CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto: Friday top three press conference

An Interview With Cristiano Da Matta, Bruno Junqueira and Paul Tracy Merrill Cain: We'll get started with our top-three press conference following today's provisional qualifying for the Molson Indy here in Toronto. We'll start out first with...

An Interview With Cristiano Da Matta, Bruno Junqueira and Paul Tracy

Merrill Cain: We'll get started with our top-three press conference following today's provisional qualifying for the Molson Indy here in Toronto.

We'll start out first with our third place qualifier today Paul Tracy, driver of the #26 KOOL Honda/Lola Bridgestone, he qualified third with a lap of 58.953 seconds; that's a speed of 107.170 miles per hour. Paul is the 1993 winner of the Molson Indy Toronto, and he's already earned one front-row starting spot this season, qualifying second in Milwaukee, in a race he would go on to win just a few weeks ago.

Paul, obviously a very exciting session for you. You turned a quick lap very, very late in the session and had to be very satisfying to you to see you jump up to third place on the grid.

Paul Tracy: It was a good lap. I had to wait until later in the run on the tires. I feel that we can do a lot better. There was a lot of traffic out there, and I was kind of the first one to leave the pit. So, as I was up to speed, my first and second lap I encountered a bunch of guys that came out of the pits and that kind of took the best off the tires. So I had to go a lap slow and wait to get a gap and then my last two laps were quick to the checkered flag.

So I'm very happy with the job Team KOOL Green did today. It's our first time on a street course with a Lola. We ran a Reynard at Long Beach, the last time we were at a street course, so we really didn't know where we were going to start here with set up. We just kind of guessed at it, and the car was pretty good.

So we just need to improve it, and if I can get the best out of it tomorrow in qualifying and catch the lap just right without any traffic, I think we can do better.

Merrill Cain: You threw us for a bit of a loop. We're supposed to have a press conference following, and certainly something I'm sure will crop up. You've faced a lot of pressure in the last couple of weeks because of the Indy 500 decision. You obviously have a lot of pressure on you this week coming home to Toronto. What has that been like for you, and does what you've been through in the last couple of weeks make that seem minuscule?

Paul Tracy: It's something I try not to put a lot of attention to because it was out of my control. I guess the only way that I can put it is that when it comes time to do my job, I go out and do my job the best that I can, and that kind of takes your mind off of it.

It's in the times when I have down time when I'm at home that I think about things, the things that happened in Indianapolis this year. You think you've won the race, but you ask yourself, 'why are these things happening?'

So it's frustrating because this is a sport and it started out as a sport to race head-to-head against other guys. We raced head-to-head on the track, and I feel that I won the race, but the political race side of it, we were not able to win, and that's frustrating, I think for [Team KOOL Green owner] Barry [Green] and I think it's frustrating for a lot of the fans that it's come down to politics.

It's sad for the sport and it's sad for open-wheel racing, and I think this just shows how deep the gap is between IRL and CART. It's so wide now that it's frustrating.

Merrill Cain: We move now to Bruno Junqueira, who qualified second today in the #4 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He was second in the provisional grid with a time of 58.724 seconds; that's a speed of 107.588 miles per hour. He has strung together a streak of six-consecutive top-five qualifying sessions, and he has finished second to Cristiano da Matta in each of his last two events. Also with Kenny Brack's performance, it marks the sixth time in the last seven races Team Target has qualified two cars inside the top five.

Bruno, obviously a good run for you today and the team, and on a street course where you guys are looking to score some points.

Bruno Junqueira: Yeah, I think we had a good run, but not good enough. This guy to my right [da Matta], I hope that he will be as slow as he was getting here for the press conference. (Laughter).

But I think Team Target did a very good job. I think the car is good. It's a big change for the second setup and we can improve some things. With Cristiano, there were corrections I had to make to improve but couldn't. I think we have to work harder to catch him. Still Paul [Tracy] and all of the guys are really fast as well. We'll see if we can get the pole tomorrow, because starting the front here is very important.

Merrill Cain: We are joined now by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Havoline Toyota/ Lola/Bridgestone. He continues his streak as the hottest driver in Champ Car racing, as he looks to tie the series record if he can take his fourth-straight win this weekend. He wins the provisional pole today with a top lap of 58.487 seconds; that's a speed of 109.02 miles per hour. It ensures him a front-row starting spot; that's his fourth front-row starting spot of the season, and it gives him another championship point widening his lead to 26 points over Bruno in the championship hunt.

As we were talking a little bit on pit lane there, you turned your fast lap relatively early in the session. You came in for a little bit and went back out, and you may have regretted that decision just a little bit.

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, we knew that the [Target Chip] Ganassi [Racing] and Team KOOL Green cars were running pretty fast, and, also, Christian [Fittipaldi] my teammate was very, very fast. So I was 100% sure that people were going to improve on the lap time after my first run. So, it was the right thing to do. Nobody, myself included, thought that I was going to make a mistake. But it happens sometimes. Of course, to have to try very hard every time in qualifying because it's such a competitive field. I think it's actually my first incident of the season, so it's not too bad.

Merrill Cain: Couple quick notes on Toyota. Toyota's one, two, finish in qualifying marks the fifth time in a row the two Toyota power cars have topped the qualifying sheets for the last three qualifying road course sessions, and with today's provisional pole, Cristiano da Matta earned his CART-high fifth qualifying point this season.

Let's open it up to questions.

Q: What happened in the incident?

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, I just went too deep. I thought I was going to make it, but I actually locked the rear wheels a little bit. And it caught me when I was downshifting; so I had only one hand on the steering wheel and it happened very quickly. If I had both hands on the steering wheel, I would have had the chance to catch it, but with one hand, not a chance.

Q: How are you going to catch Cristiano in the midst of this run?

Bruno Junqueira: I'm thinking maybe to lock him in the bathroom. If I knew how to on the track, I would be doing that. Cristiano has been good. But I think there's one thing I have learned from last year. I was struggling a lot because I didn't know the tracks. I wasn't getting really consistent results. This year, so far, I have been fast on every single race track, street or oval. I'm trying to be in the top-three, top-five, and win races. We'll wait and see if Cristiano is going to scramble a little bit, I don't know.

Q: What about the possibility of the Formula 1 deal?

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, I still have a contract with Newman/Haas for next year. I think right now there is a small possibility, but I have not heard anything back. But I am very happy with Newman/Haas. Especially with the cars they have been giving me this year. I'm even happier.

Right now, it's too early to say. To be honest, I'm not even thinking about that right now. I'm just concentrating on the CART Championship. I don't know, it's just too early to say.

I think looking at me right now, they are never going to look at me because I don't think I can do a lot better than what I am doing right now. So I am pretty much happy with the results I've got so far. I don't think it can get much better for me.

Bruno Junqueira: No, I don't think so. I think you are kind of a character. (Laughs).

Q: Was it crucial for you to get off in a safe haven to keep your fast time?

Cristiano Da Matta: Yeah, it was. Actually, I saw the left front corner was completely gone, and after that, I was driving the car, and the car caught some piece off [Mario] Dominguez' front wing that was on the track. So there was a big noise coming from underneath the car. And, of course, I did not see that I had caught Mario's front wing.

So I'm just driving this car, but I have to get this thing out of the track. I made it all the way to the end and then I just saw there was his front wing and I didn't think there was much damage on my car. Actually, my car looks fine, but I didn't get a proper look. I still have to wait on the crew to see what happens, really.

But I think after a quick look, it was just the left, front corner. So it was not too bad.

Merrill Cain: Just to clarify that rule. Because Cristiano did make it to a safe haven, he avoided bringing out the red flag and thereby losing his fast lap. So good move on Cristiano's part.

Q: Paul, you've had winning streaks like Cristiano's before, what can you do to contend?

Paul Tracy: I think Bruno was telling me walking up the stairs, he's like, "What am I going to do"? I said, hey, the guy is confident right now. The team is good, obviously. They are not making mistakes. They are giving him a car every week that he can be confident in and he's not making mistakes and he's driving and getting the most out of it.

When you have those runs, the longer you can keep them going, the better, but they can stop all of a sudden so you just have keep pushing yourself to the limit and pushing your team to the limit to try to bridge the gap. Hopefully the ball is going to come towards you. And when you have that opportunity, you've got to make the most of it.

Q: What can you do to slow Cristiano down?

Paul Tracy:  I tried to pay his crew.  I have 20 bucks to keep the wheel
loose, but they said it's not enough.  (Laughter).  I'd offer a million
but I got it stolen from me from Tony.  (Laughter).

Q: Why do you think we've seen problems with wheels staying on the cars recently Paul?

Paul Tracy: I think it's partly, and I'm not blaming Lola, but it's partly a problem with the car. It only has one locking pin and one is not enough. They have made stronger ones, but Reynard has two on it and you never really saw that problem with a Reynard. I think that they are addressing the problem. But these things take time with 19 cars or 18 cars out there and everybody has two cars. And it's a spindle, so it's not an easy part to make. You've got 18 sets of two cars each, you've got 18 guys and that's a lot of spindles to make. It's not an easy fix. It's not something that you can just fix tomorrow. It's something that takes time.

I guess now it's so competitive that the teams are rushing. They are trying to be as fast as they can, and if the wheel is not really tight, it's going to come off.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta