CART Media Conference
May 18, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Welcome, everybody. Thank you for being with us on the CART media teleconference today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Christian Fittipaldi who is in his fourth year with the Newman/Haas Racing team. Welcome, Christian; thank you for being with us this afternoon. Christian, driver of the No. 11 big Kmart Ford Swift earned the first pole position of his FedEx Championship Series career and finished third at Saturday's G.P. Telemar 200 in his homeland of Brazil. The effort propelled him into third place in the FedEx Championship Series heading into Round 6 the Motorola 300 Saturday, May 29th, at Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis. Christian averaged the track record 174.002 miles per hour last Friday and winning the pole for the Rio 200 on the speedway named for his uncle, Emerson Fittipaldi, the 1989 FedEx Championship Series Champion. He has finished 9th or better in each of the first 5 events of the current FedEx Championship Series season and owns a career best streak of 7 top 9 efforts dating to last year's third place finish at Australia. Christian heads to Gateway with 49 points; good for third in the Championship; Rookie Juan Montoya leads with 65 points; followed by Dario Franchitti with 51. The Motorola 300, Round 6 of the FedEx Championship Series will air live on ABC TV on Saturday May 29 at 3 P.M. Eastern time. Please note that this air time is a change from the 1:00 P.M. air time originally published on the 1999 FedEx Championship Series schedule. With that, we will open it up to questions for Christian.
Q. Christian, obviously you are on such a great roll. Could you reflect back on last year and did it, in fact, for whatever reason, physical or just rust, getting back into the swing of things, did it take half a season before you could get back to what you want to be?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, Gary, I honestly don't think so. I just think that we were like extremely unlucky last year and for a lot of different reasons that is not worth going into like all the details here.
Q. Go ahead.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: A lot of reasons, like we were not first of all, not even finishing the races because if you actually look at my qualifying performances at the beginning of last year, they were, I think, on average better than what we have done like this year, the first five races. So I don't think that the car was really that slow. It was just that for some reason or another reason, we just couldn't put the races together. Definitely I think that the greatest improvement -- one of the greatest improvements is, I think, the consistency of the car, like in the race, it has been very, very quick in all five races; apart from the first one like in Homestead, I was really a little bit off the pace like the whole weekend but all the other four races the car has been pretty good. I think that the crew -- like the crew this year is definitely a lot stronger than last year; they are not making any mistakes like in the pits and that is also helping me a lot in the races; especially because the races are so tight nowadays that if you lose one or two positions in the pits, it is very, very hard for you to pass the people out there.
Q. Could you just talk and I will pass it on, but could you talk about just the euphoria when you won a pole down there and your crew's got you up on their shoulders; I am sure the fans were pretty bonkers.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Obviously everyone was happy because apart from racing, I would say over here like in America you are going to about eight, ten, twelve like different places per year. But, all of them in America. And, when CART has a chance to go down to Brazil, it is only that single race; like we go to Rio only once a year. So for us it is pretty big over there and when I was on pole, it is even nicer for the fans. So I was happy because it was like my first one and I guess everyone down in Brazil also was like really, really happy, especially for the race on Saturday.
Q. At the conclusion of the race, you know, having done so well, finishing third, how did you view finishing third having been on the pole? I am sure your expectations were that you had really got a shot of winning the race there.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: There no doubt about that, yeah. To be honest with you, I was happier for the points in the Championship than actually like in the race like where I finished. I really thought that we had it like this weekend and unfortunately like we did -- basically I ran the car with very little wing. I was very, very quick down the straights and I wasn't that quick in the turns. Both cars that finished in front of me, I think they had a slightly better car in the turns that would always give them a nice breather coming on to the straights and I was only able to catch like both of them right at the very end, right before braking. That was obviously like really too late. Apart from that, what really didn't help me a lot was the amount of yellow flags that we had in the second part of the race, we were starting and stopping, starting and stopping like every five or ten laps, and as soon as I got my tire warmed, I would get some call again. Then we would have to start all over again. I wasn't very, very strong in the first two or three laps. After that, the car was pretty good.
Q. Were you at all surprised by Montoya's start and the fact that he was able to improve his position as much as what he did?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Honestly not because, believe it or not, someone that starts third is pretty easy to go down into first because as long as you start right close to him - I was drafting him down the straights, so he was right behind my gear box, there was no way like I could really do something and obviously he had a run on me and, or I braked like in the middle of the track like what I did or I tried to really protect it, going everything down the inside which I said, okay, maybe I can get away with it the first turn, but I don't think I am going to get away with it like on the second straight because if I braked, everything down the inside, I would be very, very slow coming out of the turn. It is a situation where with the rolling starts, the guy that starts on pole, if there is a long straight, like in front of him, it is very, very hard for him to stay where he is. I think that you guys could see that example when Bryan Herta started the race, like a couple of weeks ago in Long Beach and he went past, I think it was Tony, on the first turn, and Tony did exactly the same maneuver last year with Dario. He started third and Dario was first and Tony came down the inside. So it is a situation where it was really, really difficult for me and I opted to do it that way. As he went by me I wasn't really worried because I thought that -- I was so confident that I thought that we would get him sooner or later, but unfortunately I was wrong.
Q. What tracks do you see as key tracks for you in your Championship hunt? Where do you have to do well?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, where do we have to do well? Everywhere. But basically -- we honestly don't have a good read on our car on like road courses yet at the moment, especially with the tires that we are on right now. We went to Long Beach; we were expecting a little bit more from Long Beach. We didn't have a perfect car over there and we know that. So we definitely need to work on the car like a little bit. We reckon that at the moment basically our road courses and the street courses are going to be the places that we need to work on really the most.
Q. How are you going to go about that? Do you have tests scheduled?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, yeah, yeah. Michael is running in Elkhart next week. I am going to Portland the following week. That adds up to about five days of testing before we actually go to the next street course or road course, which I can't remember which is going to be the beginning of June. So like we definitely need to work on the car and make it get better for those places because otherwise it is going to be pretty difficult; especially when we start, I think, the middle of June onwards, we have a lot of road courses.
Q. I wanted to ask you, you are going to have to have your wheels and that suspension tethered at St. Louis. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that and if that might affect the performance of the car at all?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It is definitely not going to change anything as far as how quick we are going to go there, but as far as safety, I think it is really like the right way to go. Maybe it is not a perfect solution but it is something that should be like a lot better. Theoretically we know how it works but we haven't really tested it like on the practical side and I don't think that there is anyone that really wants to test it. But sooner or later, it is going to happen because it is the nature of our sport and hopefully when that happens we can prove to everyone that it is a very, very good system.
Q. Well, you got the pole. So the next thing for you to do is to win the one here.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yes, definitely. I agree with you.
Q. You looked very good Saturday. I was thinking about you. Wish you the best of luck.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Okay, thank you very much.
Q. I am wondering, as somebody who is a veteran of the series whether you think Juan Montoya can sustain his current form?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, he is definitely, very, very strong, like there is no doubt about that. He is going very good. Myself and Dario actually like after the race we were even laughing a little bit about it, saying wow, the guy is definitely like on a roll. There is no doubt about it. But obviously we are going to do our best to stop him. There is no doubt that he has a lot of talent, together with an excellent team behind him, and a bunch of guys that are like really motivated because they have won the Championship the last three years. Everything added up together, it is very tough at times, but we will see. The Championship is definitely going to change a lot in the next 30 to 35 days because we don't race like on the ovals anymore and we are going to the road courses and it is going to be like a different part of the whole series. So we still have a lot of races, like there is still 15 races front of us, and I think that when you are not like in the position of going for the win, like you definitely need to continue scoring the points because it is going to make a huge difference like right at the very end of the season.
Q. You said earlier that you were just tickled to death to get the points and not so much thinking about the win. Is that a conscious effort or mental effort that you make at some point during the races when you say, you know, the chances of me winning are slim; let us go for the points?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think when you are in the car you have to be honest with yourself and you know exactly what is happening and that was like a mental effort when there were like five laps to go like when we restarted after the last yellow, I saw that it was like virtually impossible for me unless there was a small mechanical problem on both cars and I decided like to finish the race and like just go for the points. As I said before, I think that if you are not in a position to win, you definitely need to score the point because it is going to make a huge difference when we go into the last race of the series, when we will be looking for an extra five or six points and we will be crying, oh, why didn't I finish the race in 7th or 8th, and I tried to pass a car and I didn't make the move or this or that. So I know how tough it is and how hard it is going to get when we get close to maybe September, end of all, something like that.
Q. Is that a learned mental aspect of having four years in the series? Is that a decision that you think you might have made as a rookie?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, maybe yes, but at the same time it is something pretty obvious for me, like if you can't win then you have to finish, no matter where you are, like even if you are finishing 11th or 10th, it may make a difference. Championships have been won and lost by two or three points, so, nowadays, only after five races, we are still talking on the basis of two or three points is nothing, like it is very, very easy for you to get. But at the end of the year I know how tough they are, so every single point counts.
Q. A final question, if I may, and I think that everything that you said leads up to the fact that you are the only driver left in the series that has completed every lap of the first five races and that is something that you and the team have got to be awfully proud of?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, we are. We are definitely proud like what a difference from last year -- like last year I hardly couldn't do half of the races or something like that, so I think we are going very well. The crew is really motivated. I think that they did a great job the first five races and everyone has really helped me a lot and made my life a lot easier. So I think that we are going on to the next races really in good shape and, believe it or not, from Homestead up to now, we only got better.
Q. I have a question regarding the wheel tethers. Since this is a new concept, I was wondering where does one get them and do you have them on the car yet and will you and Mike be testing with them before the next race?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: As far as I know, I am only able to answer you the last question or the last part of your question. I think they will be on the car, on everyone's car like on the next race and as far as where the safety device, who got it to all the cars, I honestly can't answer that. I don't know that. But I think everyone is going to be racing with them. It is going to be like very, very, very good.
Q. Will you be testing with it? You said you were going to be testing at Portland and Mike will be testing at Elkhart.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I don't know. But I think yes. Like if we are racing them on the next race, I don't see why they will not stay on the car all the time.
Q. One thing you will see when you get here to Gateway and we saw it last night, the track is illuminated at night and, boy, it looks just like it is really bright. I think you guys are going to -- some of you guys are going to test that Friday night.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, this is what someone told me. When I was testing about a week, a week and a half or about two weeks ago, and someone said that there was going to be like a test run on one of the evenings to see if we can race at night, if everything is okay. I honestly don't see any problem. I think that if we have the right amount of light, it should be like very similar to be racing like in the day. I have raced a long time ago, I think it was go-karts like on tracks that had a lot of lights also and definitely that wasn't a problem.
Q. One thing that surprised me, the track was not as black as it usually is in the daytime. It looked like the track was concrete it was so light.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, that is going to be very good for us and it is really going to make our life easier, especially like the speeds that we are travelling, you really don't want to have to try and put a lot of effort into, so whereas the corner where should I brake, or where should I turn in, I think if we have the correct amount of light it is going to be as running like in the day.
Q. A couple of different questions here. First obviously your uncle was pretty pleased with what happened down there. How was the crowd size? I never did see a figure when we were down there. Do you know?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think around 40,000.
Q. Another concern that you might have - there has been a fair number of Cosworths that are let go this year. Obviously Michael had a big one there. Are there some specific problems that are still coming up and are you concerned with that?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: We are always concerned especially when something happens that you can't finish the race. We really look into it and try to see the problem and try to solve the problem for the next race. But not a huge concern. I think we had a lot more problems on engines in the beginning of the year, then we sort of solved that. We have a couple of small little glicks that we are just solving right now. But it is not definitely like a huge concern, at least on my side because maybe I am being a little bit lucky, but things, to be quite honest with you, as far as engine, have run pretty, pretty smooth for me like since the beginning of the year.
Q. Going into Gateway I guess the usual question is: Have you tested there yet this year and take us around the track where you think the opportunity for passing might be?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, we tested there about two weeks ago right before going to Rio. We really didn't do any quick lap times. We were really trying a lot of different solutions on the car. We left Gateway like pretty happy. I wouldn't say I was the happiest guy out there, but I was pretty happy with everything that we learned. A couple of those things we used when we went down for the last race and as far as overtaking, I think that everything is really going to happen more going into Turn 1 because it is where we brake a little bit and shift one gear, so I think that all the passing is going to happen going into Turn 1. Obviously the rest of the track, if you hit traffic and if you can go around traffic very, very quick, but if not, if you are on really like a one-to-one basis with another car, then the only place that you will pass him is going into one.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you and Dario have been talking about Juan's recent successes. How much does that motivate you to do better?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, always when there is someone beating you out there and you just trying to do your best and you are just trying to go quicker and trying to also beat him. But there is no doubt that he has definitely had a great season up to now; especially because it was like his first CART season. He won on the ovals and the ovals are complicated like, they are not easy; especially when it comes down to racing like it is not hard for you to get the speed out of them like once the car's working very good, but when it comes down to the races, it is something completely different. He has definitely showed that he has a lot of talent.
Q. You and Michael have had a couple of year's experience with the Swift. Other teams just got it this year. Are they experiencing the same problems you had or are they having different problems, do you think?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, I think that they are having basically general problems that we are having also. I think that like the car -- when the car is right, it seems to be very, very competitive, but like you will operate sometimes in a very small window and sometimes you don't get it right; maybe it is a little bit harder to handle than if we were running like any other car really. So at times it has been very good. There are times where it has been a little bit tough for us, but I think, in general, we have made like a lot of progress and we know how the car works nowadays and we are really trying to make it work even better because we think that once we have it working very, very well, it is definitely going to be a huge step forward when you compare it to the other scars.
Q. Are you looking for the pole again this week?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Looking for the pole, but most important for -- most important is looking for a great result on Sunday or Saturday, I mean.
Q. I want to go back to what you said about pit spots. You said they were better this year. To what do you attribute the improved pit spots?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, the crew has been practicing a lot, like we practice a lot of times like during the week and everything is a lot more solid like this year. Last year we were not -- when we got to the point when we weren't quick enough we changed a lot -- we had a lot of new crew guys and like it was a difficult situation for everyone. It wasn't nice for me and the car, but it wasn't easy for them also. This year I think that they did a great job and everything is working together a lot better than last year and we have been like really, really quick on our pit stops. That definitely makes my life a lot easier because it is good when you come into the pits in the same position and you leave in the same position, or sometimes even one or two spots better. It is very important because nowadays the series is very, very competitive. So if you manage to pass one or two cars out there, it can mean a big difference to the whole race.
T.E. McHALE: At this point we are going to wrap it up for today. We want to thank Christian Fittipaldi for being our guest this afternoon. Christian, thanks for joining us; best of luck in the Motorola 300 and during the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Okay, thank you very much, guys, and I will see in St. Louis in a week and a half.
T.E. McHALE: Very good. Thanks to all of you for being with us. We will talk to you next week. Good afternoon.
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