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CART FedEx Championship Series: The Sure for Men Rockingham 500

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Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Sure for Men Rockingham 500

CART FedEx Championship Series: The Sure for Men Rockingham 500

Michael Andretti
Kenny Brack
Dario Franchitti
Cristiano da Matta
Darren Manning
Jackie Stewart
September 13, 2002


CORBY, UNITED KINGDOM

MERRILL CAIN: Let's get started with our top three press conference following qualifying for tomorrow's Sure for Men Rockingham 500. We are joined by our polesitter Kenny Brack, driver of the #12 Target/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He wins the pole for Saturday's Sure for Men Rockingham 500 with a new official track record of 24.908 seconds, that's a speed of 213.763 miles per hour, taking his first pole of the season, the seventh in his Champ car career. Kenny wins a championship point for his effort today giving him a total of 75 on the season. He is the only driver to sit on the pole here at Rockingham, having started first here last year when the grid was set by virtue of championship points because of rain and the track conditions here at Rockingham. Kenny, an awesome effort from you today. I know is been kind of a frustrating season for you up to this point. You were outstanding on ovals last year, you proved again today you know your way around this track pretty quickly.

KENNY BRACK: Yeah, I think it went. Did that championship point bring me in the Top 10 in the championship (laughter)?

MERRILL CAIN: Close.

KENNY BRACK: It's been a tough year, of course, so far. But we've always had the speed, it's just been a question of putting it together. We managed to do that today. We had a good car obviously. The team did a fantastic job there. You know, it's a challenging track, this one, because it's very fast, kind of an unusual shape for an oval, too.

MERRILL CAIN: Kenny, you obviously know your way around the track, you finished second here last year, just a last-second past by Gil de Ferran. How much information did you use from last year? You got a lot of track time last year. You had to take advantage of what you had.

KENNY BRACK: You know, it's two different teams, the setups we used last year, a driver doesn't know all the details, so you might know some things, but it's not enough. You have to know the whole concept. I think what we're using in Target is quite different from what we used last year. So I try not to get involved that much in the details. We try to talk more about the feel of the car and getting the car to where I want it because on an oval, it's very high speed. Every driver has his own style, own requirements in terms of what you need from the car. I have to get the team to accommodate those things.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano da Matta joins us now, who qualified third this afternoon in the #6 Totoyta/Havoline/Lola/Bridgestone. He's third on the grid with a time of 24.954 seconds, a speed of 213.369 miles per hour, matching his best oval track qualifying effort of the season. That ties his effort in Chicago. The run also marks the 11th time in 15 races that Cristiano will start in the first two rows in the grid. Our current series points leader joins us now. Talk about your qualifying effort today. A lot has been made of the challenge for your team on the ovals this season. You do have an oval win in Chicago, you qualified third there. Are you pretty confident in the way the car is running here at Rockingham?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, I'm happy. Since the start today, my car was running good right away. It was a big difference feeling-wise and speed-wise inside for me from the car from what I had last year - like a big, big difference. Qualifying round was good. I knew the car was going to be very close. I think we went maybe a little too much, a little too aggressive on the front of the grid. It was a little on the oversteer side in my qualifying run. But this track, you're talking about hundredths of a second and thousandths of a second. I don't think I had the speed to beat Kenny. I probably would be a little closer. But I think on the race, I have a car that can stay consistent all the way to the end. I can hopefully follow his pace and Michael's pace, keep position for a very long race. It's important to be there at the end.

MERRILL CAIN: Questions, please.

Q. Kenny, in a 300 mile race, pole isn't crucial, but considering the luck you've had with the first laps, does being on the pole put you in an extra comfort zone?

KENNY BRACK: Yeah, I don't know. Like you say, it's 200 laps or 210 laps, so it's a long race. You look at the races so far this year, you see it's not a lot of overtaking. Someone is not going to come from 15th anymore in a CART race to win anymore because the cars are too equally matched, and the tracks we race on, they're too challenging basically. You have to start somewhere up front, I believe. From that respect, it's good.

MERRILL CAIN: It's the third pole in the last four races for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. We're also joined by Michael Andretti, who qualified second this afternoon in the # 39 Motorola/Honda/Lola/Bridgestone. He will start second on the grid with a time of 24.928 seconds, speed of 213.591 miles per hour. This is Michael's best starting spot of the 2002 season and best since he started second at Fontana in 2000. Michael, talk a little about your qualifying today. Team KOOL Green and the entire stable did well in the morning practice session. You guys at one point were 1, 2, 3. You turned out on top. Talk about the effort today.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Team Motorola did a really good job along with Team KOOL Green. I think together they came up with a good setup for the oval which was nice. I think the last few weekends have been a little bit of a tough time for us, so it was nice to unload quick, you know, be at the top of the sheets. So it was good. You know, the car, we just tweaked it here and there throughout the session. In qualifying, just closed my eyes, held it wide open, and stuck. It was almost good enough.

MERRILL CAIN: Almost good enough. We'll open it back up for questions.

Q. The fastest guys this afternoon were a little slower than the fastest guys this morning. Is that entirely draft?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think so. I believe the drafts had a lot to do with the lap times this morning.

Q. What does that say about tomorrow?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I think it's just going to be a bit of a follow-the-leader thing, because we are all so close together. If you look at the times, the whole field is, what, about seven-tenths of a second. It's hard to pass somebody when they're running that close of a time, so it's going to be tough. Track position is going to be king tomorrow, I believe.

Q. Which to you is the most difficult corner? Where are the passing spots on this track?

KENNY BRACK: Turn four is the most challenging corner for the driver, of course. Passing, I don't know. Probably going into turn four. I think it will be tough this year because last year, we didn't have so much time to dial the cars in. This year we've had time to fine tune everything. I guess it's going to be a little more tricky. There will be traffic situations where possibly there will be some opportunities. It will be tough.

Q. Kenny, you mentioned this track is an unusual shape. How does it differ from ovals in the USA?

KENNY BRACK: Well, most ovals in the United States, they're like an oval, especially if they're one and a half miles. Of course, you have Indy, that's more of a rectangular shape. But this track, I never raced on any track that's this shape before. Actually, the layout, if you look at the low banking and the track length, it's an extremely fast situation. We race on other types of one and a half mile tracks in the United States, maybe at Texas or something like that, but the banking is like 23, 24 degrees. Here, I don't know what the banking is, but maybe 10 degrees. You're still traveling like 213 miles an hour. It's a very challenging track for that track length.

Q. Has the track changed much since when you raced here a year ago? It's been resurfaced, but has it changed much? Kenny, is this a particularly important race for you as we're in Europe?

KENNY BRACK: I think the track, when we came here last year, the track wasn't finished. If you drove in here, it was still mud and stuff. This year it's really a nice facility. Everything's done. It's a first-class facility. When it comes to the surface, I think, if possible, it's got a little more grip than last year. Of course, last year we raced on a half done track, that may have had something to do with it (laughter). But this year it's got a lot of grip, the surface.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: It's dry, too.

KENNY BRACK: Dry, too, good weather (laughter). That's always nice. The other thing, of course, it's nice to do well in Europe. There's a lot of European fans. Last year there was a lot of Swedish fans that chose to come to Germany. That race was canceled this year. Hopefully there will be a lot of Swedes here this weekend. That's always nice, instead of seeing all these Brazilian flags everywhere (laughter). But CART has a strong following in Europe. It's a nice show for them, for sure. It's good for CART if we can have a good show here.

Q. Last year was particularly challenging for many reasons. You guys must be relieved that it's a fairly happy weekend this time. Can I get your views on that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think for sure last year it was hard to really even focus on the event because of everything that happened the week before. I think at that point we all just wanted to get home. It's way different circumstances coming back here. It feels a lot different, a lot better now than last year. I don't think this place really got a fair shake last year because of all that.

KENNY BRACK: I agree with that. I mean, it was very strange circumstances, the 9/11 thing, what happened with Alex in Germany, all that stuff. You know, it's completely different circumstances this year.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: The weather, too (laughter). Last year, yeah, there was a lot of waiting around. This year, everything happened so far as planned. It makes a big difference. Of course, what Kenny and Michael said, it makes a huge difference.

Q. A couple years ago, you ran races at ovals with trucks and complained about the truck rubber at the transitions. Any situations with the different tire compounds on the track this weekend?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. Maybe you need to talk to the guys that went out earlier. They're probably the ones that would have felt it. You know, I think by the time it got to where we were, most of that rubber was probably off. Seemed like some of the times were a bit slow in the beginning of the session - slower than I thought. Might have had something to do with that, I don't know.

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate your efforts today. Congratulations on a great qualifying. Good luck in the race tomorrow. We want to take a few minutes to bring in guys with the local flavor. Dario Franchitti, driver of the #27 Team KOOL Green Honda/Lola/Bridgestone, qualifying fifth today with a time of 25.003 seconds, 212.967 miles per hour was the speed, marking the third time in four CART oval races Dario has qualified in the top five. Dario, obviously the team is pretty strong in their oval setup. Probably not where you wanted to be, but not a bad run out there today.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: The team has done a good job this year on the oval. When we got the Lola in Japan, Paul went out, he was immediately quick, we kind of felt we had made a good move there. We've just progressively made adjustments to it. It was real quick in Milwaukee, Chicago. We off-loaded from the crate, I guess you would say, here, and the car was quick straightaway this morning. We all seemed to catch up a bit. I think the car is good for a race. You can never tell what everybody is doing, how they're going to improve tonight. The car did feel very good in traffic this morning. In qualifying, the first lap was flat the whole way around, built a good bit of momentum. Went into turn one, I was trying to be a bit too light on the steering to get rid of some of the scrub, just didn't give it quite enough steering lock on the first part of the corner, and I lost the front end at the apex. I had to back out. That was the end of it. It was unfortunate because I do think we had the car today to get on pole. Hopefully we can show what the performance is.

MERRILL CAIN: Darren Manning joins us from Team St. George, driving the #19 RAC Ford-Cosworth Lola/Bridgestone. Darren qualified 16th in his Champ car debut with a time of 25.441 seconds, a speed of 209.284 miles per hour. Darren, talk about the qualifying effort. First time in a Champ car, first time in a single-car qualifying here at Rockingham. What were your thoughts?

DARREN MANNING: It was great just to get back out on the track really. After a really troubled warm-up with low fuel and new tires, the car felt fantastic, a lot different to what it had done before. I wasn't flat all the way around. Still a little bit to come.

MERRILL CAIN: Talk about the troubles you had this morning. What did the team do? Your team has been pulled together in the last couple weeks. How challenging was that for you from the morning session to the afternoon?

DARREN MANNING: Absolutely, especially with the fact I haven't done any running, or very little running, in the car prior to this event. We were hoping we were going to get hundreds of laps in. We only got like 45 or something. It just set us back somewhat. I was hoping to get a couple of good qualifying simulation runs at the end of the session. But like you say, we broke a gear. They couldn't find a part of one of the gear selectors in the gearbox. They had to take it all to pieces and stopped us running. Bit of an uphill battle. I'm glad to actually be in the race.

MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it up for questions.

Q. Seems to be a lot of flags waving along the pits, at least two Scottish ones. Why is the English flag orange and white instead of red and white?

DARREN MANNING: The photographs are bright red. You look at a Ferrari in the pit lane, it's not Ferrari red, so it comes out on photographs, on the camera Ferrari red. Likewise with the St. George's cross.

Q. Couldn't be RAC red?

DARREN MANNING: That's the orange down the side of the car. That's too bright for the Irish, the orange.

Q. Seriously, there is this friendly rivalry.

DARREN MANNING: Friendly, are you sure (laughter)?

Q. Darren, seems to be an English only team, if you had someone from England or Ireland, they would have been turned away?

DARREN MANNING: I believe so. It's Team St. George. It's not my choice. Just the way it is, unfortunately. Team St. Andrews next to me, mind you.

Q. Dario, I heard that you were unofficially calling your part of the Team KOOL Green Team St. Andrews this weekend.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Why not? I think the sponsors may have something to say about it. We can leave it unofficial Team St. Andrews this weekend.

Q. Dario, five races left. Tell us about the championship.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: You want to ask my teammate about that one, I think. In order to win the championship, you've got to be consistent. When you're having a bad day, you have to finish the thing, score some points on those bad days. Frankly, this year we've had too many mechanical problems which have cost us a serious amount of points. Denver last weekend was really the icing on the cake, unfortunately. The championship is still mathematically -- there's a chance I can win it. The risks that I would not normally have taken I'll be taking. I just want to get out there and win the last of my races. As I said, where normally I would think twice about sitting there, banking the point, just go for it flat.

Q. Obviously the speed is the fastest I would think you ever went in a race car. Do you get the sensation of speed or does the oval minimize it somewhat?

DARREN MANNING: Qualifying, I just wanted to go faster. That was the only thing there. Didn't feel very fast at all, especially when I saw the lap time. I was coming out thinking it could have been a lot, lot faster through there. Another run, I'm sure it would have started to feel a bit faster.

MERRILL CAIN: We're honored to be joined by Jackie Stewart. We'd like to bring Jackie up to the podium, make a couple quick comments. It's a great honor for us to have you with us today. Talk about bringing the race to Rockingham, seeing Dario and Darren here, the pride you have to see the race here at Rockingham, the success we've had here with CART.

JACKIE STEWART: I think, like Gordon, Indianapolis in the mid '60s, it was the very few Brits that went over to Indy at that time and found a new way of going motor racing. I think maybe I'm having de'ja vu here, particularly for Darren. Dario obviously is a very experienced driver now. I remember when I first took on an oval, at least a track of this character, I had to find how to drive it correctly, how to drive it smoothly, how to drive it not too spectacularly. It was a big challenge. So he's got a big challenge ahead of him, particularly with the small number of miles that he's been able to enjoy. I do wish him well. It's very nice that we have -- I didn't know what nationality it was when I saw the flag, Dario, because of the colors. You're quite right, it was difficult to understand it. But we did understand that blue and white, it was very clear. Dario, of course, I'm thrilled that he's done so well in America. He enjoyed a lot of success with our team. We enjoyed having him in the team. It's nice to come here and see him. I was up in one of the suites when you were doing it, Dario. I don't understand why you're lifting off so much at every corner. I've never been to Rockingham before, and I congratulate everyone with what they've done here. It's very impressive. To see the cars going round at this speed, it's spectacular. I hope enough people get the opportunity of enjoying that and wanting to come and see it in the future because it could be an important part of British motorsport in the future. I really do wish everyone at Rockwell. It's nice to see an international formula coming here that's new to the country. I missed the race last year. I was in America. I was watching the race. I saw the last lap. I saw the last corner. Our drivers won the race, Gil de Ferran. We were actually in Detroit at the time.

MERRILL CAIN: We're happy to have us with you here this weekend. Could you take a couple quick questions from the audience?

JACKIE STEWART: Sure, if you like.

Q. Silverstone has been maligned in the past. What lessons do you think they could learn from Rockingham today, if any?

JACKIE STEWART: I think there's always something to learn. Rockingham have a great advantage that they're a brand-new facility. That front straight with the suites, the seats up the end, the grandstands, are very impressive. We need to do something like that at Silverstone and we will. It does take time, and takes money, which is very clear. It's a very expensive business to do the type of facility that exists here straight from scratch. We were very lucky. We're spending roughly about the same amount of money as Rockingham have spent. We already had a racetrack. That was already in existence. But it was a very old facility in the sense it started in the late '40s, had grown very gradually over the years. We've got to tidy up our house, which we're going to do this year. I hope the British Grand Prix next year will be more user friendly for the spectators and paying public. We'll put a new paddock complex in. We need better grandstands, better spectator facilities than we have at the present time. That is our ambition to do that. The racetracks of the world that we have to compete against are all brand-new. Malaysia, Barcelona is very impressive. All these things have been done in recent years by comparison to where we are. We have a lot to do. Britain must be, because it is the capital for the motor industry, able to represent itself handsomely. I think Rockingham does that.

Q. Jackie, I was talking with a fellow this morning, he was asking me if I thought Champ car CART racing would catch on here in England. I said I thought it would, given time. Would you address that, talk about what you think it will take for this form of racing and this race in particular to really generate a real kind of ground swell of interest in Great Britain.

JACKIE STEWART: I think it will take time because the culture over here is road racing. It just doesn't happen overnight. It's a little bit like taking football, as we call it, soccer, to America. It took a long time for that to catch on. But I think maybe an even better comparison would be to say road racing in America has never been really successful. It was in Watkins Glen when it was a relatively small facility with a big crowd prepared to put up under canvas, small hotels around a large area. Today the public, who have the disposable dollar or pound, want a lot for it. I think it will take a he would while. It's a little like Formula 1 going to America. Only when we went to Indianapolis did we really get a very big crowd, although we got some big crowds in Detroit and in Long Beach. If you took the total number of people, it took quite a long time. It was one event a year. I think you can do well here with one major event a year. If there was an ASCAR race over here, I think that would also draw a lot of people. I think the culture is different. The culture with the younger generation can change more quickly than it's ever changed in the history of us all because change happens more rapidly and is accepted more quickly than it was before. I don't see why it can't be successful. You've got a lot of big sponsors in there. You've got good promotional opportunities. It takes a little while for the public to grasp it. I notice you have excellent publicity last week, Motorsports News, so forth over here. I hope you get a good crowd tomorrow with good weather. I think it's important for all of us in motorsport in this country to get it into a broader base of the public.

Q. You've raced ovals, Formula 1, what do you tell the people who are on the fence about buying a ticket? What do they look for tomorrow?

JACKIE STEWART: Never in this country will you see cars going at that speed and in very close proximity. That's something we are simply not used to in this country. I don't care who you are, man, woman, young or old, if you see cars racing in that manner, it's a very exciting vision. I think that will be something that will be appreciated. I know I find it exciting. I did for 15 years the commentary for ABC's Wide World of Sports in America. I was doing up to 25 races a year. For me, I totally enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the racing. The unpredictability about it, the yellow flags, the strategies, the pit stops and everything else. It's quite a complicated issue. For me it was a learning process. But when I got to know about it, I surely enjoyed it. I'm sure the British public can enjoy that also.

PETER MIDDLETON: I'm the chairman here at Rockingham. I can add quickly to Jackie's previous answer. There are, of course, a large number of Americans in this country anyway. Among those are a lot of servicemen. We know we would have sold out tomorrow except for the fact that the servicemen who are over here in the present security climate have to stay where they are. We also believe that moving the race from September to the May bank holiday next year will also make it better for spectators, easier to come for the practice day, which would be a Saturday instead of a Friday, then we will have a bank holiday Monday for the rain day. As Jackie said, we have to build up a new product and we have to get new spectators. We view ourselves as adding to the overall offering of motor racing in the UK. We don't see ourselves as competing against any of the tracks. I would say that I think the efforts that have been made at Silverstone in the last 12 months are very good. I think those will continue. We are delighted because the main point is now when you want people to come to a major facility, the tournaments have got to be terrific, the food has to be terrific, the view has to be terrific, the atmosphere has to be terrific. Silverstone has that. We'll get more of it. We think we've got it. We're going to work closely together. Thank you for your attention and thank you to the drivers and Jackie for being here.

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much for joining us today.



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