Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
October 9, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Today we have the pleasure of being joined by Christian Fittipaldi. Christian was at last weekend's Rolex Champions Awards presented by SunTrust with the good news that he will be returning to the Rolex Series full‑time in 2013. Christian brings an impressive resume to GRAND‑AM, including three years of Formula 1, a perennial front‑running career in IndyCars and running in NASCAR.
Christian, you ran the last two years with Action Express Racing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. What are your thoughts joining the team to drive a Corvette Daytona Prototype full‑time in 2013?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, hi, everyone. I'm really happy to be joining the series full‑time. I think the last time I ran the series full‑time, if I'm not mistaken was '07 or '08. It's definitely a great series, especially now that the two sports car series in America have joined and from 2014 onwards, we are going to have only one series.
So this specific type of sport should get a lot bigger and a lot stronger, and it's definitely going to help the sponsors, the teams, the drivers, and it's just going to make it something that's a lot stronger than what it is nowadays.
So there is a combination of a bunch of interesting things ahead of us. Not to talk about the year that Action and also myself at least are trying to have. We are going to try and do our very best, and hopefully by the time we get to Lime Rock, we can be in a position to strike for the series championship.
Q. I'm curious to get your take since you've done both GRAND‑AM and ALMS, with the merger coming up in 2014, what do you see as some of the bigger challenges that the rules makers are going to be facing for that merged year?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think it's very simple. I think the technical package, in my opinion, is going to be the hardest package that's put together, making everyone happy, like everyone that runs, for example, GRAND‑AM needs to be happy. Everyone that runs also, for example the other series needs to be happy in order for us to go forward and for us to make the sport a lot bigger.
But I do think that the technical package is going to be the hardest barrier in my opinion because cars are a little bit different, and they're interesting in their own ways. Like the GRAND‑AM cars have their own, I would say, their own little style and their own going around the course and being able for you to fight them. Obviously, you don't want to change the characteristics of them.
On the other hand, the Le Mans Series cars are technically more advanced. But in my opinion in some ways they are too much advanced because that brings to us a more expensive sport that ends up compromising sponsorship and also teams that are actually in the business nowadays.
Q. If I could follow up, now that the series is going to be unified, what is your take on the schedule going back to going to Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta? The big tracks are all under one umbrella. What's that do for all the drivers that will be racing in this series?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think it's great. I think it's awesome because you're going to all of the great venues, and it's definitely going to bring a much stronger sport car racing. Not only to the fans, to the sponsors, to the teams, but also for everyone that's going to be watching us. Even if everyone who is watching us is not a direct involved fan right now, I think we're going to be able to attract a lot of new fans. I think it's only a huge plus for all of us.
Q. What are your thought on the new series, the circuit of America in Austin, Kansas Speedway, and Road Atlanta?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, of these three, the only one that I've tested actually is the Road Atlanta circuit which is a very interesting circuit, very difficult, very I would say also demanding because it's full of uphills, downhills, and it's a pretty hard track for you to get around.
As far as the other two are concerned, the Austin circuit is going to be like an F1 spec circuit, so it should be outstanding. Maybe a little bit too long for our type of cars, for our type of racing, but I will still take it. I'm definitely very, very happy to be able to go over there.
The third circuit, Kansas Speedway of what I know so far, supposedly is going to be very quick and very interesting, especially when the cars are going through the banking before they go into the infield. So we're expecting a lot of high speeds in the Kansas circuit.
Q. You're one of several open wheel guys who have come to sports car racing. Paul Tracy did it last year. How do you fight this perception that sports car racing is something you do when you can't do anything else?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I wouldn't say when I can't do anything else. There is a bunch of stuff that I can do all over the world, thank God. So I wouldn't agree with that a hundred percent what you said.
As far as would I like to be in an IndyCar right now? No, thank you. I don't want to be in an IndyCar right now. I think the series is awesome. I think that the Indy 500 is probably one of the greatest races that there is in the world, but I have done that for eight years. I have enjoyed it a lot, learned a lot and that was a different phase of my racing career. I don't want to be exposed to such a high risk. And definitely the risk factor has weighed on my decision as far as to concentrate a little bit more on sports car racing as opposed to, for example, the IndyCar Racing.
Q. You've dabbled in sports car racing in the past. You've obviously found some interest in it. This is something that you are here for good, and will continue in this form of racing?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think so, yes. I have done it already in the past, especially with the great news of sports car racing getting a lot bigger from next year onwards in this country. I think it's going to open a lot of doors for many people, and it's going to change the whole perspective of how that type of racing is seen in this country.
So I don't see why I'm only going to run here one series and then I'm going to head off to do something else. I honestly envision myself for many years and I'm pretty sure that this type of racing is definitely going to get a lot bigger.
Q. If I can ask you one more question, it kind of rattled around a bit when you were talking about open wheel. I don't want to turn this into open wheel at a sports car conference. But do you think that the spec racing aspects of open wheel, and has that changed the sport so much that it's not of interest anymore?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, let's face it. In the '90s, I think IndyCar Racing went through its best time or prime times or whatever you want to call it. Then after that, there are a bunch of different, I would say, combination of different aspects why it started going down. Now they're trying to bring it back up again.
I think it has a lot of great names involved, sponsors, potential teams, and there is no reason why open wheel racing couldn't get back going again and couldn't be, for example, big again. But in my opinion, there is one thing that's a lot different than in the '90s. In the '90s, we have, for example, two tire manufacturers, we had four chassis manufacturers or maybe even five. We also had four or five engine manufacturers. So that was definitely very, very big to the sport, and that enhanced the sport a lot as opposed to what we have right now which is completely different.
Like everything in life, it goes through humps and phases, and maybe right now it's not like on a, for example, upswing, but they're trying their very best. Hopefully, in the near future, it can come back to what it was in the '90s.
Q. It sounds like what you described in your heyday of racing in Champ Car and Cart, is now what we have in sports cars. Is that what you're looking for in the competition, the wheel to wheel, and non‑spec aspect of sports car racing? Is that what you're looking for as you make this move?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, not only myself, but I think all of the other teams sponsors, drivers, and I think everyone in general is looking for a very strong sport car series here in this country. It's going to benefit everyone in a huge way. It is going to be big. It is going to be popular.
At the same time, we're not here to try and compete against IndyCar or try to compete against NASCAR. We're just here to try and do the very best with what we can in our sport.
I think IndyCars are really nice, but it has its own little feature exactly the same as NASCAR and sport car racing is, again, like a different type of racing. We're only here to do the best with our racing and we're not here to compete directly with any other sport.
Q. I was wondering if you could tell us what the upcoming Road America race weekend where it's a combined ALMS and GRAND‑AM race. What are you expecting from that weekend as a driver? What do you think fans should expect who are going to be attending that race in person?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, as a driver, I always have done very, very well on that track. I had my first IndyCar win back in '99 over there. Apart from that I think I finished on the podium about two or three other times. I love the place. I think it's an awesome circuit. I think it's the American version of maybe Spa.
I'm expecting a very big attendance over there. I think it's going to be a huge crowd, and I think everyone is going to love what they are going to see during the whole weekend. So I'm really looking forward to that weekend. Hopefully we're going to have a nice weekend. I tell you one thing, it's a lot easier to go around that place when it's dry than when it is wet. Hopefully, it will be a nice weekend. We have to do our very best. It makes life for everyone a lot, lot harder, and enjoy that weekend. It's definitely going to be one of the best races of the whole series.
Q. Action Express has really reshuffled the driver lineup with basically Joao Barbosa being the only carryover from this season. How important is it for you, and Joao and the Frisselle brothers to get on the same page to help progress the team to be challenging for next year and in championships down the road?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think if you look at their past years, they have won the 24 in 2010 and 2011, and then‑‑ no, sorry, 2009 and 2010. Then 2011 we finished third and I was actually in the car. Then last year or this year in 2012 we didn't have such a very good race, but we still went on the end and finished a solid fifth.
After that, the team made a huge progress and managed to win two times during the whole season. Hopefully, with all the changes and all the progress they did this year, they can put themselves in a strong position for next year. As I mentioned before, hopefully, we'll get to Lime Rock and we'll have a shot at the series. I think if that happens, it's going to be because of everyone's hard work during the whole year.
Q. You've been on both sides of the fence regarding the Rolex 24th at Daytona in 204. You were a guest driver and won the watch with Terry Borcheller and the team Forest Barber and you've run there as a guest driver with Action Express. What's it like as a regular driver looking at the championship, and what do you look for in a guest driver to fill out the lineup?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, at least when I race as a guest driver, if I know I'm only doing that race, I really don't see myself as a guest driver. I am hopping into the car and trying to do my job the best way as possible. For me it doesn't make any difference, because what I felt when I won in 2004 and when I did it again in '05 and '06, and when I did it with Eddie, like the two years I did it with him, if I'm not mistaken were 2007 and 2008, I really like my feelings don't change anything as far as being a regular driver or being a guest driver. You're just hopping in the car, driving the thing as quick as possible, and obviously without making any mistakes at all because it's a very long race. If you make the slightest error in that race, you can basically put your team into big trouble. And this is what you can't do in that race. You just have to sit in the car. You have to go quick. You have to try and analyze the race. Try to look ahead of you. But at the same time, you can't make any mistakes.
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