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CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix at Road America

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix at Road America

CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix at Road America

Cristiano da Matta
Bruno Junqueira
Alex Tagliani
August 18, 2002


ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN

MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Let's get started here with our top three press conference following today's race here at Road America, a very exciting one to say the least. We'll get started with Alex Tagliani, driver of the #33 Player's/Indeck/Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone who finished second this afternoon. He takes his second runner-up finish of the season and his first on a road course this season. The finish matches his career best on a road course which came last season in Toronto. He now has 80 points on the year after today's performance. That moves him from 10th into a tie for sixth in the overall points standings. You had a very quick car all weekend long, Alex. Great work in the pits to get you out ahead of Bruno. Kind of go over your day and talk about the performance, what it means for you and the team.

ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, the Player's team is working really hard. I kind of know how hard they work at the shop to improve the car to be more competitive. It seems that they're doing a good job because the car is more competitive every race. My car was really good. I can't complain about it. The only mistake we did I think was we chose a seventh gear that was a little bit too tall. My car was not pulling the revs. It was just too low coming up the hill in the front straightaway. It was really difficult. I think that was our only mistake. But the setup of the car kind of made up for that. It was really fast in all the corners. It's really difficult to stay behind other cars in the turbulence at high speed. My car was just handling perfectly. I was able to follow Cristiano at the end. I think I would have had the chance to pass him if I would have had a shorter seventh. That was the only time he was pulling away from me coming up the front straightaway. I guess we're going to know for next time. Again, the team did a good job on the setup. The guys in the pits did a fast pit stop the last one, going from third to second, then we stayed second. Again, Bruno was really fast at the end in the straightaway. When I lost a little bit of draft on Cristiano, my seventh gear was really slowing me down. Bruno was drafting me pretty well, so I had to protect my position a couple of times. But it was good for second today.

MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations. We're also joined now by Bruno Junqueira, who captured third place this afternoon driving the # 4 Target/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, marking his fourth podium finish of the season. Bruno moves into a tie for second place in the overall championship point standings with Patrick Carpentier now with 101 points on the year. Bruno, talk about your day today. Paul Tracy got a good jump on you at the start of the race. You obviously had a good performance through the rest of the race. In the pits, Alex was able to overtake you, but you maintained third place.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It was an okay day. I cannot complain about third place. But I felt that today Team Target gave me a really good car, a car to win the race. We were leading the race for a long time, keeping Cristiano under control. I was a little bit unlucky because Cristiano pitted two laps later than me on the third pit stop. Right on that time the yellow flag came in. I know that he will just go out in front of me, and he will have cold tires and I will pass him going down to turn five. With the yellow flag, I had to stay behind Cristiano. I really couldn't pass him. That was the point where I lost the race because then I had to stay behind Cristiano. In the last pit stop, I had to put more fuel than Cristiano and Tagliani. I lost a position to Tagliani. It was a shame. I think the three of us were really fast. Maybe I could go a little one or two tenths faster by myself. As Alex said, I was fast in the straight. I had no downforce at all. When I was by myself, I could just put some good laps. But because I had not much downforce, was really difficult to get a run. I tried to pass Tagliani two or three times, but he just kept going to the inside place. It's really difficult to out-break him on the outside. I get the third place, that was okay.

MERRILL CAIN: Couple quick notes here. We did some research and this is the longest road course race in CART since 1983, the fifth longest road course race in CART history as well. Also, unofficially, the top five in the point standings after today's race, Cristiano da Matta builds his lead to 143 points, Patrick Carpentier and Bruno are tied for second place with 101 points on the season, Dario Franchitti follows them with 85 points, followed by Christian Fittipaldi who has 82 points on the year. A couple other notes as well. This is Toyota's seventh win in 12 races today with Cristiano da Matta's victory. It is Toyota's highest one-season win total in history. We'll open it up questions before we're joined by Cristiano.

Q. Interesting first lap, Bruno, start to the race when Paul got around you. Can you talk about him taking you down into turn five there on the first lap.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah, Paul is always very aggressive on the first lap. When I saw him after turn one, I knew that he would try anything on me going out to turn five. Maybe I was a little bit too careful in turn three. I didn't go too fast. He drafted me and passed me. But I knew that I could pass him again. I just waited a little bit. But then I realized it was really difficult to pass him on the track because of slow downforce. I was fast on the straight line, but because all the straights here, you get fast corners before it, it was really difficult to get really close. Then I pit I think a little bit later than him, put some fast laps, I was able to pass him. As I said, then I was just controlling Cristiano. My car had a little bit of understeer, a little bit of push mid race. On the third pit stop, we put more (inaudible), then my car was really good. I think if Cristiano would stay behind me, I could pull away a little bit from him. I can't complain for third place. I think like for three races this year in a row, I could score top five, and I didn't score at the end of the race. Then I know how important this is. At the end of the championship, it will count a lot.

Q. Talk about your start, Alex, how important is the second place for you before the race in Montreal?

ALEX TAGLIANI: It's important. Like Bruno said, it's very important to score points. Second place is 16 points. It would have been better to have 20, but sometimes it's too risky to try to overtake. My race was pretty good. My car was handling perfectly in the turbulence. I was able to be very fast in the carrousel behind Cristiano. To overtake I would have needed like a shorter seventh in the draft. I was very close to him a couple times. Going into seventh gear, he was pulling away from me, even in the draft. That's the only negative point. But the rest, if my car could be like this every race, that would be very good.

Q. (Inaudible)?

ALEX TAGLIANI: I was behind Bruno. He had a little jump. Then I guess I was not able to draft as well at the beginning of the race. My car was running a little bit better when it was light. Paul had a good start. He was very aggressive, took a chance. It was really close at the beginning. I played a little bit more conservative and then we know what happened.

Q. Alex, how do you end up having too long of a seventh gear when your teammate Patrick had too short of a seventh gear?

ALEX TAGLIANI: It's kind of easy to explain. Both of us had different car setup. This morning, because of the little problem I had with the engine, then the tire pressure came down to five pounds when we did a test with the rear wing, so the car started to drag really a lot in the practice. I guess when we finished the warm-up in the morning, we looked at the data, and we learned nothing. We didn't have the chance to get a draft. Our wing change, we tried it with the tire that lost, you know, 15 pounds of pressure, so it was dragging too much. We guessed, and we guessed wrong.

Q. Bruno, how did you get in the position of pitting a couple laps ahead of Cristiano? You had been on the same sequence. How did you get to the point of coming in earlier?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It's difficult to say because my engineers, they change the strategy according to the race. But I'm not going to blame them. You look historically here, and for the last five or six years, apart of yellow flags on the first lap of the race because of an incident on the first lap, and last year because it was wet, all the years they race on being dry here has been a full green race. I believe that they had to short fuel a little bit on the second pit stop. Instead of doing all the 14 laps, maybe to do 12. I'm not sure how many laps because I'm just keep worrying to drive. If you do 14, 14, 14, the last pit stop is just going to be four laps to go. That's what I think happened.

MERRILL CAIN: We are joined by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Havoline/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, who takes his sixth win of the season and extends his series points lead to 42 points today over Bruno Junqueira and Patrick Carpentier. With his win, the fifth on a road course this season, Cristiano becomes the first driver since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win as many as six races in a season in CART. The victory is the 10th of his career moving him into a tie with such CART greats as Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Juan Montoya for 10th on the all-time CART victory list. Some great pit work from you keyed the victory for you this afternoon. You had to hold off these guys here. Talk about your win, talk about what it means to you in the points championship.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I'm very pleased the way everything went today, of course. I think the strategy we played was very important. We went a couple of laps more. I think me, Bruno and Tag, we were the three quickest cars on the track. Some other guys tried to keep up with our pace. They had to short fuel to try to run lighter, try to run in the best conditions possible to run our pace. When you short fuel, you have to stop earlier, then you pay the price. I think it was very, very important that I was able to -- even on the third stint when Bruno was running a little lighter than me, I was able to keep close to him. We were doing very fast laps, we were able to keep close together. He pitted two laps before me. I was able to stay on the track and do one very quick lap, the next lap the yellow came out, and I was able to pit in. I was actually concerned because I had Nakano in front of me. I couldn't drive back to the pits as quick as I wanted. But still I think was better than being out there on cold tires and full tanks and everything. Of course, it worked for us. This way we were able to get the lead. This way we were able to pass Kenny and Paul, just by going further than everybody else. It's a very similar strategy everybody used to race when it was a fuel race, but some guys were forced to do that because of performance, to try to up the pace. Our car was very consistent. Didn't put any wheel wrong. Didn't want to repeat Mid-Ohio. Of course, I was quite worried because after you make a mistake like that, you put a little bit of pressure on yourself just not to make it again. I was a little concerned about that last couple of laps. It wasn't a good feeling having Alex behind me, and Bruno also behind him, just a lot of pressure for myself not to make a mistake. Fortunately, I had a little bit of an advantage. I was able to take it, like said of going 100%, I was able to do the last two laps 99%, just give myself a little bit of a margin. Everything worked great.

MERRILL CAIN: You obviously have had a lot of victories this year. How important was this win for you after the struggles you've had in the past three races?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Very important. Well, before the race with my engineer and the crew, we decided that we really needed to finish this race. We knew there was going to be tough opposition, as usual. But I think we were thinking anything we could bring home today better than a fifth, we're going to take it, it's going to be a very good result, just to kind of jump-start our rhythm again, get going again. Of course, during the race I knew of course fifth place, if everything ran perfectly well for us, was a pretty modest result. But we wanted to set our targets low. You know, we have to finish, forget about everything else. During the race, I was feeling good. The car was running very well. I had the pace to win. Actually before Bruno stopped, I saw I still have four or five laps to go and I saw on his board that he had like -- that he was pitting two laps before me. I thought I had a pretty good chance to win. If he really pits two laps before me, I can put a couple of good laps together. That was the key for everything. It was very rewarding, very important to finish the race today - to win was even more important.

Q. Did the tires play a part in you deciding to stay out longer?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: The tires were a little bit of an issue only in the first stint when the track had a lot of rubber still from the Atlantic cars. After the second stint, they were staying pretty good. The more you ran, the faster you were going. It was pretty consistent. After the first stint, maybe on the last two laps, you would feel a little bit of wear, which is pretty natural. But I was pretty pleased with the performance of the tires here.

Q. Bruno, you're 42 points behind, tied with Patrick. Seven races to go. How tough is it going to be to catch this guy?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Oh, for sure, it's going to be really tough. I mean, everything can happen. I think it will be really difficult because he's been fast everywhere. But on the other hand, I've been fast everywhere, as well. As I said, a person who makes less mistakes... Unfortunately, I made three - not that I made, but I had three races that I didn't finish, and he had two races that he didn't finish. I think I lost the chance to get close to him. I don't wish him to go bad, but that's the only way, because I know if I win the race, he is always going to be second or third, then it will be really difficult to get close. I need that he doesn't score one or two races, and I need to get two good results. But, I mean, I will look for the next race. Montreal is a new track for everybody. I'll try to get good qualifying, try to get a good result. If I have a chance to win, I'll try to win. But I think each race has each time. I think I'm doing a very good season from someone, I don't know, I think I finished 14th or 15th last year, and to be at this point in the championship, in second, and running pretty consistent, it's been good. I think Team Target has given me a good car. It's been tough to get Cristiano, but I'm trying hard.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano, how do you feel now with a 42-point lead after recovering from the last couple races?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, points lead, it of course feels very good. Several races to go. I almost have two races of advantage. It's a good lead. The lead, the more you extend it, the better it's going to be. There's no limit for that. But I'm pleased being 42 points ahead. But several races to go. There's still more than 140 points on the table. Everything can happen. It's a long ways to go still. We cannot get caught off guard again like we did last few weekends. We saw how quick was the difference. I believe I had the lead up to 48 or 47 points. It almost disappeared up to this weekend. We have to be really switched on and play really smart. It's not even close to being decided yet.

MERRILL CAIN: Thanks to Alex and Bruno and Cristiano. We'll see you in Montreal next week.

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