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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Christian Fittipaldi
August 10, 1999


T.E. McHALE: We are pleased to welcome Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing who has agreed to give us a few minutes this afternoon while he continues to recuperate from a subdural hematoma sustained in an August 2nd testing accident at Gateway International Raceway. Good afternoon, Christian. We are glad to have you join us today.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you. Hello, everyone, and I am happy to be with all you guys.

T.E. McHALE: Thanks, again, Christian. Christian, the driver of the No. 11 Big Kmart Ford Swift was in the midst of a career year when he had the accident having claimed his first victory and pole position of the FedEx Championship Series career at Road America and Rio de Janeiro respectively. He stood fourth in the series with 101 points at the time of his injury and through the first 12 rounds of the Championship was leading the series in both laps completed with 1,816 of a possible 1,818 and miles completed with 2,905.426 of a possible 2,909.638. Christian's recovery is progressing well and he is expected to return to FedEx Championship Series competition sometime this season, although an exact date has not been set. At this point we are going to open it up to questions for Christian.

Q. Are you feeling better?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, I am a lot better.

Q. Emotionally how do you feel?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, very sad and very happy. Sad because of everything that was happening with me like this season - everything was going really well. And very happy on the other hand because the danger, it could have been a lot worse and maybe I couldn't even be here with you guys speaking today. So it goes both ways. It is real strange and at some stages it is real happy and at sometimes it is very, very bad.

Q. Do you draw back on your earlier injury as far as learning how to be patient to recover and not do things and to have the motivation to recover?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, in a way, no, because what I suffered then was completely different to this - was more of a mechanical break and it was more of getting the leg back together again; welding it in one piece and being able to sustain all the car -- maybe like all the car forces. And what I have right now is -- in a way is something beyond my control. It is something that only time will make me get better.

Q. Finally, at what point do you stand there and go, oh Lord, why me?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think that everything there is a reason in life. If God wanted it to be this way, maybe he is showing me some other things in life or maybe he is preparing me like for my future. I honestly do believe that it had to be this way. I am sure that the day I was testing I was doing everything correct and the team had a very competitive car for me, running over there and no one was really working in a bad way so I really do believe that there are bad things that come for good in life.

Q. Would you say this has been a tough year for drivers in CART? I mean, injury-wise, is it kind of -- from what you have seen, is it kind of adding up here a little bit?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It is a difficult -- a little bit difficult to comment on that. I am really only worried about myself right now and obviously what happened to me wasn't in a perfect timing situation. But as far as we are concerned, I think we should try and improve the safety in general - like don't ask me what we have to do - but just try to make the racing cars safer and make the race tracks a lot safer; that would be a lot better for everyone.

Q. You might not be back for a while; at least this year - next several races, anyway. What do you see unfolding right now in this points race? Dario has got the lead. Do you see a big swing coming now or what do you see happening over the next several races?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think there are a couple of next tracks that will definitely favor maybe Dario and I think that he has a small advantage. Now we will have to see how Juan works like under pressure. We always saw how he did work which was very, very good, with no pressure at all. Now we see how he is going to react under pressure. I tell you, it is something completely different. But nevertheless, both guys that are up there are two excellent drivers and whoever wins like the whole series is -- definitely the series is going to be in very good hands.

Q. You and Michael, I mean, really seem to be coming to grips not only with the chassis, but the tire change was a bigger deal than some people realized. Is that the real thing too now you, really, were coming to grips with the car and the tires that is so disheartening thing for you right now?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yes, definitely it was like it was a lot harder for us in the beginning of the season; especially after we went to Long Beach, we thought that we were going to be really, really competitive at Long Beach and we were not very competitive at Long Beach. Then we went back home and we said, ooh, we need to do serious homework over here. We started working on it and we got a lot better during all of the road courses and all of the street courses and it is very, very sad, at least in my case that I am not going to be able to take part in all the other events because like the whole team and the whole system of how we were working; how we were working with the tires and setting up the car was getting a lot better. And a lot better by every race.

Q. I got a couple for you. I know yours and Fernando's were different injuries. Are you competing for the cuter nurses or what?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Definitely no and they were two complete different injuries and I don't want to fall into any competition in that sense.

Q. I got two serious questions. Do you remember anything about the accident at Gateway?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. Nothing. I only remembered when I opened my eyes in the hospital, believe it or not. I don't remember nothing at all. If someone told me I had had an accident in Turn 3 instead of Turn 1, I would honestly believe you.

Q. I got a serious question for you: There were some rumors going around Cathy kind of knocked them down, that you were thinking about retiring because of this accident. Maybe you could put your own words on the record.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, no, that is far from like -- they are big rumors. I don't know who really started them. That never went through my mind and the day I start thinking seriously on that and the day it starts going really serious through my mind, I won't have any problems in taking that step and saying that is it, guys, I am quitting today and I had enough. Thank you very much. And hope to see you soon in the near future. But definitely it is not the time for me yet.

Q. Was the team able to tell anything from the car as to what might have caused the crash or was it so demolished that they couldn't tell?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: What maybe caused the accident was a malfunction in the gear shift. I went into Turn 1, I went from fifth gear to fourth gear and apparently what happened I was having similar problems to that in the prior laps to my shunt and what happened is fourth gear didn't really engage. It took a little bit longer than what I was really, really thinking that it would take when I was in the car. And suddenly when it engaged, it basically locked both my rear wheels and then the car spun very, very quick.

Q. There have been a number of those recently, well not recently - in the past year or two. Is that something that is more a hardware problem or is it in the electronics, do you think?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It is difficult to answer. But in our case it could have been sort of a hardware problem because we were trying a new shift that is completely different from what we have been running this season. But it is still stages (inaudible) to say a little bit - what I am apparently not completely in favor of is the downshifting on the ovals, like, especially when you are coming from a very high speed to a very low speed which is the case in St. Louis, we are at the end of the straight about 210 miles an hour around and we are going into Turn 1 about 140 miles an hour so we definitely have to go down one gear and sometimes if we get caught up in a problem like this, it can really maybe result into a big heavy accident.

Q. I think the same thing has been happening at Motegi as well. I heard that you were not really able to exercise it basically, you just have to wait now until everything heals up; is that correct?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, that is correct. Actually I have a small constant small headache like the whole day and as soon as I move my head to the right and to the left, it hurts a little bit. Basically I am going to try and go swimming a little bit further on like this week, a little bit towards the end of the week and then start from there. But I am not really worried with my exercise right now. I am really worried in myself getting better as quick as possible and then I am pretty sure that all of the exercise will come naturally.

Q. I think I speak for everybody that we are all glad to hear that you are on the mend. Before the accident you were testing a new Ford engine there, how did it feel?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It felt very good. Vibration-wise it felt better than this one that we are running nowadays. It vibrated a little bit less. Power-wise, not a big different because obviously it wasn't the latest and greatest spec that we were running over there as it was the first time that we were running the engine, but there were a couple of things on the engine that really surprised me and really made me very, very happy when I was in the car driving because it was a brand new engine, first time on the track and we had managed to run apparently 80, 90 miles completely trouble-free.

Q. They had announced that it was going to be probably eight weeks which puts you around Houston as a target for you to come back. Is that realistic now or do you think it might be sooner?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Realistically speaking, I don't think it is going to be any sooner than that. I think it is going to be around that. It is going to happen around Houston and Surfers. Hopefully around Houston because it will be earlier; especially because I know the track and I like the track very much over there. And so then I can get a shot at the street courses before I go to the last race of the year.

Q. Will you be starting to attend any of the races, doing any public relations things before that or just going to wait until Houston?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I am going to start testing when we are about a week to two weeks prior to my first race and then I will have to go through a couple of tests in the car and that working out everything okay, then I will have to work with a couple of tests with the doctors also outside of the car. And hopefully we won't have a problem with those and then I will be ready to drive the racing car for my first race back again.

Q. I just like to echo what everybody else has said: We are really glad that you are here talking to us today and hope that you are going to get back as soon as you can. I guess what I'd like to ask you is when you the leg injury, you had the physical therapy and the things to work on to come back. You mentioned earlier about how this is different; that you basically have to sit and mend. How hard is it to not be active and how do you fill your time? Do you get ansy, bored? Just tell me a little bit about how you are feeling.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, sometimes you do get bored. Like I will give you a perfect example of that. Last week I left the hospital on Thursday and then I went back home. Then I felt very sleepy and then I slept the whole afternoon from two o'clock in the afternoon until 7. I woke up, eight something; then I slept again until the next day. You just feel sleepy during the day. You have a constant small headache during the day. This morning I woke up with a small headache and I woke up, I had breakfast, after about 45 minutes I went back to sleep again. Then I slept for another three hours. Then I woke up again. But it is strange because it is different from the leg - I think the leg you had more control over it. You knew exactly when the leg was going to hurt; when it wasn't going to hurt; when it was hurting; what did you have to do in order to make it hurt less and right now, it seems that sometimes I am a little bit out of control and I don't like that feeling.

Q. The reconciliation talk is in the air again that something is going to be happening here between IRL and CART soon. The rumors are about a 24 to 26 race schedule. Just things flying all over. Can you give me your opinion on would you like to see the reconciliation come as soon as possible? Is that too long a season? General thoughts on that?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I would love to see them come back together again especially because of Indy. I think we are all missing out on that race, us as drivers, all the team owners, all the fans that go there every year and it would be great for us to be back at Indy as quick as possible. But as far as the political issues are concerned, that is a little bit beyond my control and a little bit beyond of what I can say or of what I can get really involved over here, so I hope that it comes back in a way that it can be very good for both parties. And that everyone can be happy and we can start racing back there again.

Q. Do you think the 24 or 26 is a conceivable number though of races or is that too many in your estimation?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Maybe it could be a little bit too many, like already having 20 races per year is pretty tight schedule and technologically speaking the cars, the way they are set up nowadays, and the amount of testing you need in order to make progress in the cars maybe 24 to 26 races could be a little bit too much.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Christian. Continued good luck in your rehabilitation. We look forward to seeing you back soon in the FedEx Championship Series.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much, and I look forward to seeing you guys as quick as possible. Hopefully this weekend, I am going to be over there just watching the race, but hopefully in the car, as everyone said, by Houston.

T.E. McHALE: We will look forward to that. Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us today and good afternoon.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you.

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