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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Christian Fittipaldi
Carl Haas
July 13, 1999


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We'd like to say welcome and congratulations to driver Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing. Good afternoon, Christian. And thanks for being with us today.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much.

T.E. McHALE: Christian, driver of the No. 11 Big K-Mart Ford Swift finished 1.060 seconds ahead of Newman/Haas teammate Michael Andretti Sunday to claim his first career FedEx Championship Series victory in his 71st start. He and Michael became the first pair of teammates to finish 1, 2 in a FedEx Championship Series event since Adrian Fernandez and Scott Pruett finished 1st and 2nd, respectively, at Mid-Ohio last year. Christian also became the third driver in the past five years to earn his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Road America, joining Jacques Villeneuve in 1995 and Dario Franchitti last year. And he continued a tradition which has seen seven drivers in the past four seasons post victories after being put on probation by Wally Dallenbach. For the record that list includes Andretti in '96, Paul Tracy in '97, Greg Moore, Bryan Herta and Alex Zanardi all last year, and Juan Montoya this year. And by the way, Wally removed Christian from probation, and promised him a hat, following his victory on Sunday. Christian, who also owns podium finishes of 3rd and Rio de Janeiro this season leads the FedEx Championship Series in laps completed with 1471 of a possible 1473, and in miles completed, with 2238.701 of a possible 2242.913. Heading into Sunday's Molson Indy at Toronto's Expedition Place, he stands fifth in the FedEx Championship series with 82 points. The Molson Indy, round eleven of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised via tape delay by ABC TV on Sunday. Beginning at 3:00 PM Eastern time. I should add at this point that we are also joined by Newman/Haas racing co-owner Carl Haas this afternoon. Carl will be happy to take questions as well, but has requested that this is Christian's moment any questions addressed to him concern matters directly involved with Newman/Haas racing. With that, we will open it up for questions with Christian or Carl.

Q. I'm actually doing a profile piece of the young guys on the track, and so my questions are probably a little bit more casual. My first one would be: What's it like being Cosmo's Sexy Guy of the Month, and when did that happen?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: What's it like? I'm embarrassed.

Q. You're embarrassed?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yes. No, I honestly -- I'm very happy to be able to drive the car. I really enjoy my driving a lot. And I'm definitely going to continue racing until the day I'm not motivated anymore. The day I'm not motivated, and the day I'm not happy when I'm in the car, I'm going to stop racing. And as far as being Cosmo -- as far as that is concerned, obviously it's an honor, but that's not the major priority in my life. You can be sure about that.

Q. Are there a lot of kind of female fans? Is there an allure in that sense?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think that there are a lot of fans. And you have to take care of all of them. It doesn't matter if it's a female, a male, older person or a really young person. You just have to be around all the time and try to take care of everyone.

Q. The crash in Australia, is that on your mind anymore? You were surprising people how quickly you came back from that. Can you tell me what that was like?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It's not on my mind nowadays anymore. But I think I carried it a little bit after I started driving again. I was very happy to be back in the car like only after 65 days, and everything worked out really smoothly. The team really helped me out a lot, especially, because they waited for me. And as soon as I was ready, I could go back into the car; so I definitely owe a lot to them. I got rid of my rod and my screws that were in my right leg at the end of last year; so I'm back to normal again, like one hundred percent. I don't really feel anything when I'm driving, and as far as I'm concerned, I didn't even have a hit back then.

Q. Can you describe what was happening during the crash when you knew you were going to crash? What goes through your mind and what you tried to do?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, you don't try to do anything, because everything, obviously happens really quick. And as soon as the car sort of went a little bit sideways and I found myself facing the wall, I said: Oh, it's going to be a very big one today. It's a situation where you're completely out of control. I got a little bit passed out from like the first moment I hit the wall on the left inside until when my car moved over to the right-hand side; so I really don't remember me hitting the wall on the other side. And after that, I came back again, and I could immediately feel that my leg wasn't together; so, I knew that I broke my leg. And the safety people were very, very quick and they got to the -- to the car like only seconds after the car stopped.

Q. I just wanted to know, leading up to the race in Toronto this week, can you tell us a little bit about your impressions of the track at Toronto, what you think about it, and I guess how you enjoy your time in Toronto?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: The track in Toronto definitely got a lot better I think from '97 onward, if I'm not mistaken. They resurfaced like 80 or 90 percent of the track. And of all of the street courses we go to, I think it's one of the best, and it really brings a lot of good racing over there. So I'm very confident going into this next weekend, and I'm pretty sure that the team will go very well there. Last year, we started the race like 4th and 5th. Michael almost won the race; so I don't see why we can't go very, very well again on Sunday. As far as what do I do when I'm out there, well, basically, go to the track, race, race, race the whole week, and there's not a lot of time for us. In the evenings, go out and eat, because it's a very big city, and there are a lot of nice places for us to eat down there.

Q. What are your overall impressions of Canadian fans as compare to American?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think they are great. Like, we definitely have a very good crowd when we go to all of the races, like in Canada, and I think that the fans are really onto motor racing. And definitely, that's very, very important for the sport.

Q. Chris, I guess you're on a high right now if you win on Sunday, but your teammate, Michael Andretti, he's won Toronto five times. Has he thrown any advice at you?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, Michael, definitely there's no doubt that he's one of best guys out there. But at the same time, he's been racing for a long time. So that's why he won it five times. No, I'm only kidding. But he definitely goes very well at all street courses. He's a real tough guy to beat there. He's very competitive. I guess that he also likes the track very much. So when you add up all of those things together, like that's the reason why he really won the race five times. Like I said before, we were competitive last year, and I don't see why we won't be really competitive like this Sunday again. So hopefully, we'll go very well, and you never know what can happen. Hopefully, we can finish 1, 2 again at the end of the race.

Q. You sounded like you were blushing a little bit there, Christian.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: A lot. I'm shy.

Q. Me, too.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I'm still a kid.

Q. How does it feel to be going for your second consecutive victory, finally?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, to be honest with you, it's like a huge weight that comes out of your back. And like, it was good. The weekend couldn't have gone any better. We finished like 1, 2 in the race. The team was really up there the whole weekend. And Elkhart Lake like is a track which is really important for us because it's very close to the shop. And so all the people that really work at the shop, they have a chance to come and see the cars race, and they put a lot of effort into the whole team the whole year. So it was a great weekend for all of us and a great weekend. All of the sponsors, K-Mart Texaco, everyone was really happy. And now going to Toronto, as you said, like I'm going to try to win again. There's no doubt about it. I know it's not going to be easy, and I know that the championship also is very competitive. Like this year, it seems to be very, very tough. Especially the cars that are running like from 2nd to 7th in the championship. We are definitely going to try and do our very best the next race again.

Q. And Carl, the season, actually last two years it must have been frustrating to see both of your cars run up front and run well, but incur some of the -- some of what I call, some of the worst like in racing. Finally to see both of your carts finish 1, 2 and see Christian win his first race, what was that moment like for you?

CARL HAAS: Well, it was -- you're right to backtrack a little bit. We've had a difficult season. And a lot of opportunities which went wrong, whether it's luck, or you make your own luck, mistakes, whatever. But I think there's certainly a lot of racetracks where we were competitive, both Christian and Michael, and it didn't turn out right; races we should have run. The Elkhart Lake thing was very, very gratifying. I can't remember for quite a while where I was happier than at that race. I was happy, of course, to have Christian win the race, and then Michael finishing up with a 2nd. So any time you get a 1st and 2nd, regardless, you're going to be happy. But it's kind of my home track, as Christian said, and that made it really well. Some of my sponsors were there, the chairman of K-Mart, and that was good for us. And the key people from Texaco were there; so, that was very good. And the Ford personnel was there, too. And that motor worked really well for the whole weekend. Not only for the race, but for qualifying. I think from that point of view was very good for us. But just to have that win, and I was very happy for Christian, because, you know he's been knocking on the door. He finally got that win. And hopefully, it's just a start of many more. So, you know, with the series as competitive as it is, and it's probably -- definitely is more competitive than at any time I've been in CART racing, and to be able to get a 1, 2 is very sweet.

Q. And Christian, have you spoken to Emerson about this win?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yes, I did. I spoke to him on Sunday, like after the race. Minutes, right after I came out. I was actually -- before I went to the podium, I was speaking to him. He was obviously very happy. I was really happy. But above all, I was very happy for my parents, also. Unfortunately, they couldn't be down at the track, and there has been like a major effort. They always help me through all these years, and hopefully they can come and many other times where I can share a lot more wins with them. But I was -- to be honest, very, very happy for them.

T.E. McHALE: Just to expand about the competitiveness of the series, Christian's victory Sunday made him the 7th different winner in the first ten races in the FedEx Championship series this year.

Q. The second half of the season is primarily more road courses than ovals. Will that help you more so in your hunt for the championship?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Maybe it could, it could help a little bit. Because I've been racing on them for a much longer time. Although, this year, like on the ovals, we were pretty strong. Like the first -- the first races, we finished two times in third place and I think I got a 6 and a 9 right in the beginning of the year. So we managed to score a lot of points on the ovals. But there's no doubt, I've been racing a lot longer on the road courses than the street courses, and maybe that can help a little bit.

Q. Plus you had those two big races coming up with Michigan and California, the high-back tracks. How do you feel about running those tracks?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, definitely they are a little bit different from running like the short ovals that are a 500-mile race. You really have to last the whole race. And once you're in it, if the car runs good, then you have a chance at. But you -- first of all, you really have to go the whole distance.

Q. You said after the race you were going to have a celebration. What did you do?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I was at the motor home together with a lot of friends from the team, sponsors, all the mechanics, everyone that managed -- like to put the whole deal together. Together with Bernie and Carl, and we were just enjoying the sweet moments, and it was definitely very, very important for me. And I ended up leaving the track only about nine o'clock in the evening.

Q. And you're off to Toronto. You've run there before. Can you tell us how you're going to approach this weekend?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: At the end of the day,, it's exactly the same. You're going to the track and you're trying to be as competitive as possible, and just keep up all of the -- all of the work. But, at the same time, you're going into the race with a lot less pressure. And I am happy for that, and I'm pretty sure that that's going to help me a little bit. Like after you got your first win, you've basically proved to yourself that you can do it. So it's only a different way of how things are going to work out now in the future; so I'm happy for that, and I think it's going to be very good for me.

Q. So you concentrate on the track and the setup this weekend more than work about anything else?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: That's true. Concentrate on making the car work and concentrate on getting that second victory.

Q. The street course in Toronto is drastically different from a permanent road course. How do you like that course in Toronto?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think of the street courses we go to, it's one of the best of the whole year. And there are a couple of passing places. It's not that easy. It's pretty difficult. But as a racing point of view, I think it's really interesting for the fans, and starting position there is definitely very important. As I said, there are a couple of passing spots, but it's not that easy; so it's very important for to you start in the top four, maximum, top six.

Q. It's been a long, hard road for you. I'm thinking all the way back in 1991, you had an awful crash in practice. Did you think of quitting racing then when you hurt your back?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: That was actually in France. That was in 1992. No. To be honest with you, no. And I think it's something if -- that is to happen with any driver, as soon as he has the accident, as soon as he can -- as soon as he can think about everything that happened and why he had such a bad moment, then he is to do the decision immediately, and not something that he should be thinking or sleeping on for a couple of weeks and eventually months. I think immediately after you have something bad happening to you, you should stop for a while and think, and make sure that your head is in place if it's in place, go from there. If you're not comfortable with what you're doing, then I think it's something very sensible for you to stop. And obviously, I was pretty comfortable all the time.

Q. But no pressure from your family, really? This is your decision?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, no. Absolutely no pressure. There's never going to be any pressure from my family. As I said before, I do it because I love. It I'm really motivated when I'm in the car, and I like driving very much. And the day I'm not motivated any more, the day I hop into a car and I'm not comfortable, you can be sure that I'm going to stop racing on the same day.

Q. Well, it was a hugely popular win. And that was just great.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thanks.

Q. Talk to me a little bit, if you can, describe the course up there in 30 seconds or less. Is it more a driver's course? Is it a good technical course? Or something that you've got to have a good right foot, and ask Michael a whole bunch about his notes on the setup?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: What's Toronto like; go to the start/finish. Turn 1 is pretty important, because it's going to put you on a very long straight, because you need to come out of it very quick. At the end of the straight, you have a very heavy -- you have a really heavy breaking point, and you go on to a second-gear or first-gear type corner. You get out of that; you come onto some right and lefts, medium-speed turns. Not very difficult, but -- although, they are medium-speed turns, they end up being pretty quick. And you have that right and left section, again, right before the start/finish, which I say are a little bit under medium-speed turns; turns done in second gear, not as quick, usually because of some -- I think it's concrete that they have in the middle of -- like of the turns. The car goes in. It tends to understeer a little bit right in the middle; and then on the exit when you go on the power, it oversteers like a touch. Then you have the last turn. Which is really challenging, because it's almost, I would say, a pretty quick medium- to high-speed turn that puts you into -- into the straight of the start/finish again.

Q. Since it is a contemporary road course. You don't get a chance to test like you to do at Road America or Ohio. How important is the past setups that you might have there, of course, Michael having five. How much interface do both teams have to have to get a good setup on that, since the only time that you test this year will be Friday morning?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Definitely, it's important for you to get there with a really competitive car, and make sure that your basic setup is working very good. On the other hand. If your basic setup is not working very good, like you're really onto a very long week. Because generally, the way the series is, it's so competitive that if you miss out on one practice, you're basically playing catch-up the whole week. And you -- at the end of the week, end of getting there, but everything is happening a little bit later for you. So while the other teams are on it a little bit earlier, everything is happening like one session later for you, and it ends up being a little bit harder. So based on what we learned from last year, I think that we are going to get there with a very competitive car, and that's definitely going to make our job a lot easier.

Q. Does this win change the status that you have in your family, if there is such a thing. And also Mr. Haas, the investment, five years, long time paying off. What is it that has let you keep faith so long in Christian in his ability to win?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: As far as my status is concerned in the family, no, I don't think so. I'm still Christian. I'm exactly the same, and Emerson is always going to be Emerson, my uncle, and Wilson, my dad. So really, I don't think that changed anything. And when I'm out there, I'm just trying to do my best all the time, and race for myself, really, and make sure that I can get those good races in. But I don't think anything is going to change in my family and I don't think anything is going to change in my life, either. Like it was a very sweet moment on Sunday. But Monday was the next day and we have to start thinking on the next race, and have to work very, very hard for the next race already. So really, you have to be on it all the time.

Q. What was the factor in Christian as a driver that has kept your faith for five years?

CARL HAAS: Well, you know I have kept the faith because I always thought he's a good race car driver, number one. And I felt he certainly has had higher potential. I know this is his first race win, but I certainly think he's had other very excellent drives. I remember a race in Detroit he almost won. But we've become friends and it's a good relationship. He works well with the team. He has a lot of input into it. He obviously had a season when he had that broken leg, which was a setback, and took a while for that to heal and come back in the car later in the season and still with a rod in his leg. And so I've never been -- I have had the faith in it, I guess is the best way to say it.

Q. If I may, one more for you, Mr. Haas, many people want to know, either a dollar value or a number of cigars that you go through in a season.

CARL HAAS: You know, I don't keep a lot of count, but we go through a few.

Q. Do you feel since '98 when things weren't going as well as they possibly could have, where this year you've been finishing races and plugging along with good results. Does that do anything for your confidence?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, definitely. It helps you a lot. There's no doubt about it. Like when you -- when you're really getting smacked on your face like one race after the other, and you see like -- you know that the performance is there, but things are not gelling in. Like after a while, it's not really motivating. And after a while, you definitely are asking yourself -- at least, I was a little bit asking myself, like is it -- why do I do this. I'm out there to try and be competitive. I'm out there to definitely win the races. I understand that it's like -- the sport is very, very hard, and it's impossible for you to win every race out there. But there are some moments that even though you didn't win a race and you finish like 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 5th, and you drove very well, I think that that builds a lot of -- I would say, like maybe motivation on you. And big example of that is, for example, Long Beach this year. Although I finished 5th in the race, I really enjoyed the race, and I had some nice moments during it. And that is something that really gives me the motivation and gives me all of the pleasure to go racing. When you have situations where you don't have that, and you only have basically like mechanical problems or even driver mistakes, or other people that are running into you, and you can't get the races together after a while, it is really very, very difficult. But, we managed to turn things around and we're definitely on the move right now.

Q. Sort of a general racing question. In light of this weekend's both F-1 and CART races, where Friday in your practice session with Patrick Carpentier, your sliding into the gravel and flipping about five times; and also in the F-1 race with Michael Schumacher. And he went into the gravel, a slightly different situation, but the gravel did not slow him down pretty much at all. I was just wondering about your thoughts of the safety differences between the two series and what works and what doesn't.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, basically, the two, I would say the major differences between both series is really F-1 is really, I would say, really high-tech right now, and the cars are more modern than over here. But on the same note, in America, we try to get the racing as close as possible, and we try to make very good racing out there. And this is proof of why CART, in my opinion, is going very, very well with the races we have. As I said, I think five or ten minutes ago, we have seven different winners in ten races. And unfortunately, we don't have that in like the races -- we don't have that like in the other series. So it's really enjoyable over here. It's very good, and racing is really close. As far as the gravel traps are concerned, it's a very delicate issue. I think Patrick was really unlucky the way he went on the gravel trap, and that basically tipped the car over. But 90 percent of the cases, it really helps. And I am definitely in favor of having a lot of those, I would say, traps.

Q. Do you think it would make any difference at all in the slowing down speed if you went from say a gravel trap like you have there to a different kind of abrasive, like a concrete or asphalt, something like that?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Maybe as asphalt, in that case. I have heard people talking about asphalt instead of the gravel trap. What basically can happen in the gravel trap is the car is doing around 180 miles an hour, and when it goes on the gravel trap 150 miles an hour; it's pretty high speed. And sometimes, as soon as you touch the gravel trap, the car start -- like the whole car, starts flying over like the whole trap. So instead of the trap really slowing you down, it really keeps the speed up, and then you end up hitting the tires pretty big. So if eventually, they could come up with different solutions to try and slow the cars down, it would help. But as far as I'm concerned, of everything that we have in my opinion, like those traps work very well.

T.E. McHALE: Carl, thanks for joining us and good luck this week in Toronto and throughout the rest of the season. We'll take a couple more questions for Christian. Thanks again, Carl.

Q. Christian, at any point, did you start -- you said something a moment ago that you question whether or not you could do it. How serious were you asking yourself that question?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: How serious? You're always asking yourself questions. And what really matters at the end of the day is you have to have the confidence behind you. You really need to be very confident. And as long as you have the confidence behind you, and as long as you don't lose it, then I think it's the reason why you're going to get the job done. If you have lost the confidence, then maybe it could be a problem. And as I never lost the confidence, it really didn't matter to which level I was asking myself if I could do it. Or if I couldn't do it. So every time I ask myself if I could do it, my confidence would just come in and tell me yes, like you can do it; so don't even think about it. But in that case, at one stage if I had lost my confidence, then I tend to think that things would have gotten like a lot harder for me.

Q. At any point was Carl one of the reasons that your confidence remained high?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It's always very important to have a team behind you, supporting you. There's no doubt about it. The team has been all the time behind me, especially through the very rough times, and for sure, that made my life a lot easier. I'm one hundred percent sure that if that wasn't the case, things would have been completely different for me.

Q. I was wondering if you could tell me on and off the track like what it is about your personality that makes you love driving and why, and are there any parallels between your life on the track and off?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: About driving, it's something that has been with me my whole life. It's one of those things that I guess just when you're growing up, like you're still a kid. You start looking at the cars and you see the way they run and you say, wow, one day I'll have to drive those. And then as soon as you start driving the cars, you get really motivated, and you get everything going. And I think everything just keeps on stepping up from there. But as far as having a specific motivation, maybe the fact that my dad used to race, my uncle used to race, indirectly, maybe that influences me a little bit. But like I said before, that has nothing to do with my -- with my driving, and I think that the day I don't get any more pleasure out of the sport, I'm going to quit the same day.

Q. Can you describe like the physical and emotional high of when you're driving? What's it like?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It's pretty physical, especially on the road courses and the street courses. It gets very demanding. Elkhart Lake, for example, and Portland, are tracks that we pull very high Gs in the turns, and that's very physical on you, on your neck. You have to be physically on it. And mentally, would I say that the ovals are the most important. Or the hardest, because of the speeds you're doing. You're traveling at very high speeds, and you have to be really focused all the time. You go to a place like Fontana, you're averaging for about three hours, you're averaging like 220 miles an hour, 225, and that's pretty quick.

Q. Does that consume you off the track as well? Do you do mental visions? Do you chill out and do stuff totally apart from racing when you're not?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: You try to chill out as much as you can. Believe me, you try to just forget about racing sometimes. And try to do something else. It's always in the back of your mind, like when you go to sleep, when you wake up in the morning. Although you're doing something else, you're always thinking a little bit about it. You're thinking: What about did I do wrong last race; what do did I do right the last race. What can I make a better driver; like. What do I have to do to become a better driver for the next race. It's always in the back of your mind, and it's something that you're thinking 24 hours a day. But when you're not on it when I'm not at the track, and when I'm not really involved with it, I try to step out a little bit and sort of try to give a break for my mind.

Q. What do you do to do to that?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It can be anything, as far as going to the movie theatre. Going like to a bar, going out with friends. Doing some sports. It can be anything. It doesn't have to be something really specific. But as long as you switch your mind every now and then, I think that's a major help for you.

Q. Thank you very much and best of luck.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Christian, thanks for being with us. Best of luck in this weekend Molson Indy in Toronto, and through the rest of the FedEx Championship series season.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thanks a lot, and hopefully, I'll talk to you next Tuesday again.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you again for joining us. And thanks for everybody else joining us, and we'll talk to you next week.



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