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CART FedEx Championship Series: G.I. Joe's 200

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  G.I. Joe's 200

CART FedEx Championship Series: G.I. Joe's 200

Cristiano da Matta
Dario Franchitti
Bruno Junqueira
June 16, 2002


PORTLAND, OREGON

MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Let's get started with our Top 3 press conference today following the GI Joe's 200. We'll start off with Dario Franchitti and Bruno Junqueira as we await our champion, Cristiano da Matta. First up today we'll go to Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 27 KOOL Honda/Reynard Bridgestone. He takes his third podium finish of the season, finishing third today. It matches his best ever Portland placing. Dario has finished in the points in each of his last four trips in Portland. The finish gives him 49 points on the season and moves him into a fourth place tie in the points championship. Dario, if you would quickly go over your afternoon. I know you faced a lot of pressure from Townsend Bell towards the end of race, had a few problems with braking, but you were certainly able to hang on and collect some great points towards the end there.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yes. One of the biggest things in Portland is the start and the first corner. We eventually got going. It was kind of frustrating there. But, you know, it was one of the few good starts I've made in Portland. Managed to go from 7th to 4th. And it was the first full course. After that, we were pretty much -- you know, it was just flat out all day. Had a small problem with the car and the brakes, particularly the tires wore down. And that was what caught me at the end there Bell. We lost a place to Bruno at the first pit stop. The car was pretty good up until probably the second stop actually, then went off a bit. Yeah, we just were pushing all day. You know, again, at the end there, the same thing with the brakes. I was running pretty good times with Bell behind me, keeping a good gap. I was quite happy with that. And then just caught me out going to chicane and I had to straight line it after that. After that I had to slow the pace a bit and take it a bit easier. Basically (inaudible) as Laguna. Not the best result, but we'll take it. We'll go and do our homework. We head to obviously Chicago next, and then we've got to get things sorted a bit more on the road courses I think to challenge certainly Cristiano, and the Target guys are pretty strong as well. We'll take it from there.

MERRILL CAIN: Bruno Junqueira, finishes second today. Driver of No. 4 target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He takes his third career podium with the run. The finish is Bruno's best on a road course since he won at Road America for his first victory in CART last season. It also moves him into a tie for second place in the championship with Michel Jourdain, Jr. Both of those drivers have 54 points on the season. Bruno, a great run for you. Obviously unfortunate what happened with your teammate, with Kenny, after he was leading the race after coming out of the pits. But you kind of picked up the baton from there and certainly put a good rush on Cristiano from there.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yes, I feel Team Target did a very good job to give me and Kenny a very good car. Was a shame what happened to Kenny. It would be exciting race if we had all three cars together. A shame for Kenny. I had a very good car. Unfortunately, start didn't work out very well for me because I put it inside, and Kenny just move inside of Cristiano. I have to leave, I lost two positions. I had to be patient and pass Dario and Tagliani in the pit stops. After start to push, I was like 13 or 14 seconds behind. And Cristiano came, and my car was really, really good. I couldn't close the gap of them, and just follow them, try to see what's happen. Unfortunate, Kenny went out. I knew that the race would be between me and Cristiano. But I was a little bit faster than Cristiano, but not enough to get a safe run and pass him. I think is too early in the championship to try a big move and put both Toyota cars out of the race. I went more conservative. I tried make him make a mistake, but Cristiano drove really well. He didn't make any mistake. And when you don't make mistake, and he has the same Toyota engine I have, it's really difficult to pass him.

MERRILL CAIN: A couple other notes here on Bruno before we open it up for questions. It marks his third Top 4 finish in the last four races. Also the second consecutive race that Toyota has led every lap for the season. For the second consecutive race, Toyota power cars finish 1, 2. Cristiano leading, and then Bruno Junqueira by 6.25 seconds. Rookie Townsend Bell fell short of making it a one, two, three finish for Toyota. He came home in fourth place. Before we are joined by Cristiano, let's open it up for questions for Dario and Bruno.

Q. Bruno, were you aware what happened to Kenny's wheel? Were you concerned if you knew about that wheel failure?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I saw that wheel coming off, but I don't know. Was really fast his pit stop. I don't know if was because of that or how much fuel he put. Anyway, that was a shame for Kenny. I think he lead a lot part of the race. He have a good car. But he have a good car as me. Could be a Target one, two. Because I think if Cristiano were behind Kenny -- because what's the problem? A good place to pass here is straight into turn one, and you have to do that fast chicane. And every time I get really close of Cristiano, I lose the down force and I really couldn't do a last turn close enough of him. If Cristiano was behind Kenny, I'm sure would make it a little easier to pass him. I had one or two chances when they were in traffic, when Kenny was leading Cristiano in second. But I saw this too early to try to make a move because beating three laps when I caught them. Then it was a shame for Kenny. But I hope that he'll be back. He for sure going to back strong in Chicago.

Q. They were saying possibly a mechanical failure in the wheel, the bolt that holds the wheel nut in. You weren't aware of that?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: No, I didn't know.

Q. When you came out on your third pit stop, going into turn one, it looked like you maybe on cold tires or whatever went wide.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah.

Q. Can you talk about what happened there.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah. My team was saying, "Come on, Bruno, push hard on this cold lap." Maybe I got a little bit too exciting. I was really good in the other two cold laps, passed Tagliani in the first one. Second one I made up a little time. I went a little bit wild. I keep it on the track, but I lost a little bit for Cristiano. But my car was really good. Maybe I lost like two seconds. I came close of him again. But get close is one thing; pass is the other.

MERRILL CAIN: We are now joined by Cristiano da Matta, the champion of the GI Joe's 200, driver of the No. 6 Chevron Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He takes his third win of the season, seventh of his career, second in a row. It moves him ahead of Helio Castroneves who tied for 15th on the all-time CART list. Cristiano has also won five of the last CART races dating back to last season. He also becomes the first driver since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win three times in the season's first six races and becomes the first driver to sweep all 23 points available on a weekend under CART's new road and street course qualifying rules. What can you say? Another perfect weekend for you. It was obviously an awesome performance out there. A little bobble there with Kenny allowed you to slip into the lead, but you certainly had a lot of pressure put on you by Bruno after that. Talk about your performance today.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, for me was a very tough race from the beginning to the end. I had just no time to breathe. Kenny was very fast. He put a good move on me on the start. There was no way for me to protect on that. He took a big risk. And I saw that if I tried to do anything, we were going to crash right there. Probably he was thinking that if he didn't take the lead, he wasn't going to take the lead anymore. But I was actually surprised at how much speed he had, or maybe I just didn't have the speed as good performance as I thought I was going to have. But it was tough to keep up with him. I was able to keep up close, but not as close to try to do anything. He, of course, had the little bit of trouble with traffic, so I was able to close the gap a little bit. And at this meantime, Bruno kept on closing the gap on us because I think he had a couple of problems on the start or whatever. I was watching, of course. But it was a tough race. After Kenny had the problem with his pit stop, then I had Bruno behind me, so I just didn't have any time to breathe. I was just pushing as hard as I could all the time. It was probably one of the toughest races for me I've ever driven, just qualifying pace pretty much from lap 1 to lap 110. That was pretty difficult. Very, very difficult to maintain yourself, of course, concentrated and not make any mistakes, you know, putting good laps together all the time. That was pretty tough. But I think my team did a very good job. I think the mistake Ganassi made on the pits with Brack was a little pressure they were feeling because both times we came into the pits, I was right in his gearbox. I think they felt like they had to make a quick stop and probably made some mistake during the pit stop because, as he was coming out of the of the pits in front of me, I saw there was something wrong in his -- in one of his rear wheels. Very good job for my crew that didn't do any mistakes, also didn't put any wheel wrong. And it was just -- it was a lot of fun race. I'm very glad to see this race at Portland to turn out to be such a fast race, such a tough race, a very high-pace race, very fast-pace race, and very different than used to be in the past where everybody was just trying to save fuel - apart from Gil. But this way is a lot more fun. Probably one of the most fun races I've driven. I'm very, very pleased today.

Q. Cristiano, before Kenny had problems, the pace dropped off a couple seconds.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: There was some oil on the track at that time. Just very, very slick from turn one all the way to turn six. I thought because we were in the situation with traffic, too, at that time, and I had to put a couple wheels off the line, and I picked up a couple marbles. At the beginning, there were so many cars ahead of me, I couldn't see the surface very well. So I thought, "Wow, maybe this is all marbles." Actually Kenny pulled away a second in front of me, I could see there was oil there. But it was very strange. I don't know where it came from.

Q. Then it cleared up a bit.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Start improve slowly.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Very slowly was improving.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: A couple guys spun at that point.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: That made the race really difficult to run over the oil, I'm tell.

Q. Cristiano and Bruno, you've raced against each other since you were kids. This is the first time you've gone head to head in CART. Can you talk about what it's like to be fighting your buddy from back home?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I guess nothing new for us, just for everybody else (laughter).

Q. Can you talk about how often you've done this back home in Brazil when you were youngsters?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: We actually only raced together at the same series on the Brazilian F-3 in '94 because when we were racing go-karts, we were actually teammates, but Bruno was racing for Juniors, and I was racing on what is Formula A. Then later, when Bruno was in Super A, I was still --.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: We never race together in go-karts. Formula 3 race one year, but I had a Class B car, he had a Class A car. Never really race like today. We were teammates. When you're young, to get my father truck, put me, Cristiano, Cristiano's father, two mechanics, and all the go-karts on the back and go to Sao Paulo to race. Drive six, seven hours, arrive in Sao Paulo, arrive in the hotel, sleep on top of the go -kart factory.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: In the morning, you would wake up with the guys hammering. Really, that was the alarm clock (laughter).

Q. Was it fun racing today out there?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It was fun. I wish he was a little bit slower so I could breathe a little bit.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I wish he made a mistake and I could pass him (laughter).

Q. Cristiano, if Kenny had not had the mechanical difficulty, did you feel you had a good enough setup to get by him eventually?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: "If," this word doesn't exist in racing. If I would have spun, Bruno would have won (laughter). He had a very fast car. It was going to be very difficult to beat him. But it's impossible to predict how it was going to be.

Q. Cristiano, did you already have a Father'S Day gift for your dad or was this a surprise today?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, no. I still don't have a Father'S Day gift for my dad.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Cristiano is very cheap, you have to understand (laughter).

CRISTIANO da MATTA: This is coming from a Scot (laughter).

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Cristiano has a saying: I have scorpions in my pocket.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: You don't know this guy!

Q. Is it too early to talk about momentum? You don't want to talk about championship. Dario, in '99 you had a good run going for a while, narrowly lost the championship on a tiebreaker. You had three wins in six races. Does your team feel momentum?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, of course, the team feels very excited about the season we're having so far. I feel very excited about that, too. I don't have a season like that since '98, in Indy Lights when I had a pretty good season, too. It's something that doesn't happen every day, when you have a very good year. And, of course, it's very, very rewarding for you. It makes you feel good about yourself, makes the team -- makes you feel good about the team, the engine manufacturer, everything, and vice versa. I think it's too early. It's only six rounds into the championship right now. I think a lot of teams, like Team KOOL Green, for example, they've just switched chassis a little while ago, so there's still a lot to learn in the Lola. They're, of course, going to get closer and closer to us. It's too early to say. Of course, I'm very, very happy, very positive about the season. I know we have pretty good chances on the championship. But I think it's going to be very tough. There's a lot of good other teams, a lot of other good drivers there. But I'm just happy that I'm having such a great season and everything's working so fine for us. We'll keep on working hard to try to keep up front, of course.

Q. So much is made of the race start here, first turn. What's it like for you to drive it? What was going through your mind? Cristiano, how close was Adrian when he spun in front of you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I don't even know how close he was because I started to see so much smoke coming out of his rear tire. And I think I miss him by very, very close. I actually had to come very, very over the curb, over that curb that is on the right side there to miss him. But it was really, really close. I think this kind of situation, the guy's coming out of the pits on cold tires, he's one lap down, I think it's a kind of situation that he should have let me go and maybe not to push that hard to not to try to lose a lap. Especially here that late in the race, that wasn't going to pay off for him anything almost. It was tough situation, but I think just everybody has to be more aware of that. One day I'm being lapped, I think if it's lap 70 of a road course race, I'm already a lap down, I don't think there's the need to try to keep up front like he was trying.

Q. Can you comment on the start? What was it like from your perspective?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It's very difficult because you never know when it's going to happen. It's difficult to say. For a driver is good because it warm the tires. Then when you came to turn one, everybody have warm tires and didn't happen like a big accident, just some people miss the turn. For me wasn't that good. I lost two positions at the start. And I think Dario was really pleased with that.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, Bruno is right. Every other attempt we had at getting off, I made a crap sort of initial start. I could see Paul getting larger in my mirror every time, which is not the thing you want. I was happy with that final start. It's frustrating. It's not good for the show. But it has to be fair. We've put a lot of pressure on Jim, the starter, to make the starts are fair.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: The way you come from the straight here is difficult. For me we should go for (inaudible) starts in the road courses, the street courses, that would be the coolest thing, I think.

Q. Dario, all three of you mentioned today flat out. Monterrey, it was one of the most enjoyable races for you to experience because it was flat out (inaudible).

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah. I mean, from that point of view, yeah, it's very good. We're seeing everybody, as you say, the whole point of the race, everybody driving flat out, the quickest guys are generally winning. That's what it's all about. I'm not quite as happy as I was in Monterrey. It was a bit quicker, closer to the ultimate pace in Monterrey. From the first lap, apart from the one yellow, absolutely nailed the whole race absolutely flat out. So, yeah, good fun.

Q. Dario, obviously you talk about the braking problem before, but on one of the restarts, Townsend Bell got past you into turn one. Looked pretty quick, easily, dare I say. Didn't have anything for him there?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: He was quite a ways back coming out of the turn, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that one. He was getting very large in my mirrors when I was still hard on the power. He just powered past. He made a good move - great move. But I think the braking was only half of the story there.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think that was a bad thing because you -- no. Is difficult to say. I'm not happy with what happened. I think nobody would be happy. But what to can I say? You know, that what happen. To be really sure, when you go out on the stickers, you have the first three or four laps, you are a little bit quicker. But the consistent is not as quick as when you have a qualify. You have put like four or five laps. The tires cool down again, you go back again. You know, maybe you can go faster on the first two or three laps, and after you cannot be consistent as in the end. That sometime happen. But is really difficult to say. If make any gain or any lose, was kind of small. I think on the long run, 30 laps, it make no difference. I saved two sets of new tires for this weekend anyway that I wasn't going to use in practice.

MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations on a good race. See you in Chicago.



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