CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix at Road America
Topics: Grand Prix at Road America
MERRILL CAIN: We'll get started with our top three press conference. We're joined by the top three drivers as they'll start tomorrow's Grand Prix of Road America Featuring the Motorola 220. We're joined by Alex Tagliani, Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano da Matta. We'll begin today with Alex Tagliani who finished second in the session this afternoon. Driving the #3 3 Player's/Indeck/Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone. He posted a best time of 1:42.684, that's a speed of 141.919 miles per hour, a lap that puts him in the third spot on the grid for tomorrow's event. Alex makes his third top three start of the 2002 season tomorrow and the first since the Chicago event where he started on the outside of the front row. He also qualified third in 2000 and led 23 laps before mechanical trouble left him with a 13th place finish. Alex, if you would, talk about your qualifying effort this afternoon.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, the car was very good. The Player's team had a very good car in the past two years here, so we had some good data to show up on Friday morning. Yesterday on my last lap, I didn't have a clear lap, so we could have been third. Today we proved that. I don't think we had the speed to be on pole. It was 5/10ths, maybe with another 2/10ths in the car, but not more than that. Tonight we're going to chat a little bit more on the car and hopefully we'll be more competitive and closer to Bruno tomorrow.
MERRILL CAIN: We're joined also by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Havoline/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone who will start second tomorrow by virtue of his provisional pole winning effort from yesterday. That time was 1:42.640 seconds, a speed of 141.980. Cristiano makes his seventh front row starting spot of the season and takes his best ever grid position here at Road America. The session didn't go probably as well as you would have liked, but you still by virtue of yesterday's effort start second tomorrow and it should be an interesting race to start out. Talk about your qualifying effort today and your approach to the race tomorrow.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Today I didn't have such a good run as I had yesterday. On my first set of tires, I was caught by the red flag, Fernandez' red flag. I was able to go out and during that set put a lap in which was still my best lap of the session because on the second set I went out and just got traffic and traffic and traffic. I probably got Scott Dixon ahead of me three times. I was actually asking Bruno here if they forgot to put a mirror in his car or not. But never got a clear lap, not even a single clear lap. Then on my last lap, it was finally my first clear lap, then there was Bruno's incident in front of me. I ended up with no clear lap on my second set. But I'm happy with the car. I'm not sure if I could have challenged Bruno for the pole or not. He did a very, very fast lap time. I think it's even difficult for me to know because I was so far off from what my car could have done that I don't even have an idea what I could have done with my car. I'm overall happy with the balance of the car. I think we should have a good race car for tomorrow. I'm a little disappointed with so much -- a four-mile track, not that big of a deal if you lose your track position for qualifying. It's just a shame that some guys play qualify like this.
MERRILL CAIN: Bruno Junqueira is your polesitter for tomorrow's Grand Prix of Road America, driver of the #4 Target/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, he takes the pole with a best lap of 1:42.151 seconds, a speed of 142.659 miles per hour. He earns his second pole of the season, taking the first road course pole of his Champ car career. Bruno also claimed the pole in Motegi, Japan, earlier this year, a race he would go on to win. He earns one champ point for the pole position. That gives him 87 for the season and leaves him eight opinions behind Patrick Carpentier in second place in the standings, of course behind Cristiano da Matta. Bruno, obviously an exciting qualifying session for you. You posted the best lap and actually looked like you were on a flyer that was 3/10ths of a second ahead of your pace. Talk about that last lap, your approach, your approach to the race tomorrow.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think Team Target have given me a very good car during this weekend. Yesterday my car was good. I thought I left a little bit on the table. But today I want to make sure that I would get the right lap. On my second lap, I did my best lap. Then on the third one, I pushed too much, went a little bit wide in one of the corners. Wasn't that good of a lap. Then I knew that the fourth lap was the last one. I was pushing very, very hard. I saw Nakano like 10 cars in front of me. I was really good. The balance of the car was good. I was 3/10ths faster until Canada corner. I think I could even proof more. Nakano went on the gravel a little bit wide on Canada corner, went to the gravel. I couldn't see, because I thought he would stay on the gravel and I could continue to finish my lap. Suddenly he just came back to the track. I was almost going to the outside of the corner on the curves. I brake and push the car to the right to avoid the crash. He spun inside, hit the inside wall. I think that was a shame because, as Cristiano said, I think a lot of people could improve the lap times, including me. But luckily the checkered flag was out and they didn't take out my lap. That was good. But I think my second best lap would stay on the pole, as well. I have to thank Team Target. The car was really, really good. I enjoy a lot to drive here.
MERRILL CAIN: You certainly do. That's a question I was going to ask you. You're the defending champion here. It seems like this course brings out your skills. Can you talk about that a little bit?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think this is a proper racetrack, proper road track, with really fast corners. I just like a lot fast corners. Long corners, short corners, all kind of corners. I just love it. That's my favorite track of the year, not just because I go well - maybe because I go well. But I think that's where I can really drive the car. Is really exciting. Team Target give me a good car, as well. I drive well. Everything goes fine for me so far.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Cristiano, on your lap, did you know that you were going to see Bruno's car sitting backwards on the track or was it a surprise?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No, my crew called me on the radio before that. I kept on it until I got to Canada. They told me that the car was on the exit. They said, "Watch out because I don't think you're going to find room." When I got there, there wasn't much room on either side. I mean, there was a lot of pieces of his car laying in the middle of the track, a lot of debris. I had to slow down basically, go slowly to the pits. There was nothing else I could do.
Q. Alex, you said that you didn't have the car to get on pole today. How confident are you to improve the car tomorrow morning and fight for the victory tomorrow?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I think today if I would have tried to find somebody in front of me to do the perfect lap, could have found a couple of tenths. The draft is very important. If you have the right gap with the guy in front of you, you can improve your time quite a bit. But yesterday I was caught in traffic and I didn't have any good laps. I didn't want to risk today. I wanted to do a lap by myself. So there would have been a little bit of time there, but I think we had a little bit too much push in the car to do a very fast lap. But the car could change in the race, you know, when you run with the heavy fuel tank. Hopefully our car is not going to destroy as much of the tire, and be more consistent, and good pit stop strategy, a little bit of luck.
Q. Every week now on road courses in the qualifying it comes down to the last minute or minute and a half. Almost everybody among the top guys turns their fast lap. Is this putting more pressure on you guys? Do you feel differently about this kind of qualifying than you did in the past?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For sure that puts a lot of pressure because this year is really close. If you don't get a hundred percent, instead to be on the pole or second, you're going to be 10th or 12th, you know. You just don't lose one or two spots; you lose a lot of positions. You always have to get the maximum from the car. I remember last weekend in Mid-Ohio, Friday I didn't get a lap, and I was 10th. For sure I had a car to be on top three. I think the same, Cristiano, I don't know which position he finished this session, but he finished sixth or seventh.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I didn't check.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For sure he had a car to be on top three, as well. That's very, very difficult.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: It's difficult, too. But it's the risk you take. If you want to run in the best track, you have to go out on the very last minute. So everybody is trying to play this kind of game. It's proven weekend in and weekend out, the way it work is to go out on the very last minute. Some tracks are more sensitive to rubber. Some tracks are a little bit less. But I would guess like 80, 70% of the tracks we go to are more sensitive to rubber so you have to wait till the end. Of course, then is more pressure, not only to put the lap, but to find a clear gap on the track, I mean, everything.
Q. The race tomorrow is extended. We've gone from 50 laps to 55, now up to 60. This track is not as physical as Mid-Ohio. What are the elements that come to play in the longer race? How might it affect strategy?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: This track is not that physical, but 60 laps here will be not easy, especially if it will be hot. 60 laps is not easy. It's not like Mid-Ohio or Portland, but is not easy. I think this track is very easy to make mistakes. A lot of drivers, they just put a wheel off the track and sometimes even if you don't do a mistake, you get a little bit of dirt or gravel and can slip a little bit and make a mistake, you know, then you have to pay attention the whole race. All the fast corners takes a lot of driver concentration. Today, for example, like when Nakano went off, I knew it was dirty anyway on the Canada corner. It's very difficult because I could see Nakano when he put dirty there, then I went maybe a little bit cautiously. Sometimes on the race, start leading the race, the guy that's last on the race, went a little bit off, and you are the first one, you don't know it's dirty, it's easy to make mistakes. But I hope I can have a clean race tomorrow and everybody can have a clean race.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: The other point about this track, as Mid-Ohio is probably the most tough race for the drivers, I think this is the most tough racetrack for the cars. It's a tough race for the equipment. I mean, the engine spend a long time on top revs, lots of gear changes, lots of hard braking. It's hard on the brakes, gearbox, engines. Not as hard on the drivers as Mid-Ohio, but it's a tough race for the equipment.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Pretty much the same thing that those two guys said. There's always something happening. There's always dirt. Like Bruno says, you put two wheels off, there's dirt. You don't see it until you get there, then you start spinning. You need to pay more attention. Also I think the track is very difficult on the cars, but it's changing quite a bit. The guy who is going to win is the guy who is going to be able to have the most consistent and fast car through the whole race. It's easier to have a good car at the beginning of the race and then if the track picks up grip - and this track seems to pick up a lot of grip - the car can go loose, and it's impossible to drive on this high-speed track with a car that is loose. A consistent car through the whole race will be a winner, for sure.
Q. Cristiano, how do you approach the race tomorrow? Last week you had a fast car during the race. You tried to overtake Patrick, had no success. Tomorrow are you going to play it safer or do you think it's possible to overtake?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: What you're going to do during the race depends what's your position is in the race, if your car is running good or not. If I have a good car, I feel like I can try to go challenge Bruno. I will try. If not, I'm going to try to finish as high as I can, of course.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: When I did that last week, I wasn't trying to pass Patrick, I was just caught off guard. I thought I was doing something that I was 100% in control. Just suddenly when he moved to the right, completely cut my air, I lost the downforce. I guess I learned that lesson - I hope so. I'll try not to let this happen again. But I'm not going to drive like a chicken because I made one mistake, you know. I had another 10 races in this championship that I think I drove very well and I never made any mistake in one of those races. I think overall in my whole career I made very few mistakes. I'll try to keep on getting better. But it's not going to change my whole approach to the race, just one thing or the other. If I feel I can do it, I'll try it. If I feel like I cannot do it, I'll maybe be a little more conservative.
Q. Alex, the last month or so your teammate has been the focus of attention, wins, issues about his contract. You're pretty well set for next year, haven't won the last two races. What's your approach been? What are you looking for for tomorrow?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, my approach for tomorrow is I'm just going to drive and do the best result we can. I'm definitely not looking for a ride because my contract. I don't really care what's going on around me. It's good for the team that has been really struggling in the past, especially this year at the beginning caught off guard with the whole chassis thing. Like I said many times before, you need to take your hat off to that team because they've been acting like a Formula 1 team, building, developing parts on their own. It's really difficult for an Indy car team to do that. They pick up the pace. Lately Pat won two races and showed that the car was good. Today we're competitive again. For the team, we just need to continue in that direction. Regarding what Pat is going to do next year, we should ask him. I don't know.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Congratulations on a good effort today. Best of luck tomorrow in the Grand Prix of Road America Featuring the Motorola 220.
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