An interview with Cristiano da Matta Paul Tracy Bruno Junqueira Merrill Cain: We'll get started with our top-three press conference following qualifying for tomorrow's Molson Indy Toronto. We start off first with Bruno Junqueira, driver of...
An interview with
Cristiano da Matta
Merrill Cain: We'll get started with our top-three press conference following qualifying for tomorrow's Molson Indy Toronto. We start off first with Bruno Junqueira, driver of the #4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, he qualified third today using his very last lap to post a time of 58.256 seconds at the speed of 108.452 miles per hour. He overcame an engine problem that kept him in the pits for half of the session. He posted his second consecutive top-five qualifying spot and he has not qualified worse than sevenths all year long.
Can you talk about the difficulties you had early and how you transformed that into such a hot lap late?
Bruno Junqueira: Unfortunately, I had my first crash in the car this year. I was on a very hot lap and I saw that I was 0.250-seconds faster than yesterday and I got a little bit excited. I thought I just spun, but unfortunately I hit the wall a little bit and damaged the suspension. The people put some foam on the car. They thought the car could go, I don't know. But Team Target did a very good job to fix the car. They brought the car in with almost 20 minutes to go. So then I went out. I thought the engine had no power, it made a strange noise and so I stopped. I think that Toyota did a very good job because it wasn't their fault - it was an electronic problem with the foam, and you have to change all of the electronic parts on the engine.
I don't know if my time would be good or not because I thought the people were going faster than my time yesterday I hoped that I would have time to get back and the engine would be good. With five minutes ago, I came back and the engine was working well.
I didn't have the best setup, or the electronic setups and the map and everything. I try to adjust a little bit and improve. I got in a little bit of traffic and I was adjusting the engine, as well. I got on a good lap and got traffic, and then more traffic again. Then on my last lap, I already eight laps run and the tires were not in the best condition anymore. At that point, I said I must improve and I just push with everything that I could. The tires weren't that good, but the car was really good and it put me in third place on the grid.
Yesterday, I was not happy with second position, but today I am really happy with the third. (Laughter).
Merrill Cain: Paul Tracy qualified second this afternoon, driver of the #26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone starts second tomorrow after posting a lap of 58.172 seconds; that's a speed of 108.609 miles per hour. It matches his best qualifying effort of the season. He also qualified second at Milwaukee where he went on to win.
I guess second really is the key for you, but second seems to be a magical position for you: Your starting point is also best on a road or street course since the Vancouver race in the year 2000. You also started second there and you went on to win that race, as well. I know it was frustrating for you, but do you feel pretty good about the car that you have tomorrow.
Paul Tracy: For sure. It seems Cristiano is responding. Every time someone raises the bar, he's able to respond to it.
I'm very happy with the job that our team did today. It's better than what we can expect. I was hoping to stay in the top-five in the session today. So really, because we've had such limited time with the Lola and it's the first street course that we've ever run with the car.
So we're trying to compete against [Target Chip] Ganassi [Racing] and Newman/Haas [Racing], and they are both exceptional teams that have been running Lolas for three years. So they understand the car very well and they understand how the car reacts in conditions. I'm extremely happy with how Team KOOL Green has bridged that gap of experience in three races - basically, it's pretty exceptional. Really, the credit goes to them. They really have worked hard. And I was able to put the lap together. Almost, but not close enough.
Merrill Cain: We await Cristiano da Matta, who is making his way up to the press room after doing interviews in the pit lane.
Q: Paul, you went off into the run-off spot a couple of times, could you tell us what was going on there?
Paul Tracy: You've really got to just attack on the first set of tires. I do a slow warm-up lap and a medium warm-up lap and I try to do the time on the third lap. Both times, I just tried too hard.
And the first set of tires, I locked up the brakes at the end of the straightaway and I almost got into the tires, but I got it stopped and I was able to back up and get going, and then do a good time after that.
Then the second set of tires, it was the same thing. I set myself up to do the time. And typically, I'm not the greatest of qualifiers. Some guys can just do it on one lap, and it usually takes me three or four to get it going. By that time, the tires are done. But I'm trying to get it on the first flying lap and I seem to always make a mistake. I either don't do a good time or go in the run-off.
On the second set of tires, again, I had the tires in, and I was going for it and I locked up a rear tire on the entry and had to go into the Turn 1 run-off and then go through the back and out. My time came on like the fifth and sixth lap, which is not best for the tires, but that's life.
Q: Why is that a problem for you?
Paul Tracy: I don't know. It's just something that I've never really been that good at. [Teammate] Dario [Franchitti] is very good at qualifying, and obviously Cristiano and Bruno are good at it. Just being able to time the tires as they come up to the temperature and the pressure right at the right moment and then put the lap together right at that time - I've never really been that good at. It takes me like three or four laps to build up to it.
But, we're getting there and learning the car more. When it all comes together, it happens, but it just never seems to come very often for me on the right lap.
Q: Anyone with timing and scoring could see that you were P-1 for a little bit. Did you know that?
Paul Tracy: Well, I had finished my fast lap and I actually went for one more lap. I went P-1 and went for one more lap and I was a couple hundredths slower on my second lap. So, I was two thirds of the way around the track when they radioed me. The checkered was out and Cristiano went by on the checkered and did the time. So I was about half or two-thirds of the way around the track when he went P-1 when I was done; so I was going slow.
Q: So there you ran out of time?
Paul Tracy: Plus my laps were up, too.
Q: Can both of you comment about what it's going to take to beat Cristiano here tomorrow?
Bruno Junqueira: Finish in front of him. (Laughter).
Paul Tracy: Obviously, he's driving the best right now, and the team is the best right now, if you look at their results over the last half of the year.
But, somebody is going to come along and challenge them. And you have to be able to challenge throughout the whole complete distance of a race, not just for one stint or a couple of laps. He really has not had a lot of pressure on him for a whole race distance. So he's been able to drive within himself, and be consistent and not make mistakes. But you have to be able to push hard all the time to cause someone to make a mistake, and he has not had that yet.
Merrill Cain: We are joined by our polesitter, driver Cristiano da Matta. He wins his third pole of the season, the third of his career with a lap of 58.135 seconds, that's a speed of 108.678 miles per hour.
Cristiano has won three of the last four pole positions in the CART FedEx Championship Series and has started on the front row for four of last eight races this season. He earns another championship point with his effort today and he widens his lead over Bruno in the point standings to 27 points now. His lead now stands 97 points to 70 points.
Talk about your run today. Obviously, you battled with Paul for much of the session. He jumped up to the top of the charts, with you right back on his tail. Interestingly you said that you didn't know; that you were just going for it as much as you could.
Cristiano da Matta: That's the way I like it. I always ask them [the crew] not to talk on the radio because I'm always trying to get everything I can out of the car. If they tell me there's something ahead of me, there's nothing I can do more than what I can do, anyway.
Yeah, I didn't know. Only after the session they told me that it that Paul was very close and Bruno was very close, too. We exchanged on P-1.
For me it was a very smooth session. I had both runs with no traffic, nothing. It was just perfect. I could not ask for anything better than that.
Q: Cristiano, last week you talked about being on a roll here. You had a week to think about it, and now you're still on the pole. Any special discussions with the team to keep it up, or watch out for these guys? What's going on?
Cristiano da Matta: Of course, our objective is to try to keep it up. There's something good going on. Of course, the car is running well. We're starting in the front. So we have a very good possibility to fight for the race win. There's no reason why we're going to give up on trying to fight for the race win.
So, it's just pretty much normal procedure going into the race. Still, it's the eighth race of our championship. So it's very early to adopt either a very aggressive strategy or a very conservative strategy.
Q: Cristiano, yesterday Paul talked about, he's been on streaks before, and Bruno was on one. Have you ever had this feeling before in racing? Just talk about what kind of confidence you have driving a race car right now.
Cristiano da Matta: Of course, winning the poles, everything, the results, only help you on that. I think to be a successful driver, you have to be confident, even when you go through bad times. I think right now when you are on the top and you are winning races and everything it's very easy to be confident. The problem is when you are down, that's when it matters. That's the most difficult part of it.
Of course, right now, I am very confident, but it's very easy for me to be confident the way everything is going.
Q: How has the car performed up to this point?
Cristiano da Matta: First, I know I have a very well set-up car, and the car performance is very good, too. So I know that I'm going to go out and the car is going to perform. So it's just one less worry that you have in your head when you are just concentrating on driving. Maybe that's one of the reasons why you can't get 100% out of the equipment all of the time because you are just not as worried about your car, the problems and everything. There's probably a guy who is running in P-15 who has all kind of oversteer or understeer. For me, the car was very well balanced. When I'm inside the car I concentrate on the driving the whole time.
Q: Being number two, you've probably got the best shot at attaching Cristiano there before the first corner. Is that the best opportunity to get in front of him?
Paul Tracy: No. This is a track you can't pass on and this is a track where opportunities present themselves here. It's a very slippery track. If we don't get in front in the first corner, then we just have to try to keep the pace and apply pressure.
It's very easy to make a mistake here and go on the run-off or slide into the tires. Real easy. In the braking zone, they are quite bumpy and if you miss the braking spot by five feet, then you can't stop at all. So you've just got to apply as much pressure as you can.
But our main objective is to get in the points where we want to be. We need to start building some momentum with the team and getting points, so we need to finish the race. And here, if we're in a position where we can win, then we are going to go for it.
We need to get everybody through the first corner because we don't have the car count we want and everybody needs to get through the first corner, like last week. I think that's what needs to be on everybody's minds at the start tomorrow.
Q: Bruno and Cristiano, last week you did a Renaldo haircut. I haven't seen Tony [Kanaan], but Christian [Fittipaldi] and you two just evened it out. Was that a group decision? Why did you stop honoring the win in the World Cup?
Cristiano da Matta: I think nobody had enough of an attitude to keep it on. (Laughter) For me, at least, that was my problem.
Bruno Junqueira: I was coming back from Chicago and I stopped in a restaurant to eat and the customers were looking at me. The next day, I just shaved it. (Laughs). I am already too ugly to be like this, you know. Why make it worse. (Laughter).
Q: Paul, if you beat these guys tomorrow, are you going to shave your head?
Paul Tracy: I'm already losing all my hair. (Laughter). If I start to lose my hair like this guy [da Matta] and my hair line started up here. I would just shave my head bald.