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CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix of Denver

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix of Denver

CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix of Denver

Adrian Fernandez
Christian Fittipaldi
Tony Kanaan
August 30, 2002


DENVER, COLORADO

MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We've got our top three here. Let's go ahead and get started with our press conference today following provisional qualifying for Sunday's Shell Grand Prix of Denver. We're joined first by Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 Pioneer/Worldcom/Honda/Lola Bridgestone. He's third in provisional qualifying today, with a time of 1:02.454 seconds, that's a speed of 94.937 miles per hour. If the position holds up through tomorrow for Tony, it will be his best starting spot since he gridded second at Motegi, Japan, earlier this year, and his best since starting third last season at Long Beach. Tony, if you would, talk a little bit about your qualifying. You had kind of an interesting session, got up what looked like early in the session. Talk about that and how you recovered that quick lap.

TONY KANAAN: Well, I think it was completely my mistake. Both times I spun, and I lost my fast lap twice. I guess I didn't do a good job this weekend so far. I'm not saying I had the pole. Definitely wasn't a nice feeling to make two mistakes, especially when we know the track is so slippery, we know we can lose the fast lap. Obviously, I was thinking about it after I spun the first time, so I guaranteed one lap, which was the lap that I kept at the end, and I try a harder one, and I did faster. Morris calls on the radio and says, "Okay, don't make a mistake this time." As soon as he said that I crashed. I think I was a little bit too greedy, but still work out okay for us. I think top three is not bad. Definitely the track is going to get better tomorrow. I'm going to try to not do the same thing again.

MERRILL CAIN: Christian Fittipaldi, driving the No. 11 Lilly/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, provisionally qualified second today on the outside of the front row, with a time of 1:02.440 seconds, that's a speed of 94.958 miles per hour. If it holds up for tomorrow for Christian, it will be his second front row starting spot of the season and his first since Mid-Ohio. Tell us a little bit about the track. First time in the Denver circuit. What were your impressions of it?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I can't breathe, because it's too high.

TONY KANAAN: I don't have any problems.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Maybe you're better fit than I am.

TONY KANAAN: I have a bigger nose.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I'm just joking. Tony and I, we ride bikes together all the time. We hang out a lot together. But apart from that, the track was not smooth; it's a little bit bumpy. Grip level could be a little bit higher. But I guess this is what we have for this weekend, so we just have to make the best out of it and try to make our cars suit the track conditions as opposed to maybe bragging and complaining or this and that. All in all, I think they did a good job over here, and I think that on the race on Sunday, especially at the end of the straight, it's going to be very interesting because it's really wide and you can brake a little bit deeper. It's hard for you to judge your braking point perfectly. I think we're definitely finally going to see a lot of overtaking on Sunday.

MERRILL CAIN: Adrian Fernandez is your provisional polesitter for Sunday's Shell Grand Prix of Denver. Driver of the #51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone, he wins the provisional pole with a best lap of 1:02.073 seconds, a speed of 95.520 miles per hour. It guarantees him a front row starting spot for Sunday's race and the effort also gives him a championship point. He now has 41 points on the season. Talk a little about your qualifying effort. You seemed to be quick in the morning session as well as qualifying. I guess you were the happiest guy when you saw the red flag come out.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Definitely. We unloaded good. The car didn't feel good, but we were fast compared to the rest. We haven't gone really much since this morning. We tried something in the ten minutes that we had for qualifying, I didn't like it, so we went back to what we had in the morning. The car felt reasonably okay. Then in my first round, we had a problem. We made a mistake in our tire pressures. The car wasn't very good. At that time we were pitted, and then I thought that the track was going to be very busy, a lot of incidents because it's so slippery. What I did is I tried to go earlier in both sessions. I think that paid off because. Coming into the back straight, I was discussing this with Tony, I still don't know when I'm braking. It's so wide. Because we are braking sort of three-quarters on the track. It's so big, the marks are very far from what you have for your normal brake marks. It's very difficult to keep very consistent. The only way to be consistent is basically to have consecutive laps, and that way you can keep going quicker and quicker. I'm very pleased for the guys because I damaged my car in Montreal on the chicanes, I think like 12 other guys, coming into the curves. All the cars were getting damaged. So the guys have to get another car, a new top, and they have to work very hard, especially because of the time and the distance. You know, this was the best reward for them, especially after a struggle.

MERRILL CAIN: Just to clarify also with qualifying procedures, the session did end a few minutes early because the time it would take to clean up after the last accident with Bruno Junqueira would exceed the amount of time left in the qualifying session. There were 31 minutes of green time guaranteed, which is what we promised they'd get. Let's open it up for questions.

Q. Adrian, can you talk, you've struggled this summer.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes.

Q. You said the car unloaded well. What did you do to prepare for a track you'd never been to before?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Nothing. That's the scary part (laughter). I haven't done anything different. You know, it's just not been one thing, it's been a few different things. That's the frustrating part. It's frustrating because I feel like I'm driving well, I give it my best, I'm training hard. You know, I'm not ready to throw the towel. Even though I'm getting older, I still feel strong. This year I have a trainer so I can completely take half of the day off. I don't have to get involved in the business side of racing and things like that. Just for one or the other reason, things happen, we haven't got the results that we wanted. But I feel that Fernandez Racing is in a better shape than it was last year. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to capitalize on the points. Shinji has done better, is starting to run stronger. Hopefully will come our time. If we can finish top ten, that would be fantastic for us.

Q. Christian, what happened with Nakano on the morning session, both the incident and your reaction afterwards?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, basically what happened is I was on my out lap coming out of the pits. We got to the hairpin. I went way on the part of the turn to give him a clean line to make him get by me. I think he misjudged something. He braked way too late. He just ran into the back of my car. I almost went upside down, landed, damaged my wishbone and my push rod on my rear suspension, then I couldn't steer my car anymore. I was on three wheels running from right to left, then I came slowly back into the pits.

Q. Tony, considering everything that happened in this qualifying session, it's got to be pretty gratifying that you're up here with these guys at the moment. Do you feel like even though all this happened today, you're in pretty good shape for tomorrow?

TONY KANAAN: I wouldn't say that. I think today some people didn't even do a run on the second set of tires. I would say we do have, I don't know, a reasonable car. If you look at the lap times, we're still four-tenths off of Adrian - I would say three because I had a faster lap and they took it out. I would say because Adrian put his second set on early, when I saw that, I said, "That's good for him, because the way the track is, it's going to get crazy, and people are going to put a red flag on." Michael was the guy that did it first, then Adrian and myself. We got 13, 14 laps out of it. Other people did nine. If you take out the cool-down laps, warming the tires, it's basically three or four laps. But lucky to be here today. You never know. If it rains tomorrow, we're still there. I'll take it. It's always good. But I think a lot of people are going to come out tomorrow. I have a lot of work to do. I'm pleased. It's a good result for the team. We've been carrying on a good momentum the last four races, so it's a good boost. Obviously, we still have tomorrow and then we have the race. I'm pretty curious to see what's going to happen in this race. It's going to be pretty interesting.

Q. How is the actual grip level of the track coming up? Where it goes from pavement to concrete, how is that part of the grip? Is there anyplace to pass other than turn five?

TONY KANAAN: I would say the grip level, it's zero. It's the worst it's ever been.

Q. (Inaudible)?

TONY KANAAN: I don't think so. It's a little better than this morning. Why we put the new tires on, it's because I didn't believe the track would get better at the end. Maybe it will get a lot better tomorrow. From this morning to this afternoon, and to begin this afternoon, that was worse than this morning. I don't know if I made a change in my car that was worse. But definitely for me was a struggle.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Was not much difference between the morning and afternoon.

TONY KANAAN: Exactly. Places to pass, people are going to make a lot of mistakes here. The real one, it's the hairpin, but I think you can pass anywhere because people are going to keep on locking rears and trying to go hard on the braking, going to miss and overshoot. I would say, to be honest, I can't feel the difference between the cement and the asphalt. It's all slippery. And the paint, as well. They paint some curves. You try to go around, it's even slipperier than before. The grip level, it's zero.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It's a new venue. We have the same problem. I would say it's little bit like Mexico but more bumps because it's a street course. Mexico, they basically paved the whole thing, so it's more like a permanent road course in a way. You just have get a rhythm because between the slippery and the bumps, there is not much there. You know, if you tend to out-brake yourself, it's very easy to lose the rear. You can see from a lot of people doing that. You braking is very important. Sometimes you I think you might brake a little early. Sometimes it's earlier than late because there's just no grip on the rear.

MERRILL CAIN: Christian, anything to add?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. Those two said it all. They said enough.

Q. Will you guys have any say so about where the race starts? If they start it in one, it looks tight. If they start it on the backstretch, where it's wide, 12 wide, 14 wide.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It's a Catch-22 situation because I think if we start on the front straightaway, maybe people can take it a little bit easier. There is probably going to be less passing going into turn one. But everyone's going to try to survive coming out of turn one. If you start on the back straightaway going into the hairpin where it's pretty wide, you can be sure that there are going to be a couple of guys out there that are going to bang into the corner. I don't need to say what's going to happen. Probably if we go on the other side, it's going to be more exciting. But 90% sure we're going to have a yellow on the first lap. If we start on the start/finish, it's going to be more conservative. Although it's a lot narrower, I think that we can make it through the first turn without a problem.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I agree with Christian. I think driving the track, yesterday I thought it probably would be better to start on the back. But driving the corners, especially coming into that part, braking, it's not easy. If you come in, it's very easy to make a lot of mistakes. It's very easy to try to want to brake more. I think the back part probably could cause more accidents than the front straight. But that's just a guess.

TONY KANAAN: This morning when we spoke, I told you I felt the back straightaway would be safer. But I agree with Christian's point of view. I think everybody's going to be extra cautious. It's no different than Houston if you look at it. Obviously in Houston we started on the back straightaway. You give us room, we're going to try to go. I think it's safer to start in the front straightaway.

Q. Adrian, what about your physical condition? As bumpy as it is here, is it causing you any problems?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Not really. I mean, I'm getting better every week. A week from Montreal, I'm getting better. In Montreal, on Saturday I was having some pain on the fractures. But it's getting better every weekend. I'm stretching every day. Just patient basically. I'm took all the drugs and everything. I'm drug-free now. I can pass the test now (laughter).

Q. The old race here 10 years ago, at the end it was a very tight track. Because of the altitude, there tended to be a problem with overheating in the race. Obviously you haven't been able to run sustained laps and so far. Any kind of indication if that will be an issue and what you'll have to do opening up the cooling? What about brakes? Is that looking like that might be a problem, as well?

TONY KANAAN: I think everybody's concerned about cooling. We definitely made some changes with this track. I see brakes as a big issue. I mean, obviously the engine cooling, the engine department people will take care of that. We're going to make some changes to cut to make this car run cooler. We have the biggest brake ducts we can possibly have, the most cooling we can have. We're already having some brake issues. So I think everybody's going to be extra cautious. In the race, running behind people, you tend to run hotter. It's going to be a problem, definitely going to be a problem.

Q. Would you say, talking about how slick it is, that this track is as slippery or more slippery than Mexico was the first year, at Monterrey?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: No.

TONY KANAAN: No. No, it's not, definitely not. Not the first year, not at all.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think what Tony said, with all the cars running pretty hot, if you make it to the end on Sunday, you have a very good shot at, believe it or not, winning the race. I think it's going to be wide open on Sunday because, as everyone knows, engine heating, brakes, plus the bumpy track, and just braking a little bit later, sliding a little bit, hitting the wall. I think it's going to be one of those survival and mental races. You just have to keep running, set your pace, believe it or not. Although it's a pretty tight track, no matter where you start on the grid, obviously the guys that are going to start up in the front have an easier time, but even if you start in the back, you have a shot at winning the race.

TONY KANAAN: Even the runoff areas are not forgiving here. You can lose a lot of times if you run to those. Some tracks we go, you can turn around and go. Here, you lose at least 25 seconds. I depends where you go. Who is going to make the last mistakes, save the equipment, has a huge shot to win the race.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Tell Chris Pook that Tony forgot to shave today (laughter).

TONY KANAAN: I already told him that.

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much. Good job today. Good luck in the second round of qualifying tomorrow.

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