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CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix of Chicago

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix of Chicago

CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix of Chicago

Cristiano da Matta
June 30, 2002


MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano, obviously a great run for you today. Tough conditions with the weather. You took advantage of some great opportunities that were presented to you. You had a great day as you pointed out in the post-race with a championship in the World Cup. Some people may object to your haircut, but you came up with a great effort on the racetrack today.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, of course, I'm very happy to win the race in the conditions like that. It's very difficult, especially coming from where we came from. If you look back to Motegi, me and Christian were just struggling too much. I finished the race in 15 laps behind Bruno, still on the track. So to come from 15 laps down, to Milwaukee, in the Top-6, eventually had mechanical trouble, but Toronto the Top-6, qualified seventh, I believe, to qualify third and win the race. It shows how much the team improved and how much work is done on the car. Especially in the month of May when everybody was testing for Indy, we went and we had to get our oval act together and so we worked really hard. We still have a lot to learn. We had a great race. Every fell exactly the way we want to. The first thing, we saved some fuel to try to make my first pit stop shorter because I was using less fuel than the other cars. More than that, I think the problem with the pit stop, too -- it was a surprise that I came out ahead of him on the stop, but the team, the crew did a great job on the pits, not only on the first stop, as well as the second stop and also the third stop. So it is a huge part of the racing because it is a team sport, but today more than any other race -- and I have my hat off for them -- for the other tracks, it's a big difference, and it's just good to see that, that's very good and we'll keep on trying to make our car better and better and better. It's been working very good for us.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano, you'll also be going for your CART record fourth consecutive victory at Toronto. As you look ahead to Toronto, what do you think about going up for the CART record?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think more than ever now, it's important -- more than anything, it's the points. Of course, in Toronto, I came into Chicago thinking that to have a good weekend, a good weekend would be qualifying in the Top-10 and finish in the Top-5 because that's what I thought our car was going to be capable to do. But going into Toronto thinking that I have to qualify, if I qualify to in the Top-5 -- but I just think we have such a great car on the street courses, on the road courses. So I'm pretty confident there. Of course, I'm not going there thinking that I am the -- just going in there trying to take the weekend as we take this weekend or any other previous weekend or any other race. Of course, if it happens, we are going to take the chance and we are going to push very, very hard to try to make it happen, but it's not the main target we have for Toronto.

Q. You've won six out of the last nine races --

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I hope it keeps on going, right. But this series is so competitive. Everybody that follows the series, to win some of six of the last nine, for me personally, it means a lot because I know how difficult it is to get six out of last nine, it's very difficult, and I understand -- I don't know, it just means a lot. It shows that I'm in very good shape; the team is in very good shape; Toyota is in very good shape; Lola is in very good shape. It's a great combination and we have to keep on working. Of course, you have to enjoy because something like that in a series like CART doesn't happen every day. So you have to enjoy this moment and have to keep on working hard to make sure we keep on winning.

Q. The fact that you have the Brazilian game this morning, you guys got up early and went to watch the game. It was distracting, I'm sure, to some degree. Was it difficult to get back into race mode after that, and how exciting was that for you today?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think for Brazil, I cannot explain how much it means. Because in the U.S., with so many sports, you have baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and, you know, there's a championship every year. Soccer, there's a championship every year but it's not the same. World Cup is a country against every country and it only happens one time every four years. In Brazil, soccer is the first sport. Like soccer is here, motor sports is second, but motor sports is here. But it's like a big difference between how much people they like soccer and how much people like motor sports. A lot of people like motor sports, they like it a lot. It's just that they are completely crazy about soccer. To win it the way we won it, going into the competition as the favorites, and it's the fifth time Brazil wins it. It's a big, big difference. It's the national favorite sport, and to win it, it's just great. I just remember, just so you guys have an idea how important it is, Brazil, be glad that tomorrow is a national holiday -- serious.

Q. How did the win -- you're obviously still excited about it, how did it affect you today, the way you put it completely out of your mind and got back to thinking about racing?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's like before, I go out to the racetrack today at 6:00 to watch the game, so I'm here for almost 12 hours. I think after the game was over by 8:00, I got in first -- and then it was probably 8:45 and drivers meeting at 9:00. You just start to get into your work and you just forget about it. It's not forget about it because you're still happy. The thing is, it's like in the back of your mind but you just keep 100% focused on the driving. It's not difficult to keep my focus.

Q. If it driving thing doesn't work out, you have a great future in soccer commentary. Can you talk about who was the leader for you guys to do your hair up like this?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's a good question because somebody says it me and Christian said it's blue -- I don't know who started because we are all jumping up and down after the game was over. And somebody just said, "Come on, let's do our hair like Renaldo," and everybody said "yeah, yeah, yeah", and just put the scissors and the machine and in a half hour -- (Laughter).

Q. I've heard a rumor that your teammate's wife might be upset about his new look. Is she going to be upset with you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's true. (Laughter). Well, my girlfriend is going to be pretty impressed when she sees me today. I spoke to her after the game and I never said anything.

Q. At Portland, Bruno stopped you the last 20 laps and he made you earn your victory there and today was the same thing. Do you feel like the last two races you've driven as well as you have ever have in your career, just staying there, lap after lap?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. I think I've been in difficult races before. I can think of many other races as good as those two. Racing sometimes is very unfair with the driver because sometimes, the race, you feel you think you did the best job in your career and you finish fifth, for example. Nobody can see it but from inside the car, you feel a lot. Personally after the race you're very like happy with yourself, very confident, positive about yourself, but it's tough. I think these last two races I think there's been pressure on everybody. I think many other times I've done a good job on the track, too and just maybe doing such a good car -- maybe nobody was ever to notice.

Q. So what do you plan to do, shave it off or leave it like that?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think I have to leave it on for about a week or so at least. Maybe Toronto and then after that, the people will think I'm crazy. (Laughter).

Q. The weight regulations start in Mid-Ohio. Any thoughts on that?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, we tested in Mid-Ohio last Monday and I had the weights on and everything and I ran the fastest off the day. I think everybody thinks -- because you always think about -- completely different story when that weight is put in the right places. That weight in the right place, of course it's going to slow the car down a little bit, but it's nothing like fuel. Fuel, we did an experiment and I can tell you, it's just -- fuel kills the car. For example, 40 pounds of fuel, it's probably a lot more pounds on weight than if you put it on the right places.

Q. Normally you'd be on page 1 of the Brazilian paper, but now you might be on page 14. I'm sure you don't mind.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, for this reason, I take my hat off. I think it's just fine. Brazil winning the World Cup, I don't have any problem being on the last page of the newspaper. (Laughs). But I think my haircut is going to help a little bit.

Q. We asked Dario, as well, though obviously your view on it, almost halfway through the season and particularly this race, it seems to have gotten you over the hump on the ovals. Can you maybe take a look, does this give you particular confidence now, not just being on the lead in the championship, but knowing that you can be competitive on all different kinds of tracks now?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, one thing is that we were getting better on the ovals -- qualifying after, we were never sure that we were doing it the right way. We had a very good feel we were going in the right direction and we were 100% sure. Now I think with experience, we know we are going in the right direction. We don't have to do anything else. I think we have to work a little bit more. But it's just a matter of keeping work and keep on improving. I think the first, same kind of thing like people always say in racing, the first part of the mountain that you climb, but the very top of it is the difficult part. I think about going for the top now, the setup from where we are now I think we are not going to find any big gains anymore. I for sure hope so, but I don't think we're going to find any big gains anymore because we have the car in a way that we are pretty competitive and pretty close to being very competitive.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano, thank you very much and congratulations.

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