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CART FedEx Championship Series: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

CART FedEx Championship Series: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Michael Andretti
Max Papis
Jimmy Vasser
April 14, 2002


LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA

MERRILL CAIN: We are going to get started with our Top 3 press conference following today's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. We'll get started with Max and Jimmy as we await Michael Andretti. Start off with Max Papis, finishing third today, driving the No. 22 Rockwell FirstPoint Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone for Sigma Autosport. First podium finish ever for Sigma Autosport, 10th podium for Max Papis. His last podium result since he finished 2nd at Fontana last year. Max, obviously a great race for you, a great race for the team. Please take us through your day.

MAX PAPIS: It is more than a good race. I mean, is like a win for Sigma. Is the best ever result for them. Is my 10th podium. Suddenly I lost my voice because I was cheering too much (laughter). You know, since Germany, we keep scoring point, I keep scoring point. I think it is just fantastic. We came over here without doing any testing from Mexico to Long Beach, and very, very little testing before then. You know, we came here only with one car, no spare car. As I said again, this is just very, very good. This is proof again that Ford is a very, very strong engine. Despite anything, we have always been up there. I've always had the support of Ford. To give the first podium to my team is a great satisfaction for my mechanics. I think that was very good teamwork. In the people, Gordon and David, my two engineers, they were there, did a very good strategy. I tried to put a lot of pressure on Michael, in couple of restarts, but we didn't have really the speed to stay up with him. Slightly kissed the wall when Jimmy went by me, because I was trying to hang on. I was doing my best. As I said again, this is a very, very, very special moment, and I just don't want to stop because third place is okay, but I'm looking forward to bring the first success to Sigma, and hopefully we can do it very shortly.

MERRILL CAIN: One other quick note on Max. His career best finish in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His previous best here was 9th in 1999. Moving over to Jimmy Vasser. Finished second today, Driving the No. 8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone for Team Rahal. Stick with Jimmy here for a moment. Jimmy's third career podium finish here at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His others were victory here in 1996 and a third place finish in 2000. It's his eighth Top 10 finish in 11 career Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach starts. Jimmy, take us through your afternoon. You pushed Michael pretty hard there at the end.

JIMMY VASSER: Yeah, at the end. But at the beginning Cristiano got a good jump on me. I was blocking down the inside line going into one. It was a little bit slippery, the car was moving around a bit. He got a good run around the outside. He checked out. I really couldn't hang on at all. I think Cristiano had the car to beat today. It was unfortunate for them, those guys. But that's the way it goes, right? (Laughter). We've all been there before. The car ran flawlessly all day. Like Max said, I have to reiterate about the Cosworth engine. It didn't miss a beat. It's got great power. It's a very friendly engine to drive. The guys did a good job on the race car all week long. I mean, all weekend, since we came off the trailer, Shell car has been fast. My teammate, Michel Jourdain, as well. I've been in here every day, probably echo the same things I said before. Great race team, good feeling there. You know, if we continue to put ourselves in the position that we did this weekend, and we had a good car at Monterrey, if we continue to do that, the wins will come. All you can really do is try to put yourself in a position to win. You know, fantastic tires all day long. I never had any tire issues at all. The Bridgestones had great, great consistency and grip level. I had no real problems. I think we did the best we could with what we had. We had a pretty darn good thing. At the end there, on the yellow, I think I could have -- I definitely should have hustled around. Mike and Max came in. We had some poor radio contact all day. I heard some cackles on the radio. I wasn't sure. We were getting some bleeding through. At times it wasn't really my team. So I wasn't -- but I thank Brian for that. Always hustle around the pace car. For some reason I didn't. I didn't think that Mike and Max were there, were out there. I was racing with Kenny and the other guys, I was waiting for the pace car. The team instructed me to kind of lay up a little bit, save a little fuel, fuel-saving mode for having more fuel for the end, which in retrospect really doesn't mean anything because we had plenty of fuel anyway. Just one of those things. Would have been close if I raced around. Max and I were talking, I think they had 30 seconds on us. We all came in two laps after that green. They had some clear track on hot tires. It would have been close, but I didn't even give it a chance. I held the field up for a couple of laps, let these guys have it easy. But, you know, all in all, good weekend for Team Rahal. You know, like I say, if we put ourselves in that position, keep getting points, we'll get our wins. Keep our eye on the ball, which is the championship. You've got to get points to do that, so. Good weekend for us.

MERRILL CAIN: Couple other quick notes. Jimmy's second place finish and Michael's victory here marks the first time American drivers have finished one and two since Michael won and Bobby Rahal finished 2nd at Vancouver in 1996. Last time two Americans finished one and two in Long Beach was also in 1996 when Jimmy won and Parker Johnstone finished second. We now move to your Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach champion Michael Andretti, driving No. 39, Motorola Honda/Reynard Bridgestone for Team Motorola. It's Michael's CART record 42nd career victory, he stands third on the all-time Champ car win list behind his father Mario who has 52 career wins, and AJ Foyt with 67 career wins. It's his first Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach win since he took his first Champ car win in 1986, and it's the largest span between victories at one venue in CART history, marks 16 years.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Wow. (Applause.)

MERRILL CAIN: It's got to feel great. It's been a long time, as we said, between victories here. It's got to feel great to get a win here where you have a long and storied tradition with your family.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's such a big win. As you said, this place is special to me because it's where I was able to get my first win, as you said. Man, 16 years, wow (laughter). Anyway, it's awesome, you know. You know, even makes it more special having Jimmy here for USA. We even have an Italian up here for the Italian Americans (laughter). Also it's a very big win for us because we really wanted to do well here for Honda because they have a long streak of wins here. We kept that streak alive for them. So I'm really happy about that. Just one of those days, you know. Team Motorola did a perfect job on their strategy. When you start in the back, you have to do some gambling, and that's what we did. It paid off. It was very close. I think we only made it by a lap or so. If the yellow had come out a little earlier, it might have really messed things up for us. So we were a little lucky. But I'll take it. I've lost a few that way. It was just a good day. This weekend has been a horrendous weekend for us. I think we really had a good car yesterday, but nobody will believe me probably. But I think we really did. I just never got a clean lap. Then I hit the wall. It was really disappointing. I felt bad for the Motorola guys because they've been working their butts off, you know, getting the Lola ready for Motegi, getting the cars ready for Indy. I go and crash one for them. I really felt bad yesterday. So hopefully this will help the morale a little bit, getting us ready for Motegi.

MERRILL CAIN: Margin of victory was point .466 seconds, second closest margin in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach history. The closest finish was back in 1986, Michael's last win, .38-second win over Al Unser, Jr. It's the seventh consecutive Long Beach victory for Honda, first victory since Houston in 2001, 63rd CART win for Honda, and the first win since Houston last year for Reynard. We'll take a few questions.

Q. When you went in for that pit stop, did you expect you'd be able to come out in front?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I sort of thought so. Before I came in, I was cranking off some of my quickest laps of the race. I was running a lot of laps in the nines. I knew these guys were on cold tires. I felt like I was -- I had to be making up time on them there. Then when I saw that our pit stop was good and clean, I felt like we should beat them out - and we did. I guess Jimmy said he backed off a little bit. I still think we probably would have beat him out anyway, just because I was cranking out those quick times there. I know they had to be running, when I was running nine, they were probably running in the 11s for a couple laps where I think I was able to get a few seconds. You never know. But I felt like we should have beat them out.

Q. Starting 15th, at what point of the race did you think (inaudible)?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: About halfway through when we went off sequence with everybody else. About midway, I felt that, you know, if things fall a certain way, you know, we should be in good shape. I felt like about midway my car really started to feel good. I started to turn in some good lap times. I thought, "All right, if I can just get the track position, I think I can keep it." We were lucky enough to do that. So that's what happened.

Q. (Inaudible)?

MAX PAPIS: I feel that we started the first day, as I said, with no practice at all. Our first day was always very difficult. On the second day, on Saturday, I ended up in the Top 10, I felt I had a very good car in the practice. With the second qualifying, unfortunately we had a gearbox problem that put me back. But I felt that we had a pretty good car. You know, I came out and I always had a great, great belief that I always push hard, I tried to put a lot of pressure on Michael, and Michael was slightly quicker than me, was cranking very fast lap. I was cranking at the same time my best laps of the race. So I felt that would have brought something back to me. Again, you know, this is just a very good success for us. It means a lot. Team Sigma is a very, very, very small operation. Being able to be sandwiched between Jimmy Vasser and my ex-teammate Kenny Brack, I think it's a great achievement for us today. I have a little story to say. Can I? Coming in this morning, I called Alex. He told me he just bought a new decoder to watch us on Sunday. He said the TV channel shows us, after a little bit of time, shows kind of pretty girls a little bit naked. It was pretty late in Italy. They kept on with the translation, didn't switch the little girls naked, so they could see a little the battle with me coming up. I should give him a ring to say we were not naked.

MERRILL CAIN: Let's go over the Top 5 point standings after the second round of the CART FedEx Championship Series. Cristiano da Matta still leads in points with 27. Michael has moved up to 2nd in the point standings with 22 points, followed by Michel Jourdain, Jr., Also with 22 points, Dario Franchitti in 4th with 20, followed by Max, who is in 5th with 18 points.

Q. (Inaudible)?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I didn't know he was catching me the second lap. I pulled out I think three seconds on him. The way they were telling me, he was a half second lap. I don't know, I just knew I had to drive as hard as I could. I was driving as hard as I could. I guess Jimmy maybe could only get so close to me because of the air, whatever. But I really didn't change pace too much because I was running high nines at that point. I think I did a 9.5 my quickest there that last stretch. That's as hard as I could drive. I was driving as hard as I could drive. You know, it just all worked out. The car stayed consistent. Bridgestone tires were really good. I mean, the thing just never gave up. Just kept getting better and better, which was good.

Q. Talk about the luck meters.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: What goes around comes around, you know. A lot of people were telling me that anyway during the week, "Keep going, it can turn around, it can turn around." You've got to believe that. I've got to say, like I said, in qualifying, my car felt really good. We made some changes to it. It was the best it felt all weekend. Unfortunately, we didn't get the lap in that we needed to get up on the grid. I think we knew we had something if we could just get the car in track position, we could do okay. Finally luck went our way. Thank the guy upstairs. Just worked out for us. I'll take it.

Q. (Inaudible)?

JIMMY VASSER: You think (laughter)? I haven't seen the meter. I don't know. You know, I suppose it's in the moderate, right in the middle. I don't really want a bunch of luck, I just don't want any bad luck. If we can continue, like I said, to put ourself in a good position, things will happen for us in a positive sense. Second place is a fantastic result for the team. Obviously, we want to win the race. But, you know, luck meters, certainly higher than Cristiano's.

Q. (Inaudible) how much adjustment did you have to make to the car?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Nothing. I thought it was okay. I think maybe in the beginning, it was a little slippery. About midway through the race, the track got actually pretty good grip. No, we don't adjust. We didn't adjust for it, because you don't know what the weather's going to do.

Q. You guys are the senior members of the CART FedEx Championship Series. What do you have to say for the young guns out there?

MAX PAPIS: Only if you want to get your butt kicked, come over (laughter).

Q. Do you want to comment?

JIMMY VASSER: No.

Q. (Inaudible)?

MAX PAPIS: You know, not really emotionally, but I'm very proud of when we did, you know. The only possibility to train was physically training, so that's what I did for the month that I was waiting from Mexico to now. As I said again, very, very good achievement. Of course, third place is very good. I'm proud about it. There are still two more to climb. If I have to say I'm super happy, no, because I would be a loser if I would be happy finishing third. But at the same time I'm really proud of what we did. I think it was a great, great achievement, especially because I think it's a prize, God really wanted to give me a prize today for all the hard work I put together. I never gave up. In the wintertime, everybody said, "Max is a wanker, a loser, he's out." I always felt, you know, I still have many races to win. I still have a lot of bullet in my gun to shoot. I just need to wait for the right moment. I'm putting all the things in line to make that happen. Unfortunately, you can't always have the best package. You can't always have everything at the best. But I think with God will, things come. Today I think it's a proof for me.

Q. (Inaudible)?

MAX PAPIS: Maybe exactly watching the little girl's naked. I hope not.

Q. (Inaudible) did you speak to Eddie Jones?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That was when he drove his Shannon here. We tried the Shannon setup, because we tried everything else. It seemed to work in qualifying. But, yeah, I didn't actually get a chance to talk to Eddie after the race. I can't wait to see him. He did a great job. In fact, he did really a job making the changes that he did for qualifying. I wasn't quite sure. He said he thinks it was going to work. We did it. He was right, so.... Hats off to him.

Q. Last race you didn't get past the first lap. This is an important turnaround for you.

JIMMY VASSER: Yeah. I mean, you can't attack the championship half a lap at a time. You've got to get points. We certainly didn't need to come out of here having zero points again. It was important for us to get at least a podium finish, to get back in the points fight. You know, it's uplifting for our team, as well. We know that we can do it. We have a good package, good fast race car. You've got to have that momentum. We're pushing the ball up the hill now, so...

Q. (Inaudible)?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Start wondering at the end of the race, "Oh, God, what's going to happen here?" I've had a lot of great races in, led a lot of races, had a car definitely capable of winning, but always had some freakish things go wrong. You know, it goes through your mind, for sure. "Oh, God, I hope this thing holds together." Everything did. You know, it was finally meant to be, to win one finally after all these years.

JIMMY VASSER: 16 years, huh? Long time.

Q. (Inaudible)?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You know, I mean, we haven't made a hundred percent decision yet what we're going to do after Motegi. I'm looking for having the Lola in Motegi. I think it's a good car on the ovals, for sure. We had a really good test down in Homestead. It seemed to be fast right away. I'm looking forward to that. We really I think have to sit down and really think about what we're going to do after Motegi on. Luckily we have a month there to decide what we're going to do before the next race.

Q. Was the last lap agonizing for you?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. I really tried to stay focused, I'm not going to make a mistake. Didn't really even try to think about it being the last lap. I just wanted to continue to do what I was doing before that, I'd wait till the end, then celebrate and think about it. That's what I did. I just -- I was not going to let my concentration break. I didn't even think about that.

MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations. See you in Japan in a couple weeks.



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