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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Christian Fittipaldi
July 14, 1998


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone from where I am and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us at our special time today and a special welcome to our guest this afternoon driver Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing. Good afternoon Christian and thanks for being with us today.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Good afternoon.

T.E. McHALE: Christian, driver of the No. 11 Kmart Swift Ford heads into Sunday's Molson Indy at Exhibition Place in Toronto off a 4th place -- excuse me, his 4th PPG Cup points producing finish of the season and 11th place at last Sunday's Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland presented by Star Bank. He led 21 laps, the most he has led since 1996 at Detroit, where he led 64 laps. Christian held the lead just 13 laps from the end of the 100-lap event, but was forced to pit for fuel handing the lead to Alex Zanardi who went on to his 13th career FedEx Championship Series victory. Christian, meanwhile, earned his third consecutive points paying finish at Cleveland following 6th in 1996 and last year. Christian also owns a streak of three finishes in the points at Toronto - 9th in 1995; 7th in 1996, and 11th in 1997. His top finish to date this season is 4th in the season opener at Homestead. Heading into Sunday's Molson Indy, he stands 17th in the FedEx Championship Series Standings with 18 points. The Molson Indy, Round 11 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be broadcast on a tape-delay basis this Sunday on ABC TV beginning at 3 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open the floor for questions.

Q. Very disappointing finish for you in Cleveland, Christian. Can you sort of explain to us what happened and, you know, the circumstance that led to that disappointing ending?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Basically what happened is I was following, if I am not mistaken, Alex Barron. I was about to lap him. And the yellow came out and I was right behind him and I was trying to lap him as quick as possible not to lose any time. I never saw the yellow flag and it came out right when I was like a little before the pit entrance. At the same time, my radio didn't work on that part of the track. So I went by the pit entrance and once I went by I saw that the yellow came out. I said: Uhm, I guess I blew it. And, then they started shouting from the pits. Then, like, the radio was working as I went by the start-finish. And then they said: Stay out. Stay out, stay out. And, we tried to change a little bit things making me stay out and knowing that I was going to be in the lead to try and see if I could get like a very big, maybe, gap from the other cars and eventually come in for a quick splash-and-go about ten laps from the end and go out again. Up to that point, the strategy didn't seem bad. Not that I was going to win the race, but I think we still could have finished like in the top 4, still like gotten a little bit out of it and then when I came for my last stop, I ran out of fuel coming into the pits. So instead of being five-second, six-second stop, it ended up being a 44-second stop.

Q. Coming into Toronto, what is your thoughts on the Toronto track? What do you like about it? What do you not like bit?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, it is -- I think that the track was a lot better. I can't remember when they changed the surface. It used to be very bumpy, if I am not mistaken, it was 1995. Then they did a lot of new stuff for 1996 and it was a lot better in 1996. So it is like -- it is a pretty nice track, I think, and it is going to be very nice. I just hope that it can be as equal as possible on tires to make it more enjoyable for everyone.

Q. My question might be a little bit long, but keep up with me. With all the news of the sales of Rolls Royce to Volkswagen and yesterday now Cosworth being a part of Rolls Royce is going over to Volkswagen, and silly season starting with some of the drivers already committed to other teams for next year. If someone were to offer you a Reynard-Mercedes or a Reynard-Honda right for next year, would you be available?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I am very happy where I am, to be quite honest with you. I just think that what is basically happening is that, I don't know, just hasn't fallen our way, like as an example, in Portland, I didn't do one lap on Sunday because my engine broke when the -- like when the morning practice started, while my car was still in the pits, I started the race, I got hit by Moore and I went out of the track like on the first lap. So, a series of things have been happening and I have to put all of that behind me. Cleveland was a little bit better because at least I ran the whole race, like, all the other times I didn't even manage like to run the whole race. And, I think we are very competitive. I like my team very much. I think that everyone is putting a very big effort behind me. So at the moment, I am really not thinking on that. I think that Swift has a very good car and we definitely have a very good package for next year if we have everything right at the right time.

Q. You are going to be a winner here very shortly. You are a competitive driver. You have proven that a number of times.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, thanks.

Q. I am just wondering do you feel this is the closest you have ever been maybe to coming up with that first win on the CART circuit?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, no, no, no. Like by no means. We had a lot of good shots like Detroit, Elkhart, even Cleveland last year; even Portland last year. So like we came close like a couple of other times. I honestly don't think so because let us say if I hadn't missed the pits like this weekend, probably I would have finished third or second. I find it very unlikely, a little bit better than that. But, I don't know, it is the fact of being able to run up there. Obviously it is really motivating. I don't want to be in the series just to be another number like I really want to be competitive all the time. And, it is frustrating when you know you have the car, like you know everything is going well, and you have a great team behind you and, things, they just don't come your way, so, sometimes it definitely gets a little bit hard.

Q. With all the frustration of Cleveland, is there maybe a little extra motivation knowing that you have the car to really do well at this stop in Toronto?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, like we basically know that we have the car since like the first race of the year, but it is -- like it just didn't come our way. If you compare it to 1996, like I think in 1996 out of the 16 races, I finished 13 or 14 races. And, when I had a bad weekend, I would have finished 6th or 7th like in the race. So it was definitely like things are definitely happening this year a lot different than from like 1996.

Q. I have a question and I actually -- it is a little off what we have been talking about today. I want you to fast forward to Michigan. I know that originally you were scheduled to do some testing there after Portland, but things didn't work out. I was wondering, first and foremost, what kind of conversations you have had with Michael regarding his test with the Hanford device and anything that you can share with us in terms of the Swift and any change in tactics or things that you are anticipating?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, what basically happened is that the week after Portland our team sort of divided into two test teams. And, one test team went to Michigan. The other one went back to Portland because we had to test tires exactly for Cleveland. So the tires that we raced the past weekend were chosen right after the Portland race on Thursday and Friday. That is why I didn't like really get to go to Michigan. Michael had a very strong run and he basically didn't have any big problems like in set up in the car. He was happy ever since the car went on the track like the first lap and I even reckon that like on the first outing immediately he, if I am not mistaken, he ran a 220 or 221. So was very happy with the car and we were really, really, really expecting to have a very strong car there.

Q. Did he have an opportunity to run in traffic of any sorts?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, not in big heavy traffic, he said. He only came close to people about once or twice. There wasn't that -- he had about like three cars in front of him. It is one thing when you run behind one car; it is something else when you run behind three cars. But he said that it was like pretty similar at least on balance-wise and fuel-wise, it was pretty similar to what we used to have. The only thing obviously the car is a lot slower because of the wing and when you are not running on new tires, like you definitely can't go like wide open. You have to lift a little bit, and up to last year, even on old tires, you could go like wide open around the track.

Q. So basically it is just drag and not necessarily a higher level of dirty air behind another car?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, he was happy with the car like -- I think that there is going to be a lot more dirty air like behind another car, but at least with our setup, we were pretty happy. Of my understanding, there are a couple of teams which are very happy. There are other teams which are not happy at all. Maybe because they just haven't got like really the setup spot-on and maybe some teams are still struggling a little bit like with the setup. But, after we run on Friday and Saturday, I am pretty sure that like everyone is going to be like -- or on it or close to being competitive like on Sunday.

Q. I wanted to ask you too about the Hanford device at Michigan. What do you think about that with the speeds there being a little slower? It is kind of almost an unusual thing to hear drivers asking to have a car slowed down.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, not really on a speedway. We are really thinking of having cars slow down also for the short ovals because at the moment it is like -- we got to the point that we are really creating so much down-force that like when the setup is good, you are basically wide open the whole lap. A proof of that was Greg Moore like in the first race of the year down in Homestead, like in his qualifying lap, if he wasn't flat, he was virtually flat. I really don't think that that is the way to go like on a short oval and on a speedway, I think that there has to be a little bit of driving into it and not only get the setup completely right and going wide open the whole lap. So if you can create something that you still have to drive the car a little bit, maybe even if the car slides a touch, you have a chance of sort of like correcting the car, it is going to be a lot more interesting for us; a lot safer also, instead of having something that -- or you have the grip or you have it into the wall, or you don't have any grip at all. So what we are trying to do is just have something that is a lot safer and more drivable for us.

Q. There have been discussions about doing that at the shorter ovals amongst the drivers or how far have those discussions gone?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yes, but more like on a longterm basis first because we finished all the short ovals. Second because, obviously, we are only going to start running on them like next year. So, we are starting to think about something that we don't know what we can do yet. But we are starting to think of something like to make the cars definitely a lot more drivable even on the short ovals.

Q. I'd like to ask you, obviously, at the moment, we have one of your leading drivers Alex Zanardi considering a move to Formula I. You have made the move in reverse. Can you understand why, at the moment, Alex seems a little bit reluctant to head to Williams? It is obviously once upon a time; I imagine it is the kind of things that would have been something that somebody maybe jumped at, but at the moment, it seems to be that Alex is considering a few things.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, first of all, I am not really into the story to know exactly what Alex is going or where he is not going. I am not really concerned where he is or isn't going. I am really concerned with myself. Second, I think that there are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that we really don't get a full chance to know the whole story. So it is one thing when people come up to you and they spread out all those rumors and you never know what is true and what is not true. I just hope that Alex can make like the best decision for himself and whatever that decision is, I wish him like all the luck in the word. But as far as like going to Williams or not, going to Williams, I would like -- I would not like to answer this issue because I really don't know what is happening like behind the scenes.

Q. Do you still pay attention to Formula I or having left the series behind, is it something you have left behind?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, yeah, no, no, no. I still like watch all the races. I actually set up like a dish on my house only to watch the Formula I races. I don't watch any other channels, just Formula I races, so I really enjoy seeing them. Like to be quite honest with you, after I raced the last time, it was in Australia 1994, I never saw actually live Formula I car running anymore. But, I actually watch all the races and I still think like it is definitely a great series. There are pluses and cons about Formula I; especially when you compare it to CART and everything. But, there is no doubt that it is, in my opinion, at the highest level of basically motor racing.

Q. There seems to be an excessive amount of bumping going on this season. Does it appear that way to you? Also, it seems like you have been victimized by that. Can you talk about that a little bit.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, there was a lot of bumping. I think that the series is very competitive and all the drivers out there, they know that eventually if they have an opportunity to pass someone, it can make a big difference in their race and maybe if they don't get by that car, that might change the race completely. But, at the same time, we can't go out pushing other people like out of the track like if you can go by him in a clean way, then it is okay. If you can't go by the other driver in a clean way, then, obviously, it is not okay. The only thing I can say is at least like measures from CART have been taken ever since we started with all this bumping. I hope that all the drivers can be aware of that or at least can see the drivers that are eventually getting punished and it can set an example for us and for all the future races.

Q. Following up, do you feel that the penalties so far have been significant enough?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, that is a very good question. I am -- like, I don't know, it is hard sometimes because it is hard for you to judge on what is good and what is bad or to what extent of damage that car did and what is a small damage and what is a big damage. So, at the same time, I can understand that for Wally sometimes it is very hard for him to punish someone. Because first he doesn't want to punish; then if his driver is out there - second, it's hard for him to judge like which punish he should have. I am really in favor of maybe eventually not even fining a driver or doing like something like a stop-and-go during a race. I am really in favor of eventually suspending a driver from one qualifying event or even from one complete race event. Like I think that driver is going to suffer a lot more if he doesn't race one full event or if he loses points, like in the Championship, if he gets black-flagged, instead of coming into the pits for a stop-and-go, if he loses five points like in the Championship, I think is he going to suffer ten times more than if you give him like a 10,000, $15,000 fine.

Q. You were talking a moment ago about the frustration of the season and I am wondering because it seems like with the exception of Portland little things keep cropping up. How do you approach that? Do you try to change some things? Are you getting down to the point where, gee, maybe the bad luck is caused by what I am eating at breakfast in the morning?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think you can't go that way, Ron, because if you really go into that then basically you are going to change your whole life. I just really want to stop talking about it and get on. Like there is nothing I can do when I look at it behind apart from learning maybe some errors or some stuff that I did which was not correct. So I can look behind to try and make a better Christian out of it, but not look behind and say, oh, if things were like that or if things were the other way - if, if, if in motor racing doesn't exist. Because if "If" existed, a lot of people would have won the championship and would have won great races and everything. So I just try to make the best out of it for the future and only thing I can say is that at least like I have like a very strong solid team behind me supporting me and I think that that is very important at this period of time for me.

Q. Does it make you look forward to the next race more because of the positive attitude that you are trying to carry and say, okay, the next one is the one we will do it?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, yeah, a lot more especially because if I stop to think that last year I broke my leg on the second race of the year and when I left Cleveland last year I had more points than this year (laughs) and if you told me that exactly one year ago, I would have probably laughed at your face. I would have said: Impossible, this is never going to happen in my whole life. And it is not a fact that we don't have a competitive car. We definitely have a competitive car. But, it just didn't go our way and I am leaving Cleveland with two points less than I had last year when I had broken my leg which is, in my head, unbelievable.

Q. With the announcement that Cosworth and Ford will be associating now, do you see how that is going to make any immediate changes with your team?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Not real changes right now, immediate changes. I would say I think definitely Carl is going to talk to Ford like for one of the options next year and we are like really, really, really wanting to stay because I think that they have a great engine and the engine has proved to be very competitive this year. There is no doubt about that. But I don't think that there is going to be any like really immediate changes, no.

Q. I know you were on the driver safety committee for 1996 and 1997. Are you on it for 1998?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah.

Q. What specifically are your duties or your responsibilities and maybe perhaps what do you look at from a driver safety standpoint and what do you suggest as changes and who do you suggest them to?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, basically like we really try to really decide it as a group, like all the drivers together, so whenever we have an issue that isn't really -- no, no, that is really like a big, big, big maybe, major concern for us, like we try to get all the drivers together. We try to explain this issue and we get different opinions and after we come to a good solid conclusion of all the drivers; then we go for the changes in the track. But we sort of try to act as a whole group like it is not only like three or four drivers and I am happy that we are acting as a whole group because at least everyone decided like what we have to do together. Then after we make the decisions, there is no one complaining if we went one way or if we went the other way. We took the decisions together so now we have to stick for it and we are just trying to make like the tracks a lot safer in general. When you go to Elkhart this year you will see that there has been major changes in Elkhart. The track is definitely a lot safer. I don't think it is at the moment like 100% standard, but it is like night and day difference from last year. It is definitely a lot, lot better from last year. We have made major progress over there.

Q. Are most of the issues or the suggestions centered around the tracks, or do you get into car issues as well or even specific drivers?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Drivers very, very little or I would say nothing. Cars a little bit. And basically I think what we talked the most is about tracks, definitely.

Q. In order to get on the committee do you have to have a bad crash? Is that the requirement (laughs)?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, not really, but like really, as I said before, we have like a group and we try to make all the decisions together. Like when we come to like a driver, like a driver briefing, we just try to really explain what is happening to everyone and see if everyone agrees and then if everyone is happy, we like -- we really go from there.

Q. The race there in Cleveland the other day, you were very emotional. Are you starting to wonder if that first win is ever going to come? What is going through your mind? You see a guy like Alex come over and two years he has gone bang, bang, bang; he has won a bunch of races. What about your own thoughts?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, it is hard sometimes - there is no doubt about that. But, I guess you just have to like try to make the best out of what you have. I can't brag. I can't moan. I can't keep complaining. I can't wake up and say: Oh, it is not going to happen; it is not going to happen. I have to look forward and I have to try and be a better person and I have to try and make it happen, like I can't be complaining. So as long as I believe in myself, I think that is the most important and I really do believe in myself. If I start losing the confidence in myself, then maybe I should start thinking of doing something else and not racing anymore.

Q. Not much talk during our press conference here about the Goodyear/Firestone situation, but it looks like from the race in Cleveland that perhaps Goodyear has made a lot of progress recently. Can you talk a little bit about that?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: The tires were a lot stronger in the race, there is no doubt about that. I would say equal like in the race. I think that if you had a good car you could have gone both ways, to be quite honest with you, with either tires, like you really could have won the race. The only advantage was that Firestone managed to qualify a little bit better than us. So they started in a better position and people obviously that were running at the front were running in really clean air so, they didn't have to ruin their tires to get by like the other cars and everything. They didn't have to push that extra little bit to get up there. Apart from that, I was really happy with the progress like in Cleveland, it was definitely, very, very equal in the race and hopefully we can see something like that for the next race. But, I think that we have made a lot more progress and I hope that Firestone, they get a little bit stuck and they don't get better. But like in the tire war it is hard sometimes because there is no doubt that Firestone noticed that we were a lot closer in Cleveland, definitely they are going to be testing and trying a whole bunch of different stuff to make their tire better.

Q. I believe earlier you said you were doing some testing for Goodyear out at Portland after the race for looking at tires for Cleveland. When you choose a tire - I believe you said you chose a tire for Cleveland - is that a tire that all of the Goodyear teams will use or just your team specifically?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, no. Once the tire is chosen it is a tire that all of the Goodyear teams will choose. Sometimes it happens because Michael is testing the car; sometimes it is myself; maybe Gil is testing the car, the Penskes, like whoever is testing close to a race week where you have to make a decision on a tire basically gets to pick the tire. But what they try to do is like they try to run it two times. Like let us say if I like a tire and then they test the same tire with Gil, like in a different place and Gil likes the tire also, then they take that tire because at least they have like a double positive answer.

T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for today. I want to thank you all for being with us and thank Christian again for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Christian, thank you very much and best of luck this weekend and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series Season.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thanks very much.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you, we will talk to you earlier next week prior to the U.S. 500. Good afternoon.



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