CART FedEx Championship Series: Honda Indy 300
Topics: Honda Indy 300
MERRILL CAIN: Let's go ahead and get started with our top three press conference following qualifying for tomorrow's Honda Indy 300. We'll begin today with Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 Pioneer ^ WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone, who qualified third this afternoon with a lap of 1:30.427 seconds, a speed of 111.272 miles per hour. It marks Tony's third top three qualifying performance of the season and second in a row following his pole-winning efforts in CART's last race at Miami. Tony, excellent effort for you. You came out early and set yourself a fast lap. Of course, you had to top that towards the end of the session. Good effort this afternoon.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you. The car has been really consistent. Yesterday I don't think we had the right lap because of all the incidents that we had happen on the track. Today I don't know if I could have done better, but I got penalized for something that I completely disagreed with, but we'll talk about that later, trying not to block people. In the beginning, we chose to go out earlier because of the traffic and all the things that happened yesterday. Later on, I mean, I just got the lap. It was great. I mean, I think I need to say thanks to my engineer. We made quite big changes from yesterday to today. The car worked out really well.
MERRILL CAIN: Bruno Junqueira joins us, driver of the #4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, running the second fastest lap of the today, and will start on the outside of the front tomorrow, after posting a lap of 1:30.214 seconds, a speed of 111.535 miles per hour. The front row starting spot will be the fourth of the year for Bruno who has started on the pole on three occasions this season. Bruno, obviously tough to top yesterday's mark, but you managed to do that. You and Cristiano battled out for the track record during the course of the session. He just happened to get the last lap in with the pole-winning effort. Talk about how you feel in relationship to starting the race tomorrow in the front row.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Well, it was very frustrating qualifying for me because the worst thing that could happen to me was start second. I lost the pole by a 10th. My car was very good on the first set.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Bad news, 100.
TONY KANAAN: Now the chicks aren't going to look at you anymore, just Cristiano (laughter).
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I was very good yesterday on the car.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: You should have seen Bruno dancing on the car yesterday.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I was on the pole by 2/10ths over Cristiano. The cars in front of me let me go, but I lost a little bit of concentration, maybe 1 or 2/10ths. I thought on the second set of tires we could go a little bit faster. But something was really strange with the right front tires on the second set, a little bit of vibration, and then I was just waiting. Cristiano passed me. I tried to push, but I couldn't brake. The car had a lot of vibration, locking the right front. Maybe I tried too much, but there was no way to go a good lap with those tires. Very frustrating to lose the pole by a 10th. I think this year is Cristiano's year. Everything goes his way. It's tough to catch him.
MERRILL CAIN: This is the 16th time this season Bruno has qualified inside the top 10 for a CART race, all but one race.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: The only thing about this, before qualifying I said to Tony, "Let's be you and me and Cristiano top three, then maybe the chicks can look at us, you know." For the first time of the year, you can see me, Tony and Cristiano in the top three on the grid. That's pretty nice.
MERRILL CAIN: You can tell you don't like each other very much.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Don't get along very well.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Maybe we'll have a three-car crash in the first lap (laughter).
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Me and Cristiano and Tony are very ugly guys.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Talk about yourself (laughter).
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Cristiano told me today, both Cristiano's brothers are here, and they look nice. The girls just want to look at them. They're tall, nice. We are short, small and ugly (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: The Tony, Cristiano and Bruno Show will debut on Brazilian television next week. We welcome Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #1 Caltex/Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, winning his seventh pole of the year with a new track record lap of 1:30.204, a speed of 111.574 miles per hour, breaking the record set yesterday by Bruno. The 2002 series champion also gets a point for winning today's pole, that gives him 213 points on the year. Yesterday you had the feeling you left a little something on the track. I'm sure you wanted the effort you had today. You had an interesting qualifying battling with Bruno throughout. Talk about what it means to hold the track record here in Australia.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I really felt like I got everything out of the car yesterday, and we really didn't have any more in the car yesterday. I think the team and the crew did a very good job overnight. We focused on a couple areas of the car that were key to make the car better. This morning, the car was already feeling a lot better, running a lot better. I was still a little bit concerned for qualifying because my car was very good on old tires, but I was concerned about the balance of the new tires. We were able to get it right, too. I think my runs in qualifying weren't perfect. First run, I think my car was very good. I really felt better. I really felt comfortable in the car in the first run. I thought I made a mistake on the last part of the track and I left a couple things on the table there which I think could have been my quickest lap. The second run, I didn't feel as much grip in the car, but I was able to have a cleaner run. Everything went smooth. I got the best time, but I felt like I could have done a little better. I think every driver you talk to now, he would feel like he left a 10th here or there on the table. The track is very long, very difficult to put a perfect lap together. The important thing is that my car is running competitive. Hopefully it's going to be good for tomorrow, too. I'm very pleased to get another pole. Like Bruno says, hopefully the girls are going to look at us a little bit better in the first couple starting spots.
MERRILL CAIN: This marks the second time that Cristiano and Bruno, good friends as we all have seen, also from the same hometown, Belo Horizonte, have qualified 1-2 this year. Bruno won the pole to Cristiano's second place qualifying at Road America earlier this season. Let's open it up for questions.
Q. Did you think the cars were going to improve this much? You knocked a second off. Less horsepower, yet you knocked another second off today.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I think the biggest improvement came from the racetrack, especially lowering the curves. Last year we weren't able to use the curves as much. I'm sure we gained maybe just a second on the Foster chicane because we can use the curves a lot more so we can get the corners a lot lighter. I think that's where the biggest improvement is coming from. Of course, here is a track with very long straights, so the power is very important. So just have an idea how much improvement we can make by running over the curves in this kind of situation. I think in a normal situation, if the track was exactly the same, curves exactly the same, I think it would be difficult to match the pole time for last year. Of course, the Lola chassis is a little better this year than it was last year. The car has improved. The engine has improved. Three inches of boost is a lot. It's difficult to compensate that much horsepower.
Q. Tony, if you could talk to us about the track, the temperatures are going to be similar tomorrow during the race as they were this afternoon, the amount of rubber that's laid down, how does it feel?
TONY KANAAN: Well, the temperature, I guess I would say it's nicer here than it was in Miami. After Miami, I don't think we can have anything worse than that. The rubber is definitely going to go down on the track, and it's going to get a little bit quicker. I don't think we're going to match the lap times from qualifying. You're going to see people running consistent lap times in the race. The big key here is to have a very consistent car that goes on all day because the track is bumpy, has a lot of curves. If you have a car that's difficult to drive, you cannot drive for 70 laps and be consistent. The most consistent guy will get you and will win the race. The heat is going to be a factor, but I would say you're going to have to save the car and yourself. When it's bumpy the way it is, it's really physical enough. I think it's going to be tough on the drivers, for sure.
Q. Cristiano, can you talk about how tough do you think the race is going to be, both from the point of view of the competition and also physically, particularly if the race is slightly longer this year?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I think there's two reasons. This race is usually very physical anyway because of the heat, of course. Also, this year we don't have that saving fuel is a benefit anymore, so we run flat out, a hundred percent all the way. This is, of course, more physical, and of course harder on the cars, too. The curves, the way they are right now, I think they're also harder on the car. Everything is going to be more difficult to race than last year. Also, if you look at the lap times for the top six, they're all very similar. Of course, that's already a case that it's going to be a close race and very competitive race. You can only go 20 laps maximum for each stint, which is somewhat of a short stint. So I think it's going to be a very, very fast-paced race. Obviously, it's going to be a very difficult race. As usual, it is here, but I think this year I'm expecting maybe more difficult.
Q. Bruno, to clarify, as we speak, do you have a drive next year?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I can't say, no.
Q. You can't say?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I have a car to drive till the end of the year. After I have to look.
Q. Cristiano, you're sick of this, but where are we with your future? Why is this decision taking so long?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, the decision is very important for me. For you it may seem easy, but for me it's a pretty difficult decision. That's the only reason why it's taking so long.
Q. So you still don't know?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No.
Q. Is it your decision alone now; it's up to you?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: It's up to me, yes.
Q. So you have the offer to go Formula 1; you're trying to decide whether you take it?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Exactly.
Q. So when do you think you will decide?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I don't know. Gold Coast is a perfect place to decide. You can relax, look at the sunshine, you have the beach. Maybe I'll think a little more clear (laughter).
Q. When you put No. 1 on the car, who's decision was it?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I thought it was very, very cool because I've never driven with a No. 1 on the car that I actually got it myself. I drove another car with a No. 1 when I was driving F-3, but the team had won the championship and I raced for them the next year. It wasn't the same feeling. I don't know whose idea it is. I was just communicated that I was going to have No. 1 on my car. I thought it was a very good idea. I'm really enjoying using it. I don't know how to say, it makes you feel a little bit more important.
MERRILL CAIN: And it looks good, too, right?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Looks good. Believe me, there were a lot of guys on my team very mad about the No. 6 not being there, because it's been there for so long.
MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations on a great qualifying effort today.
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