CART FedEx Championship Series: The 500
Topics: The 500
MERRILL CAIN: Let's get started with our top three press conference. We're joined by Michael Andretti, finishing second this afternoon, driver of the #39 Motorola Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone. I'd like to welcome Michael to the podium. He led 37 laps today and scored his best finish here in six starts California Speedway, beating his best finish of seventh here last year. Michael also won earlier this year at Long Beach, ironically beating Jimmy Vasser. Michael, talk about your race today. Obviously, it was an exciting race for the fans to watch, a great one here at California Speedway under beautiful sunny skies for everyone. The key I think obviously was the restarts. You probably weren't happy to see the red flag come out, but certainly talk about the last restart.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, first of all, the car was pretty good all day. Team Motorola did a good job in the pits. Honda ran really strong. The only problem was in traffic, I was not quite the way it would like. I would lose the front end a lot in traffic. So that's where we would lose a little ground. There in the end, we made an adjustment. I was coming on really strong. I think I ran a lap of 231 and I was catching the lead group, then the yellow came out. I think I was in second with the yellow. Then on the restart, Jimmy was a sitting duck there, and I was able to get by him on the restart. I thought we had the race won. I don't think Jimmy could have passed me at that point because my car was really good out front. I thought we had it won. Then Dario's car had a problem, they brought out the red flag, then I became the sitting duck on the restart. Jimmy did a good job, got by me. I tried to get a little run, but he just took enough air that I had to breeze it a little bit that I couldn't get a run at him. He won the race. But I guess what's fair is fair. That yellow came out and it hurt Jimmy's race, and then the red came out and hurt my race. It evens itself out. Jimmy's car was real strong today. He was probably the strongest car out there and probably deserved the win.
MERRILL CAIN: Patrick Carpentier, driver of the #32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone. Patrick finished third today, first top three finish at California Speedway after a previous best of 10th last year. It's also Patrick's second podium finish on a speedway in the last three races on speedways in CART, including his first career win, that came at Michigan last year. Patrick, we were doing a little bit of research, I'm not sure if you led an oval lap, ironic if you came up and took the checkered flag, but you kind of nosed your way up through the field. Talk about the third place finish.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: The guys did a good job. We started with a car that was pushing a lot. We couldn't keep up with these guys. But every pit stop we improved. The last three pit stops, we had a similar set of tires, and the car got really good on the one before last. We caught up to these guys. Like Michael said, Jimmy was really strong, Michael was strong, they were up there all day. For the last pit stop, I don't know what happened. The car got really, really lose. The anchor was not functioning any more. Maybe something broke at the back. I couldn't give these guys a go. We were hoping to get some of the points because we're in the chase for the championship. We got third place. I'm really happy because these guys were faster than us today. Third place is good.
MERRILL CAIN: Couple quick notes before we open it up for questions. Today's 500 was the fastest 500-mile race in history at 137.995 miles per hour. The previous record was set by Al Unser, Jr. in the Michigan 500 in 1990 with an average speed of 189.727 miles per hour. Also another quick note here. Today's race featured 52 unofficial lead changes, officially we had 43 lead changes.
Q. Talk about the wing package. It really seemed to work much, much better than the previous one. It wasn't so much the kind of phoney racing we've had in the past, it was legitimate racing. Would you agree with that?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it was two things that made the racing good today. I think the wing package made it better where you didn't have everybody all bunched up. Also I think the pull (inaudible) worked. It allowed to us run flat out and save fuel. You actually wanted to lead the race, which was a nice thing. The last few years, you didn't really want to lead one of these things. That made it a lot more fun for me anyway. I think it made it fun for racing, more of a driver's type thing.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: For me for sure, you always like to see a lot of passing. But there was quite a bit of passing today. Racing is about speed. I think today the guys that had the fastest cars, like these guys, Jimmy and Michael, ended up at the front. It was a race of teamwork, who could run the fastest for 250 laps. It was wide open all the way trying just to catch all the time and run fast, run fast. It's a good thing we got a couple of yellows because these guys would have probably lapped the whole field. It was good. It was a fun race. I enjoyed it.
Q. Michael, I don't know if you could compare this to Michigan, you and Montoya. You were wheel to wheel there. You might have even touched here. Just never got quite as close during the race.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Like I said, I just couldn't get close enough to him. I would lose my front end too much, just enough that I had to lift a little bit. You really couldn't run like we did with Montoya at Michigan. This track normally is also more of a one-line track, as well. Michigan allows you to run side by side. Here it's a little harder to run side by side.
Q. Michael, obviously it cost you, but do you think that the red flag was a proper decision?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, it's the new rule. If it's in the rule book, it's not supposed to end on a yellow, then that's the right thing. No, I didn't like it. I was in a different position. I think Jimmy led the red flag rule today (laughter). Rules are rules, that's the way it works out. I can accept it.
MERRILL CAIN: We're now joined by your champion, Jimmy Vasser, driver of the #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. It's Jimmy's second win here at California Speedway, the first came in 1998. He's the first driver to score a repeat win at the California Speedway. He led a record high 148 laps, breaking the 1997 record of 114 laps by Andre Ribeiro. Jimmy, an awesome run for you, awesome run for the team. We were doing research on Team Rahal. Team Rahal has now led a record 397 laps here at California Speedway since 1999 by drivers Jimmy, as well as Kenny Brack, Max Papis and Michel Jourdain, who led ten laps today. Talk about the effort for the team. Talk about the end of the race when obviously it was a shootout with Michael and the pass to get around him.
JIMMY VASSER: First of all, it's a great win not only for me but for the team. We've been trying all year long. You don't want to go a season without winning races. The guys worked real hard all year. They busted their butts to get our cars back together. The cars came back, a couple, in a pile. We're out here to win races and to run good. When you don't for a long period of time, it gets to feeling heavy. So all credit to the Shell team members and Team Rahal. The car was great all day long. We really didn't have an opportunity to adjust our rear downforce level, so we opted for a little lower amount of downforce, little less drag. I think it was advantageous. I found it easier for me to lead the race. My car felt much better out in clean air. I felt like I could pull out a little. The Hondas were struggling on fuel mileage and probably had to turn it down. I figured if I try to pull out, come around, catch some traffic, get a puff of wind, put some distance, there would be two or three segments without any yellows, maybe I could put some guys a lap down, make my pit stop a lot easier. That was really our strategy. It was comfortable that way. All credit again to the guys. They won the pit stop competition on Friday. They gave us great stops all day long. It was a really smooth day. It's great to win races, to be in victory circle again. It's been a couple years for me. I love 500-mile races. I think they're the most fun. Michael was there all day long, as well as Cristiano. I think he had a little bit in his hip pocket for the last couple segments. He started playing around with me before those last pit stops, rolled up next to me a lot easier than he had done all day long. Then I let him take the lead. Then we were running 224s with me leading, then he slowed right down to 221. He didn't want to lead, I guess, or he just had so much wing. I got the feeling he had something left for the end. He was going to be tough. We bobbled a little bit on our last stop, so he got out on us a bit. I think we may have been able to catch him, maybe not. He looked pretty strong at the end.
MERRILL CAIN: Despite the great performance Team Rahal has had over the past few years, it is the team's first win at California Speedway. Great effort from the team the entire weekend.
Q. Jimmy, your thoughts during the red flag while you were waiting to restart?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, I thought it was the right call. We've seen it happen with NASCAR. It's about the fans, giving them a proper green flag finish. I thought that was the right thing. I was a little upset. I thought Cristiano was in a good spot. I thought they could have left him there at the end. I didn't think he was dangerous. Yellow with 15 to go.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I wish they would have now (laughter).
JIMMY VASSER: That extra time, maybe Dario would have caught on fire. Then I did my best to try to get a little gap on Mike on the restart. I figured if I could just make it through one and two without him getting by me on the restart, I might have a fighting chance. I'd been running pretty good all day, being able to pull enough cushion that guys couldn't draft by me. He got a good run. He was right there. If the thing with Dario hadn't happened, it was going to be a lot more difficult for me to pass Mike under racing conditions. He knew exactly, as opposed to a lot of other guys I was racing with all day long, what air I needed to do the things I was doing. He was masterful at taking the little bit away where I needed it to do things. The only other guy that was doing that that I had a hard time passing was Nakano, but I don't think he really knew what he was doing. He knew what he was doing driving, but I think his mind was pretty (inaudible), and it was just enough that I couldn't even pass the guy. He was almost in the place for me where I needed a little air. Couldn't do it. The last yellow definitely helped me, and the red. It was the same in '98 where Greg passed me on the last lap of Michigan. We did the same for him here. It's a great idea, good thing, but the last-lap dash restarts, the guy leading the race is a sitting duck.
Q. You talked about the last lap. Did you feel faster today with this particular wing set?
JIMMY VASSER: You could actually drive away if you had a really good car. If you had your car working well, you opted for a little less downforce, I think you could drive away. I like the package a little bit better. I think you guys could see there wasn't the big drafting moves and the big huge pack, nobody wants to lead kind of a situation. I thought it's definitely a much better solution than what was in the past.
Q. Speaking about getting out front and staying there, Michael, in the first maybe 50, 60 laps, you were able to get out front and stay there, but that didn't seem to be the case later on. What happened first that wasn't later?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Actually, they told me to get back in the pack and save fuel a little bit, which probably was not the thing to do. Once I got back in the pack, I had a real problem in traffic and I just couldn't get back up to get my track position back. I think if I could have stayed up front, things would have been different. Like in the beginning, the car was really strong and they told me to slow down, get behind the other guys. I was like, "Fine, all right, I'll do it," but I didn't want to do it. But I think I just fell victim to all those guys because I just couldn't stay close to the guy in front. We adjusted the car in the race, but I think that messed up the middle part of my race when we did that. I also want to make a comment about the driving. I think everybody did a great job out there today. I mean, I had no close calls. Nobody was chopping anybody. Nobody was taking each other's air. Everybody was driving really heads-up. I've got to say I'm proud of the whole group.
Q. Jimmy, would you comment on a couple of those pit exchanges with Cristiano when he came in on the inside? Looked like you were trying to protect your line in pit lane.
JIMMY VASSER: Later on I was. It's a little more difficult to judge how fast you can come in when you're the first guy in the pack. You don't want to be an idiot, come in too fast, lose it. When you're the next guy behind, you go a little deep, he a little faster than the guy in front of you. I was probably a little bit conservative coming in. Then he snookered me and got inside of me, which they were screaming on the radio not to let him do it. It's kind of a tricky maneuver. When he gets there, and my pit is before his, I have two choices: turn into him or hit the brakes, lose some time, let him go by.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Should turn into him.
JIMMY VASSER: I was guarding the inside a little bit more after that so I didn't lose that much time. Seemed like I was always the guy coming in first in the pack. It's a little bit tougher to gauge just how fast you can come in.
Q. The physicalness of this race in the schedule overall, Michael, in particular, has your improved fitness helped you?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think this race is more a mental race than a physical race. The ovals normally aren't very physical. You're turning hard for the road courses; that's where you get the physical element. These races are very mental because you have to be aware of everything around you for three hours. You have to watch the guys behind you, if they're coming ahead. You have to watch the guys in front of you. You have been careful not to get caught in the guy's air the wrong way. Mentally, you're pretty spent after these things.
Q. Mentally is this one of the toughest races in the schedule?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes. This here and a place like Indianapolis, they definitely drain you.
Q. Jimmy, comments on that?
JIMMY VASSER: I would agree a hundred percent with what Mike said.
Q. What about Pat?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Same thing.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We had a good time going there. I was good, clean racing. We were trying to get away from the field a little bit, leapfrogging each other. It worked there for a little while.
Q. Michael, looked like maybe you might have had a run at Jimmy coming off of turn two there. Were you saving it for three, four?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. I tried but I just came up a little short. I said to the guys, "I'm done." I had been losing my front end a lot more in turns three and four. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get a run on him. When I couldn't keep my foot in it into one and two the last lap, I said, "That's it, I'm not going to get him." I was a little disappointed.
MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations on a great show today for the fans. See you in a couple weeks in Mexico City for the season finale.
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