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CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix Americas

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix Americas

CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix Americas

Cristiano da Matta
Christian Fittipaldi
Jimmy Vasser
October 6, 2002


MIAMI, FLORIDA

MERRILL CAIN: Let's get started with the top-three press conference today. We're joined by Jimmy Vasser. We'll get started with Jimmy. Jimmy finished third this afternoon driver of the #8 Shell Ford/Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. He earns his second podium of the season, the first since he placed second at Long Beach earlier this year. Sixth consecutive top 10 finish for Jimmy, moving him into a tie for eighth place in the championship. Talk about what was a pretty exciting race for you. Some challenging moments in the pits. You mentioned as you came up to the podium here a little bit of a skirmish with Paul Tracy toward the end.

JIMMY VASSER: I've been looking at the points. After an abysmal middle of the season pretty much, we tested really strong in the off-season. We were strong at the beginning of the season, then we really just have been out floating, lost at sea. Things seemed to be getting better. We still didn't qualify well on Friday. We were in P-6 in the funky weather on Saturday. Starting 12th, it was making it difficult. My car was pretty good in Turn 1. I made some passes early. I thought I had a run on Tag. He left the door open. A lot of the guys must have been having some problems in braking, braking pretty early. There was a lot of room there. I took it with Tag. A little bit locked up, but it was still a pass. I didn't realize that Tag was that close to the back of Tracy. Tag, he was pretty close to Paul. When I slid by Tag a little bit, just clipped the rear wheels. Victim of circumstance. All my apologies to him. He didn't deserve that. If anybody would understand, I'm sure it's Paul. He's been on the other end of the nose before. Hopefully he'll forgive me.

MERRILL CAIN: Lots of comments made about the track this weekend. Obviously a challenging situation for the drivers. Talk to us about how the track held up during the course of the race. A lot of people were concerned about how it would hold up with the other race yesterday. Was it a big issue for the drivers today?

JIMMY VASSER: The track didn't come apart. I think they put so much sealer on it, that section from 3 to 6 is actually polished marble now (laughter). We're just happy it didn't fall apart. We're not happy with the surface. The standards need to be higher for these race cars, for these race drivers. You know, surface aside, I think it's a fantastic venue. We probably should have never left this area in 1996. All credit to Ross Sanchez, I think he put a beautiful road track in Homestead, but it didn't take. The South American fans, Miami residents, enjoy this style of racing, this atmosphere of racing near the beach, the palm trees. It works. I think the future for this race looks bright. They can fix it. They can fix the track layout and the surface. I think it has a bright future.

MERRILL CAIN: I think CART has gone on the record with this, event organizers will look at the layout and make some adjustments going forward next year. All that and more will be addressed at a press conference later today. Open it up for questions to the media.

Q. Talk about your mental attitude prior to the race. It seemed like from the green flag you were on a mission.

JIMMY VASSER: I don't know. I think I do that every race. The car felt pretty good. A lot of the race, I was stuck behind guys. I had to be patient. When I had an opening, I thought I could make a maneuver, if I could force a guy into a mistake, like Kenny, he finally split wide, he was breaking pretty deep like me in Turn 1, I couldn't make a maneuver. I had passed earlier Takagi, I got up to Kenny, but he was really running slowly. I had to just live with it. I knew I was losing time because I couldn't see anybody in front. I had to bide my time to try to get by him. I think I made a similar move on PT. The car was good. My pace was quick. Where I started and what was going on, I had to spend a lot of the race at somebody else's pace. You just have to have the mentality, you have to be patient. We had a pit stop that set us back a bit, too. I think I left it in gear. Left rear tire changer was trying to get the wheel change done. The tire was spinning. We lost probably three or four seconds there on our second stop. We came in right behind Tag. We should have came out in front of him. Our team is the best in the pit stops. Not only did I come out behind Tag, but there were two or three cars in between them, one of them was Tony Kanaan. Tony was really slow. I had to stay behind Tony for about 10 laps. I mean, times were two and a half to three seconds slower than I could run. I lost a ton of time on the track. Again, a situation where you had to bide your time and you had to relax. Finally he was out of sequence and pitted. I was able to get back on the charge again.

Q. You're the senior member of this group now, this series. On these street circuits, guys tend to be a little more aggressive. Agree, disagree with what happened with Tony?

JIMMY VASSER: I haven't even seen the altercation or the sequence of events that probably led up to that. I can't really comment. I don't know if things were going on lap after lap after lap, crazy maneuvers. I don't know. I don't know what really happened. I have never seen a punishment like that. We always complain about things and ask chief steward also to do something to get it in driver's heads that they can't do certain things. Guys are going to continue to do things that aren't acceptable on the racetrack. I'm not saying Tony did that, because I didn't see it. We complain sometimes that drivers do things that aren't acceptable, not sportsmanlike. It's difficult enough to try to pass. I'm talking about blocking, things like that. If the chief steward does nothing ever, then drivers are going to continue to do it because basically it seems like there's no punishment. We impress upon the chief steward to start taking action, start to do things. It will get in people's head that maybe they ought to think twice before they pull something crazy.

MERRILL CAIN: It was the CART chief steward who put Tony Kanaan to the back after the incident early in the race. We're joined by Christian Fittipaldi, driver of the #11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, finishing second for the third time this season, earning his fifth podium finish of the 2002 campaign. Christian has 114 points and moves with one point to fourth place for the championship. Top five in points after round 16 in the CART FedEx Championship Series are Cristiano da Matta, 212 points, Bruno Junqueira 143 on the season, Dario Franchitti 129 points, Patrick Carpentier 115, Christian follows up and rounds out the top five with 114. Another interesting race for you, Christian. Obviously it's a great day for Newman/Haas Racing. Talk about your race today.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, the race was actually very good, a little bit physical, especially I would say the first quarter of the race. That was the hardest part for me. After I started getting into a pace, I really didn't have any problems. Towards half distance onwards, I was getting stronger and stronger. I felt good. The car was good all the time. Up to a certain point, it was probably quicker than the other guys on the track, but it was sliding all over the place, like everyone else was. Track position was key today. If we didn't have problems on Friday during qualifying, we started where we should have started, probably the final result would have been different. But we had to pay for it, or maybe the way the session went cost me something. I'm happy to finish second, happy for the team, for Shorty that did an excellent job the whole year. He was not only quick, but he was consistent. He deserves to be up there. I wish him all the best in his new career future.

MERRILL CAIN: Open a can of worms there. You touched on it a little bit. This team has been outstanding all year long, not only with Cristiano, but your side. Pit stops played a key role today. You hopped on the truck when he took his championship victory parade. That just says how much of a team atmosphere it really is there.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It was definitely a great effort from everyone. We definitely had a couple of I would say races that we didn't finish that cost us a lot of points. Shorty was stronger than I was the whole year, no doubt about that. But we probably would have been a little bit higher up. Unfortunately, that didn't go our way. We still have three more races to change that. I think that we can do it. Things are going very well right now. We had two excellent spots, especially after the four or five races, where we were really struggling with our stops during the race. They were really slow. We were dropping tires, doing all kinds of different things. We not only had two solid stops, but also we put ourselves in the pit stop challenge, whatever, that we're going to do in Fontana. It's very important for my crew.

MERRILL CAIN: Open it back up to questions for the media.

Q. How much pressure is it to be second, knowing you have a car that might win, but the guy sitting in front of you is a teammate that you can't knock out of the championship?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No team orders today. Even if they asked me not going for first place, I would never lift. I have a different sponsor. I have to try my very best out there. I have to please my sponsor also. No one ever came to me and asked me for team order. Second, if it was for first place, I would do it. If it was second, third, fourth, I don't care, I would let him by. I'm out there to try to win some more races before I go on to do something else. I can't believe I have 20 something podium finishes and I only have two wins. I'm definitely trying to win a race before the end of the season, move on to what I'm going to do next. I don't know.

JIMMY VASSER: What are you looking at me for (laughter)?

MERRILL CAIN: Open it back up for questions here.

Q. Jimmy, you had been the mainstay in the CART series. You've seen a lot of the young guys like Cristiano and Christian kind of come and go. What are your thoughts when you look over and you see the drivers coming in for two or three years, then moving over?

JIMMY VASSER: You know, I appreciate the mainstay comment, but I think guys like Michael, there's been a lot of guys that have been mainstays in this series. I appreciate that. I've had teammates come in and do great things, and move on to even greater things. I think that's fantastic. I think that CART's level of competition is very, very high, world class, and it has been. I hope it continues to be. It's got to be to produce champions in our series - like Zanardi, his seasons were phenomenal. I really believe at the time he was the best race car driver in the world. I dealt with Montoya, as well. Very similar in a lot of ways. Montoya I believe is one of two or three of the best drivers in the whole word. Cristiano da Matta has done similar things in a similar series. This racing series produces not only great drivers but great team personnel that can move into the top ranks of motorsport all over the world and win. I think that says a lot about the racing series, where it's come from, where it has been, what it's produced. That's basically what I've seen.

Q. Diplomatic answer.

JIMMY VASSER: What kind of a comment is that? Are you saying it wasn't heartfelt?

Q. I'm sure it was, but I think the question is looking forward, when drivers have developed a reputation, then they go on to something else. What does that say about CART, about where it is at this point?

JIMMY VASSER: I think I just answered that.

Q. The series is losing good drivers.

JIMMY VASSER: CART is not Formula 1. CART isn't NASCAR either. It's different. Formula 1 is something very special. A lot of drivers come up in aspire to be Formula 1 champion. CART, it's not Formula 1. It's not a World Championship, but it's a very highly competitive, high-level series. It's not tiddly-winks. It's not smash-'em-up Saturday night derby. This is high-level racing. It produces high-level drivers, personnel, engineers, that can move into top levels of any sport. I think that says a lot about what CART is. It's not minor leagues. I'm not really sure what you're getting at, what you want me to say. I think I've said that twice now.

MERRILL CAIN: Any final questions for Jimmy or Christian?

Q. Did you feel you maybe had the winning car but didn't have the track to make it work? Jimmy, you made more passes than anybody on the track.

JIMMY VASSER: You always think you can win the race, right? Certain circumstances happen. But I was never at the front of the pack. I never had the track position. The farther you get forward, the more difficult it is to pass people. I'm pleased with our run today. I think we got everything we could out of it.

Q. Did you feel that way, Christian?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I felt if I had started in the top four, things could have gone a lot different for me. I was pretty quick all sessions apart from Friday, which qualifying was actually a joke like we had. God knows how many red flags. I had two laps going that would have put me P-3. One of them I got traffic on the last corner. The other one, I got a red flag like on the very last corner. I guess that's how the series is. It's not the first time that that happened. It happens to probably a lot of other drivers. But my car was quicker than where I started. The only thing I could do is put a lot of pressure on the guy right in front of me. This is what I did. Dario was all over the place. I don't think his car was really that stable. He almost clipped the wall like a couple of times during the race. He was really driving well until when he probably braked. Looking from behind, I don't know what happened. He dug himself into the tires.

Q. Formula 1, we've had Brazilians successful. Indy, we had Emerson successful. Now in CART more Brazilians. Are you pretty expect that in NASCAR we're going to have some Brazilians successful, too?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I don't know. It's going to be a huge learning curve for me. It's probably going to be the hardest thing I've ever done in my whole entire life. It was a hard decision that I had to take. One of the reasons that I did it is because of the group that I am together with, what they offered me on a three-year plan, being together with I would say like Dodge also, that's definitely very strong. We're already starting right now. I'm actually testing tomorrow and Tuesday, then I'm running again the following Monday and Tuesday. We're probably testing as much as we can until the end of the season to get a lot of miles, to try and start as strong as possible next year. It's going to be tough. It's not going to be easy. People in general underestimate what NASCAR is. It's 20 times more competitive than what people think it is. If I make it to a very high level there, I'm going to be absolutely really, really happy.

Q. Christian, where are you testing?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Atlanta. The following week, I'm going to Rockingham, The Rock.

MERRILL CAIN: We are joined by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the #6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. Winning his seventh race of the year, becoming the fifth driver to win as many races in a season. He clinches the CART FedEx Championship series title. Cristiano, what can you say, you got a break early in the race. I know you felt bad for your friend and housemate Tony Kanaan early when he got put to the back of the field after an incident. You took advantage of that, you did what you had to do, got some great pit stops from your team. What does it feel like to win the championship?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, of course, it was great to win the championship. It's a feeling that is impossible to explain. But it's very good. I remember the time I saw Tora and Kenny and also Tagliani. We stayed out. I wasn't quite sure because I didn't know exactly how many laps we were. At that time I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be like. I saw there was only Tony left in front of me. I didn't know they were going to put Tony to the back of the line. I saw Dixon crash, Tony put to the back of the line, I kind of figured out what happened between them both. I didn't have a chance to see the incident, of course. Felt bad for Tony. He's been trying to get his season together but had a hard time so far. It was opportunity I was looking for. Starting seventh, I had my position on the start. I was very, very conservative the first couple laps. I think Kenny was holding us up, holding me back, Christian a little bit, the first couple laps. My car wasn't that great. Dario was all over me. Christian was, too. I just couldn't pull away. My guys gave me a great pit stop. The first pit stop was tough for everybody. I just came out in front of Dario. I knew Bruno was leading. It was going to be two pit stops more. Very likely to work that strategy. In the second stint, the last two laps, I was able to pull away from Dario a little bit. Got maybe a two-second lead. I needed to go in and come out knowing that I was going to for sure come out ahead of him. I came out ahead of him. I also came out ahead of Bruno, which was very good. After that, it was just pretty much a tough race. I knew Dario made a mistake. He was a lap down. He was out. I had no idea where Bruno was. I didn't want to ask my team where he was because by that time I was already thinking a lot about the championship. I knew I wanted to win the race no matter what. I knew I had a pretty good chance. I kind of forgot. I knew Dario was out. I didn't know where Bruno was. I felt like I had to forget about these two guys right now and just drive my race. I drove as hard as I could, and, of course, not do anything stupid. I was leading. I was in a racetrack that is very easy to make mistakes. I'm sure everybody seen how easy it is to make mistakes in this track, throughout the practice session, throughout the race. Those yellows at the end, they upset me a little bit, too, because I was ready to open a little bit of a gap, have a little bit of breathing room. We had a yellow, restart, which of course is not what you want with five, 10 laps to go. Then another yellow, another restart. To that point, I just hoped there wasn't another yellow. No yellow ever came. It was good driving to the checkered. Probably maybe the biggest win I have this season. Good being back in first place, of course. Even better that I was able to get the championship here today.

MERRILL CAIN: Joined by the Vanderbilt cup next to you, almost as big as you. Could you have written a better script for this whole situation? Coming home here to Miami, winning in front of your adopted hometown, being able to take the championship with the victory instead of having to clinch it with second or third place?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think there isn't a better way to clinch the championship than with a victory. Sometimes if you clinch it with fifth place or fourth place, everybody forgets pretty quickly that you won many other races before. When you clinch it with a win, it just kind of makes it pretty obvious that you were competitive the whole year. You won the race, and because of that you clinch the championship. I wasn't expecting to clinch the championship here because I knew it was going to depend on Dario and Bruno's results. I know it was going to be tough to score 10 points more than Bruno or six points more than Dario. I knew it was going to be a tough situation. But I also knew that if I would be able to maintain the gap I had to win coming into this race, it was going to be pretty difficult for them to catch me in three races left, with the 58 points I had ahead of them before coming here. I don't know, starting sixth, I wasn't expecting to win the race. I think Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan had pretty good cars, and it was going to be difficult to fight them on the racetrack. The bottom line is that they made mistakes. We never made a mistake. It's been like that many times during the year. Many, many times, I think probably 70% of the time, faster than everybody else. The other 30% of the times, we were faster than anybody else, didn't make any mistakes, apart from Mid-Ohio. I think that's still for me a good record. It's only one mistake for the season. I'll try to keep it clean the last three races.

MERRILL CAIN: Open it up for questions.

Q. About Christian, he said there were no team orders. Did you ever discuss during the season what to do if you were both going for the lead?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No, there weren't any team orders whatsoever. I thought if I would come to him and I would ask for something, if I would ask the team to keep Christian (inaudible). I think I felt like I was able to hold the situation and I wasn't going to have to ask for him. I know Christian was competitive, but I also know he's a very smart guy, and he wasn't going to try any bonsai move on me. I also know this track is pretty difficult to pass. I knew he had a very strong car here. Actually, was the fastest lap of the race. But he's a smart driver. I knew he wasn't going to try anything crazy. I was happy the team didn't say anything, too, because it's not racing like this. You end up having a different taste if you would have any team decision on that.

Q. Speaking of your teammate, he kind of let it out of the bag, he congratulated you on winning the championship, then wished you best of luck in your next venture. Can you tell us about your next venture?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think I'm going to be his teammate next year (laughter). I still don't have an answer. I still am not decided. Nothing is decided yet. I know there's a lot of rumors that something is decided, but it's not. I cannot deny I'm not talking to Formula 1. I have a deadline, and I am still waiting to see what CART is going to be next year. You know, when you have a relationship as good as the one I have with Newman/Haas, as good as I have living here in America, I mean, everything counts in this time. It's a pretty big move to change a career like this. I know it's a pretty big opportunity on the other side, too. It's still depending on me to decide that a little bit, Carl, still depending on Toyota, too. It depends a little bit on the three parts. Everybody expects to hear something this coming week, but you won't.

Q. You're not going to Japan on your way to Australia?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No.

MERRILL CAIN: Your next venture is Surfers Paradise?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yes.

MERRILL CAIN: Today's victory is the ninth of the season for Toyota, as Cristiano mentioned, the 20th in the past three seasons for Toyota. The 1-2 finish is also the manufacturer's sixth of the season.

Q. Talking to your father, I said, "When did you know he might be something special?" He said, "Five years old." When you came over here, you weren't sure what your career was going to be. Put in your own words what you've gotten out of America, what you thought you would get out of America and ran Indy Lights.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I came over here initially, and it's a very interesting story. When I came over here, I still have Formula 1 in my head. Because of budgets, sponsors, in motorsports, you have to dance according to the music. I wanted to dance samba, but they ended up playing jazz. I had to come to jazz. I came to the United States, and it wasn't the move I wanted to do at the time because I had offers from the biggest and most competitive Formula 3000 teams in that next year. I came to Indy Lights thinking, "Okay, it's racing." I knew how good the CART series was, Indy Lights series. I had a couple friends racing here, including Tony. Very happy racing here. Very impressed with the competitive level in Indy Lights. So I came here pretty happy, enjoying racing. I found like a family, too. I just joined the team. I just loved the way they were. They were very easy-going guys. Brian is a very easy-going guy. Complete no BS guy. He's just into racing, into performance. I kind of thought, "Wow, this is a lot like me." Quickly I start to collect results. I started, right away, before the series started, I started to take this Formula 1 thing out of my head. I started to think about CART, the Indy Lights championship. I had a pretty good season. I won (inaudible) races, which was more races won than Tony, which actually won the championship that year, but I wasn't as consistent as him throughout the season. It was just the beginning. The next year I was able to race 4000. Actually they had a Champ car team. I was able to get closer to the series. I was able to hear what's going on, to know how the tires work, how the chassis work, how to change it, become friendly with some of the engineers on the Champ car teams. It was a very good experience for me to learn not only about racing but also about what racing CART was like. Indy Lights is competitive, very competitive. It was very competitive. But, of course, Champ cars is a different level. I was able to see that from up close. It was good for my career. By that time, I was thinking that Formula 1 sucks and I wanted to do CART, by the end of '98 (laughter). You see how you can change your mind. Of course, if you're working with good people, you get more motivated because you're learning more and you improve yourself more. Then of course I had the opportunity to join PPI at the beginning of '99. It was a team with a very good budget, but a new team, with this Toyota engine that wasn't worth a dime at the time. "I'll try it." It was my opportunity. I started working with Toyota since '99. I felt how quick they were able to progress. When I joined PPI in '99, to have the worst power, worst fuel mileage, heaviest engine. My best result in '99 was fourth place. In 2000, they came with a new spec, completely new. I was impressed with how quick they were able to progress. Also PPI, I was impressed with how quick they were going to progress. With the future of the team, I had to go someplace else. I had the opportunity with Newman/Haas. It was something like that I was looking for because I knew it was the kind of team I was going to be able to fight for the title. Of course, I was happy when I knew they were going to be joined by Toyota in 2001. I knew everybody there. I was part of the engine development program. I kind of grew up with the engine I have until '99 and 2000. 2001, I felt like I was ready to fight for the championship. Certainly Toyota felt the same way. It was just a matter of consistency. I probably made some mistakes last year. But I think the biggest thing was last year, Lola wasn't the best car to have. We had a difficult time against the Reynard last year. We were able to focus on those areas. They made a huge progress on the car between last season and this season. Definitely Lola/Toyota this year was the best package to have. Maybe it would be better to have a better combination. But overall, the big picture, Lola/Toyota, I think it was the best combination, the most consistent combination this year. It's just a happy feeling. It feels to me like I didn't have here and I just drove the car. It was like a fruit of my work with Toyota, Newman/Haas. It was just everybody's hard work together. We got ourselves to a level this year, a level of consistency, a level of speed, everything, that nobody could match. It feels very special. It feels very good to me to be part of hard work. I knew we were collecting the fruit throughout the season because we had so many good wins, good results, so many podiums, but of course the main thing was the championship. I owe this championship to the whole Newman/Haas team, Toyota, Lola, just a great team effort.

Q. As you were just going through all that, it started to dawn on you it seems that this was not easy, this championship was years in making. Is that a pretty good assessment?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yes, I agree. I think it's becoming more and more true, race after race, year after year. Nothing was ready. When I joined PPI, when I joined Newman/Haas, I found nothing ready there. We had to work hard together to get our act together. Finally being able to win together, collect all the fruit together, win the championship together. It's very, very rewarding for me to be able to be part of such a group. It makes it feel even more special. If you join a team that is already on the top or something like that, it's different. But we kind of grew up together. That's the special feeling.

Q. What were the emotions as you went under the checkered flag today?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think I still didn't realize. It just feels good. Instead of 135 pounds, I'm probably 100 now. I feel a lot lighter (laughter).

Q. Broadcasters here said you have an apartment here with a couch and a couple trophies. Is that so?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I actually never spend a buck furnishing the place because the couches I have there are from my good friend Tony Kanaan. He bought himself a new house that came with some couches. They were nice, so he gave me his old ones. The trophies, I got all them this year. I'll keep the money in the bank.

Q. In Chicago when you won the first CART race, someone asked you what it felt like to be a winner. You pointed out you won a lot of races before. Maybe the championship hasn't sunk in yet. You've been consistently winning. How does that affect you? Does that give you turbo charge power to win the championship?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think winning, one of the guys that most understands about racing I've ever met, is Carl Haas. He tells me, "To win, you need to keep winning." It's an interesting phrase he has, but it's true. When you start winning, winning, winning, you get to such a level of confidence, such a level of control when you're driving the car, I mean, everything. You make less mistakes because you know exactly where the limits are, you know you don't have to pass the limits to find out where they are. You're right there at the time element. You know where you need to go a little bit more. That makes you so consistent, and it's so difficult to make mistakes. For everybody else, it becomes more difficult to beat you. It works not only for the driver, but for the team, too: for the engineers, the crew in the pit stops, the preparation of the car, everything. As they are preparing the car, they think, "I'm a hundred percent sure I'm doing the right thing. I don't have to try to do a little bit different here or there." As a human being, as you're challenging the limits, you're always trying maybe this little different here, little different there, and maybe it comes out better. But when you're winning and everything is working, "I know it's going to work, I'll do it like that." You become a lot more difficult to beat as a team.

Q. Did you walk to the track today? All weekend guys were spinning off. Did you ever go off course or have a spin?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No, I never had a spin this weekend. I didn't walk the track this morning. I got here kind of late. I'm not a morning person. Morning warm-up is at 9. For me to get here at 7:45 was already a struggle. My engineers came to me and said the track looks exactly the same after the race. I usually walk the track on Thursday and Wednesday, but never did it this morning, no.

Q. Did you walk from your home?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Walking from my home, no. Yesterday I rode my scooter here. I have a problem with the gates in my apartment building. The gate, even if you press the remote control, it wouldn't open. So yesterday, Saturday morning, 7:00 in Miami, nobody was leaving the building, so I sit there for 20 minutes and the gate wouldn't open. So finally a guy comes out and opens the gate. So I got here a little late yesterday. This morning I didn't want it to happen again, so I got my car. I knew my dad was coming. "Can you come on the scooter because you can afford to get there late?"

Q. Have you ever won a trophy that's almost as big as you?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I've would be some big trophies, but nothing that means so much like this one. This one means a lot to me. I always growing up, not only as a kid, but as a teenager, in my 20s, I always looked with a very, very special eye to the guy that won the CART championship because I knew how competitive the series is. I always have a lot of admiration for whoever wins this championship. For me, it means a lot. I mean it. It means a lot. Maybe is not the biggest one I have, but definitely the one that means more to me.

Q. In light of what you just talked about, your future, a decision to make, how important is winning to you?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I think in racing, winning is everything. There are two sides. One thing is the challenge, keep improving yourself, pushing everybody, the team. This side is very important. But this side means nothing if you don't have the opportunity to win. If you just keep on getting better and better and better, your team and everything, but you keep on finishing 20th, it doesn't mean anything. You have to get better and you have to see the results so you know you're getting better. Not only for you and for your team, it's something that is just racing. Even if you know you're doing a great job, you're not getting the results, it doesn't matter. You need to get results because you need the recognition from all the general public, from all the press, so you still have sponsors the next year. You have to keep on winning. It's why you race. Of course, racing, driving the car, is fun, but more fun than this is to race the car and know that you do it better than the other guys.

MERRILL CAIN: Thanks, Cristiano. Congratulations on a great win today. Congratulations on the championship, continuing to prove that you're the man.



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