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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Cristiano da Matta
March 13, 2001


T.E. McHALE: Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing the winner of Sunday's FedEx Championship Series Season opener the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix presented by Herdez in Monterrey, Mexico. Good afternoon Cristiano and congratulations and thanks for joining us today.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody.

T.E. McHALE: Cristiano, the driver of the NO. 6 Texaco, Havoline, KMart Toyota Lola recorded his second career FedEx Championship Series victory Sunday in his 41st start. His inaugural victory came at Chicago last year. It was Cristiano's first start for Newman/Haas Racing where he replaces veteran Michael Andretti and who has moved on to Team Motorola. This marks the first of 19 seasons in which the Newman/Haas Racing has not had at least one Andretti either Michael, his father Mario, or both, in the driver's seat. Sunday's victory was also the team's 8th season opening win in FedEx Championship Series competition joining triumphs by Mario Andretti at Long Beach in 1984, 1985, 1987 and at Phoenix in 1988. Nigel Mansell at Australia in 1993 and Michael Andretti at Homestead in 1997 and 1998. Cristiano leads the FedEx Championship Series driver standings for the first time in his career following Sunday's victory and heading into Round 2 the April 8th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, he stands first in the series with 21 points. With that we will begin taking questions for Cristiano. Good afternoon, do you have a question for Cristiano de Matta.

Q. Did you have a concept of how quickly the team was geling?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I felt personally a big, big improvement, especially on the last two months of the off-season testing. So as we started, of course, it starts everybody is new to everybody, so it was a little bit more difficult. But it wasn't a difficult start that I can call difficult anyway. It is the start and everything is not going as fast as -- when everybody of course is working with each other for a long time. So after November and December we got into January. I felt like our performance in testing improved a lot and we were able to make a lot bigger steps during test days, make a lot more improvement on the car during those test days in January and February then before. Then I was used to in the past. So I knew that we were getting along really good and really -- and of course getting better everyday, so I knew we were ready to start.

Q. Congratulations and you were really a star, everybody noticed you right off the bat when you got to CART Racing. One of the few drivers have driven both Formula 3000 and Indy Lights. Which have those two series, Formula 3000, Indy lights do you think prepared you better for CART Racing?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, for me it is a little bit of an unfair comparison to make because the team I drove to has a lot to do with the team you drive for and the kind of people you are learning stuff from. So when I was in 3000 I was driving for a pretty bad team. To be honest, in that year, 1996, I didn't learn much. The two years had in Indy Lights, I drove for two very good teams so I learned a lot when I was driving lights.

Q. Maybe that is the answer to the question.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, I think it depends a lot on the team.

Q. Way to go Mr. Rock & Roll?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thanks.

Q. It looked like you had a little bit of fun out there with Kenny Brack. Was there a point where you thought maybe he might take the both of you out and talk a little bit about the battle that you two had?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, it was the biggest thing for me, the most difficult thing for me on the race is that, of course, I didn't want to give him easy life to try to overtake me. But at the same point I didn't want to make contact with him. I could see from my mirrors that he was getting more excited and more aggressive and he was feeling like he could pass me so I had to keep a close eye on him. I think twice I really had to turn the car where I wanted to avoid him. Fortunately his two overtaking maneuvers didn't go right because from inside the car, driving ahead, the places he tried to pass me I was sure he wasn't going to be able to pass. Actually one of the opportunity I actually let him by because I knew there wasn't anyway he was going to make it through the turn. So just waited 'til he passed by me then I turned and of course he couldn't make it. So -- but, yeah, we were having fun but I had to keep a real close eye on him. I think he drove a very good race, but it was just a situation like off line it was so dirty that it made his life a little bit more difficult.

Q. Did you laugh each time when he went off the course and went through the grass?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, no, there wasn't any time to laugh about that. Maybe after the race, but not at that time.

Q. What do you think is going to be the most important way to keep your momentum going? Last year we saw the season opener winner not capitalize on it. A lot of people wouldn't want to see that happen to you. What do you think you personally and the team would have to do to keep the momentum going?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: The biggest thing is to just keep doing our normal work, I think. We just -- it is a good thing that I am racing for an experienced team; that they have won many races before, so I know that another race win is not going to change their attitude about their work. So we are just going to keep doing the same kind of work we have been doing this last season and in this first race I am sure the results will keep on coming naturally to us.

Q. Certainly strong future in Mexico but do you see anything that really gives this venue a foot hold in the CART calendar in many years to come?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Biggest thing I saw there was, which is probably apart from the race itself is -- the most important thing is the crowd. There was a lot of people there. I heard more than 100,000 people watching the race. Just by being there you could see that it is not -- they were not just normal race fans that are just there watching having fun. They are very, very big part of them, they knew a lot about what CART Series was all about; knew the drivers, the teams, what were the changes from last year. I was impressed that a lot of people knew that Newman/Haas had spent so many years with Ford and now we have Toyota and I was replacing -- like a lot of fans had a lot of knowledge. So I think it is very promising.

Q. Talk about the track at Long Beach and the difference between the track in Mexico?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, it is two very, very different circuits. Mexico the track was really really smooth. There wasn't a bump on the whole racetrack. It is probably the most smooth racetrack I have ever driven at. At Long Beach, is a different thing. It is a very, very bumpy circuit. So the way to set up the car I am sure is going to be pretty different in both of these race tracks. My expectations are good for Long Beach. We have been doing good off-season testings at Sebring which is a bumpy track too and the same kind of rough circuit as we have at Long Beach. So I would imagine that we are going to have a good car there, a good competitive car there. It is tough to know how competitive we are going to be because the way the series is today, it is just so competitive sometimes you just get to the racetrack you don't know if you are going to be Top-5 or Top 15 or Top 20. So there is always this questionmark, you know, ahead. But we are working hard here on our setup. We are improving a few details we know we could have done better in Mexico, and we just waiting to get there. But I am pretty confident about what we have in our hands right now.

Q. Are you in Brazil?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, I am in Miami still.

Q. I want to ask you a question about the pit stops. I think your team used the new system of the vent person, not the vent hose, that is the fueling you used the single unit refueling system, then air-jack hose with the crew men in the rear of the car. Are you aware whether your team did that?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, Yeah, I knew that.

Q. Do you think that that helped your pit stops because I know you got out in front very quickly on your stops.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, we had two good stops but I don't think there is any difference in time by using one system or the other one. The fact is we were able to try those things on the car and actually do some pit stops practicing with that in the test with he we had at Laguna back in February, so we were pretty confident about the system. And we knew that we wouldn't be losing anything to the other system and we were doing a lot better with safety with this new system. So we decided to go for it.

Q. Seems to work for you. Congratulations.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you.

Q. By all intents -- by everybody's measure the race was a huge success, but there were some people who said there could have been more passing. The track was dirty which I guess was a major factor in not being able to pass. Do you feel there is anything else that maybe could be done to that track to enhance the opportunity to pass for next year?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I don't really know what people expect to see in some of our races. I think there were some passing going on. Of course there is never going to be like one of our races in Michigan or Fontana, it is just a different type of racing. I think people have to understand that. But I think the track is pretty good. The natural use of the racetrack from now on, just by having more races there, some other series racing there, I am sure when we go back there next year I am sure there will be more than one line on the racetrack and that will help passing just by the track being more used, something normal for a new road course.

Q. Talk about the track conditions that you found out there, especially toward the end of the race when the track seemed to be deteriorating, did that make your driving more difficult?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, there was only one spot where I think there was a new patch on the surface and this new patch was coming off a little bit and it was making the track really dirty off-line. That is actually where we had all crashes we had on the race. It definitely -- the track was deteriorating from the beginning of the race. It was actually something that was happening already on the Indy Lights race. It is strange because during the whole race weekend we never had anything and we had long sessions on the racetrack. Maybe it was a little bit warmer on Sunday or just cars going through there all the time. But it definitely made everybody's life a little bit more difficult, especially on that turn where we hardly, hardly had a line wide enough for one car. Sometimes you actually had to go a little bit over the curb just to make yourself room enough for all the four years on the clean line. So it was definitely a challenge.

Q. Given the amount of run-off area out there looks like they could actually make that track a little bit wider for next year. Formula 1 takes a stance that they won't race anyplace where somebody else has already checked out the track for them. Do you think that would be a good idea for CART?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think it is definitely a good idea, yeah, but I disagree when you say about the -- the track is pretty wide. It was just a matter of -- it was a new surface, so it was dirty off-line, the line for us was really narrow, but the track itself is wider. Like I said before, I think next year is going to be fine with just having more races there.

Q. Your win in the first race, does that change the way you drive in the next few races to acquire points? Do you become more aggressive to maintain first place or do you sit back to start getting points to start building the season toward the Championship?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, it is not going to change the way I am driving. Probably if there was like two or three rounds to go and leading the Championship I would drive a little bit less aggressive, let us put it like this, and more in a defensive kind of driving just to maintain a gap. But that is not the point when you still have 20 races to go, just have to keep on pushing and just race, race after race, and still too early to try to conserve a gap which is not even big. It is a 5-point gap can disappear just like that in a series as competitive as ours. So not going to change my style right now.

Q. Long Beach different track, I would think it requires a different mental mindset. You found a very wide open check on a road course in Mexico. That is a very different condition than you are going to find at Long Beach where the walls are in close and there is a lot of bumping and banging that might be going on. Do you take a fire's mentality in a track like Long Beach where you may have to literally fight for every inch that you get on the track?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, in my -- I always think I have to fight as hard, like even in a street course that you have walls beside you all the time, you still have to fight as hard as you do in the road course when you have an open area beside you. You cannot let the walls, for example, change your way of driving or, for example, just the way the racing is with more bumping for example, we cannot let those things change our style. So I am going there I am just going to be driving the same way.

Q. Talk about the chassis development and also the development that you noticed in the Toyota engine. The chassis seemed to be fairly close; obviously yours won. Then with a Penske Reynard and then a Reynard. What are you seeing as similarities and what are you seeing as advantages?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think to be honest, I don't think there will be a big difference in performance right now between the chassis available. I think the biggest thing you can make is the difference you have on the setup you are using. I think no matter if you have Lola or Reynard or whatever you have, the setup you are using has been a lot more important than the -- I mean, I am talking about this year because -- the two manufacturers seem to be so close, so it looks like the setup the team is using has been very, very important.

Q. About the Toyota engine, this is -- you have got some experience with it. How have they improved for this year?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, Toyota definitely, they were up to speed last year. They won five races last year and I think this year it is my third year with them and I always saw from one year to the other a big, big difference performance-wise. They were always improving a lot in the off-season time. I think this year is no different. This year they made a huge jump. They raised their game again and it has been working better than ever.

Q. What does Cristiano do in this long gap between this race and Long Beach?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, to be honest, I am taking suggestions because I haven't figured it out yet because it is a strange feeling to be honest because the first time in my whole life racing that after I start the season a one-month gap and I cannot test, usually, you know, one month gap we would have three or four tests and it would be busy. But now I have all this time, I am going to keep on riding my bicycle a lot, keep on working out pretty hard for Long Beach race as we are going to be out of the car for a month, and play some guitar. I am going to have a lot of time to do a lot of stuff. I am going to probably spend a few days back home in Brazil, spend some days here. It is so much time I don't even know yet. .

Q. I watched the race on tape this morning and it looked to me like Kenny Brack really tried to make a pass on you after both of you were called to come into pits within two or so laps. That surprised me. Did that surprise that he tried to pass you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, it surprised me a little bit. But that lap, that specific lap I didn't get a really really good run out of turn 8 or 7, I don't remember how CART was calling the turns there. But we were calling it turn 9 actually. So I didn't get a very, very good run out of turn 9 and I think he saw the chance and he tried, but he wasn't -- I think he didn't try harder because he knew we were coming in in a few laps.

Q. I think he tried to pass you and you tucked in right behind his rear wing but he had too much speed and he went off the track. I think this was before the pit stop. So my question is: As a driver can you tell if the person, the other driver is not going to make the turn and if there was anybody else that you worried about behind you later in the race?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, Brack was definitely my main concern. At that very moment I knew that he wasn't going to make it through the turn because I was breaking on the clean line, on a good line. There was a lot of rubber there. My car was good on the breaking and I was breaking pretty deep there. I saw him coming to the third line and trying to break deeper than I was breaking on the clean line, so I had no doubt that he wasn't going to be able to make it. So I just waited until he drove by me and then I turned.

Q. We talked briefly about the walls and the street condition, Long Beach. There has been a lot of talk lately about safety in motor sports in road racing. What is your mind set going into a place like Long Beach where the walls are right there and as you stated, you still have to charge hard to do well in the race.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think the walls in Long Beach actually they are, of course a street race is always a little bit more dangerous because the walls are so close. But the way they -- they put the walls around the racetrack in Long Beach, it is the best way possible. There was a concern, the drivers were concerned last year about the fencing that was getting too old, and from the reports we have, from the drivers association, we heard that we were going to have all new fencing all the way around the racetrack which is what we asked for last year. So the walls are actually not our main concern right now because I think they do a pretty good job on positioning them on the best way possible. If we got this fencing that they told us that we are going to have this year, I think the safety conditions are going to be pretty good. Of course racing is always a dangerous sport, but we appreciate that they are trying to make it as safe as they can for us.

Q. If I am not mistaken CART requires a HANS on the ovals, but do you wear it during road events?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yes, I wore it on the race in Mexico. I know that they are not many drivers that can get themselves comfortable in the car with the HANS for the road and street courses right now. I have been lucky to find one of those devices that fits me pretty well and I was able to get comfortable with it straight-a-way. I know there are a lot of people that have a lot of complaints about when the track is bumpy and all, that but I -- in the off-season was tested in Sebring and Laguna which is two very tough and physical tracks and I didn't have a problem so I decided I am ready to use it everywhere now.

Q. A question about television. Obviously you were in Mexico so you couldn't see what was shown in Brazil, but were you interviewed for Brazilian TV that was shown the same day, out of the car after the race?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, it was actually a little bit confused because I made a mistake and I parked the car on the wrong spot after the race was over. I know that -- that made it a little bit more difficult for the Brazilian TV. But actually I was able to talk to them and it was not -- how can I say -- it wasn't as a -- it wasn't as a peaceful interview as it was supposed to be because there were a lot of people around me at that time and they had to sneak in and interview me and there was a lot of people talking loud and all that. But it still came out well.

Q. The reason I am asking because American TV went off before and they were trying to talk to you on the radio in the helmet. Typically in Brazil the guys are seen the night of the race?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yes, we are being shown there on live TV now.

Q. They save enough time to talk to you afterwards.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, they actually -- I talk of course to my mom on Sunday night and she told me that she saw the podium. And even before the race, she was telling me that they even showed the trucks parade. That is when they started the broadcast there, so they saved a lot of time before and after the race.

T.E. McHALE: At this point we will let Cristiano go for the afternoon. Cristiano, thank you for being with us this afternoon. Congratulations again on your victory on Sunday and the best luck like through the remainder of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series Season.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Okay, T.E., I appreciate that.

T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to be with us this afternoon. We will talk to you next week much.

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