bit slower so I could breathe a little bit.

Bruno Junqueira: I wish he made a mistake and I could pass him (laughter).

Q: Cristiano, if Kenny had not had the mechanical difficulty, did you feel you had a good enough setup to get by him eventually?

Cristiano da Matta: The word "If" doesn't exist in racing. If I would have spun, Bruno would have won (laughter).

He had a very fast car. It was going to be very difficult to beat him. But it's impossible to predict how it was going to be.

Q: Cristiano, did you already have a Father's Day gift for your dad or was this a surprise today?

Cristiano da Matta: Well, no. I still don't have a Father's Day gift for my dad.

Dario Franchitti: Cristiano is very cheap you have to understand (laughter).

Cristiano da Matta: This is coming from a Scot (laughter).

Dario Franchitti: Cristiano has a saying: I have scorpions in my pocket.

Cristiano da Matta: You don't know this guy!

Q:   Is it too early to talk about momentum?  You don't want to talk
about championship.  Dario, in '99 you had a good run going for a while,
narrowly lost the championship on a tiebreaker.  You had three wins in
six races.  Does your team feel momentum?

Cristiano da Matta: Well, of course, the team feels very excited about the season we're having so far. I feel very excited about that, too. I haven't had a season like that since '98, in Indy Lights.

It's something that doesn't happen every day- when you have a very good year. And, of course, it's very, very rewarding for you. It makes you feel good about yourself, it makes you feel good about the team, the engine manufacturer, everything, and vice versa.

I think it's too early. It's only six rounds into the championship right now. I think a lot of teams, like Team KOOL Green, for example, they've just switched chassis a little while ago, so there's still a lot to learn in the Lola. They're going to get closer and closer to us.

It's too early to say. Of course, I'm very, very happy and am very positive about the season. I know we have pretty good chances on the championship.

But I think it's going to be very tough. There's a lot of good other teams, a lot of other good drivers there. But I'm just happy that I'm having such a great season and everything's working so fine for us. We'll keep on working hard to try to keep up front, of course.

Q: So much is made of the race start here and first turn. What's it like for you to drive it? What was going through your mind? Cristiano, how close was Adrian [Fernandez] when he spun in front of you?

Cristiano da Matta: I don't even know how close he was because I started to see so much smoke coming out of his rear tire. And I think it was very, very close when I missed him. I actually had to come very far over the curb on the right side there to miss him.

But it was really, really close. In this kind of situation with guys coming out of the pits on cold tires and being one lap down, I think he should have let me go and maybe not have pushed that hard not to lose a lap. Especially that late in the race, that wasn't going to pay off for him.

It was tough situation, but I think just everybody has to be more aware of that. One day I'm being lapped, I think if it's lap 70 of a road course race and I'm already a lap down, I don't think there's the need to try to keep up front like he was trying.

Q: Can you comment on the start? What was it like from your perspective?

Bruno Junqueira: It's very difficult because you never know when it's going to happen. It's difficult to say. For a driver it's good because it warms the tires. Then when you come to turn one, everybody has warm tires and you didn't see a big accident. You just had some people miss the turn.

For me the start wasn't that good. I lost two positions at the start. And I think Dario was really pleased with that.

Dario Franchitti: Yeah, Bruno is right. Every other attempt we had at getting off, I made a crap sort of initial start. I could see Paul [Tracy] getting larger in my mirror every time, which is not the thing you want. I was happy with that final start. It's frustrating. It's not good for the show. But it has to be fair. We've put a lot of pressure on Jim [Swintal], the starter, to make the starts fair.

Cristiano da Matta:  The way you come off the straight here is
difficult.  I think we should go for standing starts in the road and
street courses.  That would be the coolest thing, I think.

Q: Dario, all three of you mentioned today that you ran flat out. In Monterrey, Mexico it was one of the most enjoyable races for you to experience because it was flat out.

Dario Franchitti:  From that point of view, it's very good.  We're seeing
everybody, the whole race, driving flat out.  The quickest guys are
generally winning.  That's what it's all about.

I'm not quite as happy as I was in Monterrey. It was a bit quicker, closer to the ultimate pace in Monterrey. From the first lap, apart from the one yellow, I absolutely nailed the whole race absolutely flat out. So it was good fun.

Q:   Dario, obviously you talked about the braking problem before, but on
one of the restarts, Townsend Bell got past you into turn one.  It looked
pretty quick and easy, dare I say.  Didn't have anything for him there?

Dario Franchitti: He was quite a ways back coming out of the turn, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that one. He was getting very large in my mirrors when I was still hard on the power. He just powered past. He made a good move - a great move. But I think the braking was only half of the story there.

Merrill Cain:  Gentlemen, thank you very much.  Congratulations on a good
race.  See you in Chicago.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Bruno Junqueira , Dario Franchitti , Townsend Bell , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain