CART Media Conference
February 25, 1997
MIKE ZIZZO: Our next guest is going to be Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing. Christian finished fifth in the Championship last season on the strength of 13 top 10 finishes in 16 events, including a career best time second at Detroit. He will debut the new Swift chassis this week at the Marlboro Grand Prix in Miami. He drives the No. 11 K-Mart Budweiser Swift Ford. Christian, thanks for joining us.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Hi, guys.
MIKE ZIZZO: We have got such a large crew, we are just going to open it up to questions.
Q. Christian, how do you see the cars development through these early stages of the season?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think up to now it went very good. To be quite honest with you, I don't think that we are at the point that we really wanted to be, like, if we were like 100% ready, but we are pretty confident and I am sure that it is going to come like all the times that the car has gone to the track, it has gone, I would say, pretty quick considering the amounts of times that we ran the car. Like we didn't run as much as we would like to run and maybe we are not in a situation like in a perfect spot at the moment, but I think that we are pretty much like about 90%. And, I am sure that after about two or three races it will definitely come and it is going to grow more.
Q. Is it 90% on ovals and road circuits or would you score it a little differently between the two?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, that is a good question. But, I would say that at the moment it is better on the ovals than it is on the road circuits. I think we have to test a little bit more on the road circuits and luckily enough, ever since the car went to the oval the first time, it ran very, very strong, so we didn't have the same problems on the ovals as we did on the road courses.
Q. First question I have regarding new technology, some fellows up here come up with a new chassis system something about composite material made of PVC VCR tubing in a boron gas. It is supposedly 15 percent lighter than current frames. I am wondering if your team was experimenting with that at all?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: As far as I know, no, we are not doing any testing with that. But I think that if you ask the Swift people, maybe they will be able to answer that question a little bit better for you. But, as far as I know, no, we are not testing for that.
Q. The other question, with NASCAR gaining popularity as it is from a purely sponsorship standpoint, NASCAR seems to have more room for sponsorship logos than in IndyCar. Does that hinder you folks at all?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think it is two different types of racing, two different types of crowds also. There is no doubt that NASCAR the last two, three years they have grown a lot and I think that they have like a lot of good drivers into it, a lot of people that have been running for like various years and everything, and I think that at the moment, there is no doubt that NASCAR is very, very strong. IndyCar is, in a way, like, the racing is a little bit different. We try to run a little bit on ovals, road courses, also a lot of maybe street courses, so, it is a different kind of racing from NASCAR. And, maybe, it is harder for the fan to understand, maybe IndyCar Racing a little bit more, than NASCAR because NASCAR you basically are running with the car that you can drive as soon as the race is over. Like you can have exactly -- or, not exactly, but pretty much the same car that the people are racing in IndyCars. It is a lot different. Technology is a lot more, a lot bigger, and it is hard for people to understand the amount of effort that we put over the winter and also in testing so make the IndyCars run as quick as possible.
Q. Christian I heard you at the beginning of the conversation talking about what you felt towards this season and I am thinking back to right after Homestead you and I spoke and you sounded extremely confident. Did I misread something? You don't sound as confident as you did about three weeks ago.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. I am still extremely confident. I just don't think like if you ask me like a different question, okay, if you ask me do you think you guys did enough testing and do you think everything is under control and -- no, I am going to be honest with you, like it is not a 100% situation. Maybe it is almost there, but at the moment, it is not a 100% situation. Things ran a little bit late, but I am very confident. I think that we are going to get the job done and I am sure that the car is going to be quick already this week and then after that, in my opinion, it is going to grow even more and more and more. But, as far as I am concerned, we didn't manage to equal the times that, for example, that Vasser did, so I don't think that at the moment we are on the same level as those guys. I am pretty sure that we are going to get there because the car is going to grow a lot and unfortunately, the fact that we didn't run a lot, that wasn't so good for us?
Q. What is it about the program that continues your confidence level to be high?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It is -- with the little amount of running that we did, everywhere that we went, the car handled very, very good and we basically did very small changes and it was like pretty quick all the time. Maybe it wasn't like the quickest car out there, but it was very comfortable to drive and it was like pretty quick out there, so I think on that point of view, that was like very, very good for us. So it is not that we went to the track and we really had to squeeze to get some time out of the car and we had to change the car completely around which basically we didn't. And, so I think that the car, like the nature of the car is already very good.
Q. Christian, how many of these cars do you have built and ready to go right now?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: We have four cars built and ready to go.
Q. In testing, from what I had heard, there were times when you really didn't have that many available. Did that, in a way, force you not to bring the car to its limits and not really explore maybe as fast as it can go because you didn't want to bend one?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: In a way, yes. I have to agree perfectly with you, like, obviously, when you are a little bit in a hold, or you are lacking a little bit of like cars and extra material and everything, you have to be a little bit more careful because you basically can't afford just to stuff a car into the wall and then create another bigger problem. So in some ways like we had to hold a little bit, but I think that is part of maybe the like a big -- like a situation where we unfortunately couldn't run enough and if we had enough running and if the cars were ready a little bit earlier and if we had by now, like for example, five cars I am pretty sure that it would have been like a little bit different. But, still, as I said before, I am very confident and what gives me the most amount of confidence is that every time that the car has gone to the track, it has gone very, very quick.
Q. Have you had a chance recently to take a look at the track at Rio and if so, how is it coming as far as changes are concerned?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, I haven't gone to Rio personally. I was going to go, but in the end I had to stay here because we ran at Homestead for an extra day and it was exactly the days that I was going down to Rio. Kirk went down there. He wrote a 25-page report on the real track. And, as far as safety is concerned, I think like the big difference from last year to this season is that this year we are basically going to run with a tire barrier around the outside of Turn 1 and Turn 4. The track is going to be a little bit wider into Turn 1 and exactly the same in Turn 4, but at least, like we are going to have the tires on the outside of the track in Turn 1 and Turn 4.
Q. Some new fans coming into the sport wonder why there aren't tire barriers or some other soft-type barrier around an oval track. Could you explain that to the fans?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, basically what we did is we treated the real oval as almost like a normal road course because the speeds that the cars is doing in the middle of Turn 1 and Turn 4, is the same speed as we go like on a normal road course or on a street course. So, we try to approach the safety issue exactly the same and we knew we needed some tires on the outside of the corner because as we are going like through the turn at about 120 miles an hour, 130 maximum, if we hit the wall, it is better for you to hit the wall -- it is better for you to hit the tires instead of going straight into the -- into a place with no tires. And the big difference I would say compared to a quick oval like, for example, Michigan, is that when you hit the wall there, you don't want to have anything basically grabbing on the car because you are going at such high speeds that when you hit the wall, you want to make the car solid as maximum as possible. And the tire can help you because it feels soft when you hit the wall. But, on the other sense, it can also grab the car pretty heavily and that could eventually create other problems. So, when we go to an oval like Rio, we want to have the tires there. But, when we go to a place like basically Michigan, we want to run it as smooth as possible.
Q. Just a follow-up to some of the safety questions. When these things are discussed in the off-season about adding tires to the outside of turns and adding padding to the cockpit, how much driver input is there or is it team--
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think at the moment we have a lot more driver input on the tracks, a little bit less on the cars. I think on the cars, like the engineers are a lot more involved in that. The driver has a little bit of an input on the car. But, in my opinion, it is not as big as on the tracks. And, I think that we should work together as maximum as possible because there are some things that only the drivers can experience and they have to try and expose, like expose or they have to try and pass their feelings as maximum as possible as far as how it is when you run into a wall or how it is when you run into like tires and everything. So, in a way, I think we should try and work together as maximum as possible. But, I am pretty happy with the changes that we did on the tracks and I think that we are going the right way.
Q. This is kind of following up something Jimmy talked about. He talked about how the decrease in down-force forced you to drive the car a little -- more made it a little trickier to handle. How do you see the changes?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, yeah, it is definitely a lot more trickier than last year. I think the car is more sensitive this year; especially if you run at Homestead or like one on a day which is very, very windy, it can create a little bit of problems. And, you don't want to run in that place with a lot of wind. So, the fact that we have less down-force, I think the car is a lot more sensitive to run than it was last year. But at the same time, the tires are so much better, the engines are so much better also that we are basically doing exactly the same times that we were doing at the end of last season, or at the end of last year's race, I would say. So, maybe it is a little bit more drivable, the car, but at the same time, it is not as consistent and it is not as easy as it was last year. Especially when it is windy and especially when you are running right behind another car.
Q. What will be the key factor in posting your first CART victory?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: That is a good question. I wish I knew that because two of them slipped out of my hands big-time last year and, I don't know. I think you have to have a little bit of luck and maybe luck wasn't on my side in Elkhart. On the other race, I have to admit that I made a mistake about 3, 4 laps to the end and I basically had to pay for it. Luckily enough, at least it was another car from our team that managed to win that race. So, it wasn't that bad after all, but I think IndyCars -- I think CART at the moment, it is so competitive that you have to have everything working perfectly on your side for you to score a victory. I think the car has to work perfectly. The driver definitely has to do a great job and when you come for the pit stops, everything has to go 100% and I would even say that you have to have a little bit of luck. When you manage to put everything together, then definitely you are going to be able to score and unfortunately I think that in a couple of situations last year, I didn't manage to put everything together and I didn't score. But, I am hungry as I have never been before.
Q. I was wondering about the development of the soft chassis. With the break after Homestead, how intense is your testing schedule going to be?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, we are going to Firebird. I am driving at Firebird for three days the weekend after Homestead. Then Michael is going to Seabring about ten days later. And, then he is running the car also for three, four days. So, before Australia we have about six, seven days of road course testing, which I think definitely is going to help us a lot for the first race and then basically we have to pack everything and send the cars over. But, I think that with these two tests that we are going to do, is definitely going to help us a lot and if we were running a road course as the first race, it would be a lot harder for us than running on the oval. So, in a way, we are happy to be here at Homestead for the first race.
Q. I was wondering, what advantage, if any, you will have driving to work this weekend from your new Key Biscayne home?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Advantage..... I don't know. Maybe the advantage of sleeping in my bed when I come back in the evening. But, I don't think that there is any big advantage. It is obviously very nice to be able to come back home at the end of the day. But at the same time, what really counts is the race on Sunday. It doesn't really matter if you are racing in Miami, in Rio, or like wherever we are racing, like you want to try and go well in all the races and as far as I am concerned, when the flag drops on Sunday as long as I go well in the race I could be even sleeping underneath a bridge.
Q. Christian, last year you guys had a dispute going with the IRL. This year that stuff is pretty much solved. Does that make it any easier entering into this racing season for you guys?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I really think that it doesn't really make a difference at least on the driver's point of view. Maybe for the fans and the sponsors it is a little bit harder because obviously everyone would love that both series would join together, so we can have something a lot stronger. But, on the driver's point of view, like I think that CART is very competitive at the moment and I think that this season, it's going to be even tougher than last year which definitely was very nice for the fans because we had a lot of races which were really, really good. And, I think this season, it is going to be even better. At the moment, I am only thinking on the stuff I am doing and only viewing all the issues of CART and obviously, I wish the other series all the best. And, I think that if we have, in a way, at least some good racing, as we can have both series running together, if we have some good racing on both ends, it is going to be great for all the fans.
Q. In past years the Indy 500 was kind of the pinnacle race. Is there a particular race this year that you are going to maybe be a little bit geared up for out of the series?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Maybe I think on a driver's point of view, on my point of view, I would say that the most important race is definitely is going to be Rio and Saint Louis, Rio because I come from the country there and Saint Louis because of my sponsor. I am running the red Budweiser car and obviously in Saint Louis we are in Bud Town and it is definitely going to be a great event. So, I think that the most important races for me is going to be Saint Louis, Rio, also I would say when we go down to the K-Mart City and Ford, I think those races also are going to be very important. Thanks a lot guys. I hope so see you all on Saturday and Sunday.
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