CART Media Conference
September 21, 1999
T.E. McHALE: We are joined now by Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas racing who has been cleared to make his first FedEx Championship Series start since the July 25th U.S. 500 at this weekend's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Welcome back, Christian and thanks for being with us today.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Christian has been sidelined since sustaining a subdural hematoma in an August 2nd testing accident at Gateway International Raceway. He was in the midst of a career-year when he had the accident having claimed his first victory and pole position of his FedEx Championship Series career at Road America and Rio de Janeiro respectively. He stood 4th in the series with 101 points at the time of his injury and through the first 12 rounds of the Championship was leading the series in both laps and miles completed. During his convalescence Christian maintained a rigorous rehabilitation schedule and actually finished 8th among 140 entrants and fourth in his age group in a recent triathlon in Florida. Heading into Sunday's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston he stands 8th in the FedEx Championship Series with 101 points. The Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Round 18 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ABC TV this Sunday September 26th being at 4 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Christian.
Q. Since your season has been interrupted and you had such a good season going, what is it that you feel you can gain from getting back in the car for these last three races? What can you accomplish that will help you in the future, work toward next year?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, definitely this first race are not going to be very easy for me, but I still think that we can finish in the Top-5 in the series and still do finish up the season with some three very strong races and hopefully that is going to put me very well in shape for like next year. But I am very confident and the fact that I missed out a little bit definitely that is not going to help me. But I am still very confident and I think that we can do some last three strong races.
Q. I am glad to hear you are going to be back, Christian. Did you give any thought at all to maybe just sitting out the rest of the year and making sure everything was right and just starting fresh next year, or was it really important that you get back if even for only a couple of races?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I think it was very important for me to be back in the car when I was ready to be back in the car. By no means we are really pushing the issue here like we waited enough and I am ready to go back in the car. If I am ready in time to still do three -- like three races I will do them. If not, if that wasn't the case, I would have waited until like the beginning of next year. But happily enough, for me, it is not really the case. As I have said before, like I am really happy to be back in the car, but this weekend is definitely going to be very busy for me. It is not going to be easy. I know exactly why it is not going to be easy, but I promise you, Steve, that if I finish in the Top-3, I will buy you a cell phone.
Q. In that case I am going to root for you to finish fourth, how is that (laughs)? Thanks.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: You're welcome.
Q. First of all, how do you feel physically? Obviously you must feel pretty good running the triathlon but I know you have had some headaches. Are all those gone now? Do you feel you are 100% physically?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I wouldn't say I am 100% physically because when you are losing out on driving, no matter how much you do on the other side, it is never the same as driving. I think that I am in pretty good shape, but maybe not 100%. The head definitely doesn't have any problem. I don't have anymore really -- any headaches or I am not seeing double or none of that. All of that was really a bad problem for me on the first two weeks and then it really got better, better and better and I haven't had any headaches now for the past three to four weeks, I would say.
Q. I know you are on the safety committee for the drivers and with the tragedy that happened last week - you have been involved in two pretty serious accidents yourself - it comes up again how safe are the cars. How safe, you know, is the circuit and what is your reply to that as far as the safety goes of racing in general?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think racing in general is really, really safe nowadays, especially if you compare it to like 20 years ago, 25 years ago. How safe are the cars? How safe are the tracks? They are never too safe like there is never going to be a point where either the tracks or the cars are oversafe. The only thing that we have to work on is to make them every time safer and safer exactly to avoid what happened like two weeks ago. We can't wait for us to really start reacting and we need to try and make everything, not only the tracks, but also the cars, safer like -- not I would say every time we go out there, but as much as we can and we have to strive for that and I think that is going to make a very big difference in the sport. But coming back to the first part of your question, if you compare it to about 30 years ago, or 25 years ago, there is no doubt that the sport that we do nowadays is like, I would say, almost up to 100 times safer than it was.
Q. Describe, if you will, your emotions coming into this race and coming back from the injury.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I don't know what to say. That is a good question. But I am happy because finally my holiday is finished and I can go back to work. I was starting to get a little bit bored, to be quite honest with you. I am happy to be a part of the next race and, as I said before, I think there are still a few more races to go and we can finish up the season in like on a high note and really get revved up for the next year, but Bob did a great job when I was out and I think both myself and like the whole team is very happy and hopefully we can go well.
Q. Is there frustration that there you were, you took the win at Elkhart and it looked like Christian was really going to contend for the title. Do you feel frustration in not being able to?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, I can't say that I am happy because at the time I wasn't there, is no doubt about it that I wasn't. But what can you do? I would rather be -- I am a happier person being over here talking to you and knowing that everything is normal than actually trying to go for the title and then something worse happens like down the road. So I am a happier person talking to you here without the title, that you can be sure. But, by no means, that is definitely my goal. I am still going to fight for that and I know it won't happen anymore this year, but we will see what is really going to happen next year. But going back to the beginning of your question, I was upset; especially in like the first couple of days, there is no doubt about it; especially when it started sinking in that I was going to lose so many races and I know it is already very competitive when you don't lose any race and I knew that the fact that I was going to lose so many races, it was all over for me.
Q. A final question, I don't want this to sound marveling or anything, but while you were away, Ernie had a crash at Winston Cup and announced his retirement. How much did you look at that and if you did, did your mind wander and could you understand what Ernie was going through?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I can understand what Ernie is going through because obviously he is a great driver. He is a little bit older than I am. He has been doing motor racing at that level for a long time. So maybe he fulfilled his racing ambitions and that is why really he decided to stop. Unfortunately this hasn't -- unfortunately not or -- fortunately or unfortunately, depends how you look at it, this hasn't come through my mind yet and I haven't fulfilled my dreams yet. The motivation is still deep inside me and very, very strong. So I have to continue racing. On the other hand, someone came out with some rumors, I don't know from where like one week ago or two weeks ago, I can't remember-I got some phone calls even from San Paolo, Brazil saying that I was going to retire. And I want to keep something very, very clear, the day that I retire you are going to hear from me and everyone is going to hear from me. But they are going to hear it from my mouth and not from what other people say out there. By no means I never thought of really stopping.
Q. I just wanted to ask you: For you and Michael, being that you guys had such bad luck here last year, is there some extra motivation coming to Houston; especially with the race being the title sponsor of your team to do a lot better than the misfortune you guys had here last year?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, definitely the Texaco cars didn't have a great showing last year. (laughs). We were out of the race like -- both cars was about a lap and a half. It was almost a joke. We are highly motivated to change it exactly to the opposite way this year. There is no doubt about it. It is very important race for us and it is really important for myself also because I am coming back and it is our great sponsor and so it is going to be very important for us to finish the race and finish very, very well. But going back to your question, like definitely last year wasn't very impressive at all like the track was great and unfortunately we had a lot of rain when it came down to the race, but when it came down to race time, as far as team-wise is concerned, like the performance wasn't very impressive.
Q. I wanted to talk a little bit about last year, the fact we did have the torrential rains here and we really didn't get to see how the course was going to race. Of course you got practice and qualifying time on it. Is it still going to be a situation this year where you guys are going to come in and not really knowing how this racetrack is going to race come race day?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, obviously we don't have the dry track race experience that we could have gained last year. And we do carry a lot of that from, for example, like when we go to Portland, from one year to the other, we carry a lot of the previous race experience and unfortunately the only race experience that we have about that track is on wet settings and then eventually going to dry at later stages of the race. But still I think we have a reasonable amount of experience from last year from Friday and Saturday. We are going to build up again this year, so I honestly don't see it as being a huge problem. If it is going to be a problem, it is going to be the same for all the cars out there. There isn't going to be one car that is going to have a small advantage over the others, I don't think so.
Q. If I could have one follow-up, with you coming back into the cockpit, tell us a little bit about what you are going to be trying to do in the car that first practice session, once you get to town, shaking down the car, but then kind of shaking your cobwebs loose too, I guess?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, as I say, taking the webs out of my body and coming back into working mode and going out nice and steady, but competitive all the time. And like I think the team has a very good car on that type of a circuit, so, I think that it will slowly come building up and maybe the first practice we won't set like the whole world on fire and then start building up and go better, better throughout the whole weekend. As long as I go better throughout the whole weekend I am going to be very happy.
Q. Where did you test before the doctors okayed you this week?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I ran yesterday at Sebring.
Q. Everything obviously went pretty well?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Yeah, everything went okay. We ran in the wet because it was raining a lot, but everything went okay.
Q. A question that it kind of relates to the question that the gentleman asked you earlier about Ernie. There has been a number of athletes over the last few years who have been forced to retire or to just walk away from their sport; whether it be football or racing or whatever because of head injuries and having several. Now you have had two concussions in the car and both of them were reasonably severe. Has that put the fear into you that another one of these head injuries could be the end of your career and is that going to change the way you approach anything?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think the end of my career or the end of anyone's career is when you are not motivated to drive anymore. As long as you physically can get the job done, I really don't think that way and maybe it is going to be next year, maybe it is going to be like in 15 years from now, I really don't know. But the day I hop into the car and I really don't feel anything when hopping into the car, I am going to stop driving like the same way, like the same day. I really don't have to drive because of other people and I drive because of myself. I love what I do and you can be sure that I am going to stop the same day. As far as getting involved in accidents and eventually having small injuries, there is obviously a big concern for all the drivers because no one is out there to really get hurt. We are out there to try and practice our sport the best way as possible. As far as fear is concerned, I think there isn't one driver out there that doesn't have a little bit of fear. Everyone has fear because if you don't have fear, you can't drive the car to the limit. You would never know when to stop or like when to brake or how quick is too quick. Sometimes maybe when you forget about the fear, you sort of over drive the car and that can put you in a complicated situation.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Christian, for joining us this afternoon. Welcome back to the FedEx Championship Series. We look forward to good things from you in Houston this weekend and continued success for the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much. I will see you guys out there in Houston.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to be with us today. Thanks again to Kathi Lauterbach for helping us put this together on such short notice. Have a good week. We will see some of you in Houston and we hope to talk to all of you next week.
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