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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

Kenny Brack
Cristiano da Matta
Bruno Junqueira
June 15, 2002


PORTLAND, OREGON

MERRILL CAIN: We'll go ahead and get started with our Top 3 press conference this afternoon, following today's qualifying for tomorrow's GI Joe's 200. It's a familiar Top 3 for us here. This is the same Top 3 in the same order we had last weekend in Laguna Seca. We'll get started today with Bruno Junqueira, who qualified third this afternoon in the No. 4 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He had a lap of 59.026 seconds, a speed of 120.089 miles per hour. It gave him his fourth starting position this season of third place or better. Bruno is the only driver to have qualified in the top seven of every race this season. He started third in each of the last three road course events, that being Long Beach, Laguna Seca and here in Portland. Bruno, if you would talk to us a little bit about your afternoon. Obviously the team has done very well on road courses as our notes pointed out. Seems like you're approaching to dial it in just as your teammate, Kenny Brack.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For sure, Team Target is doing a very good job both on roads, streets and ovals. That's really important to (inaudible). Starting here in third place is good. I'm quite happy with that. I got a good improvement from yesterday. (Inaudible). I think in a good position to start the race. For sure, I want to be on the pole, but I couldn't.

MERRILL CAIN: One other note. The fifth straight race that Team Target has qualified two drivers inside the Top 5. Obviously an outstanding performance for them. And Newman/Haas, as well. There you go. I think we're developing a little rivalry between the two teams here. Qualifying second for tomorrow's race is Kenny Brack, driver of the No. 12 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He had a best time of 58.963 seconds, that's a speed of 120.218. Brack makes his second consecutive front row start, matching his second place effort from last week. Also Kenny's best ever starting spot here in Portland and his 10th front row grid position in the last two seasons. I guess it's good and bad. Obviously a great performance from the team, Team Target, great performance from you for the second consecutive day and week. But just not quite close enough to knock off the little guy.

KENNY BRACK: No. We're still missing a little bit. But, you know, we'll see tomorrow if we can swing it around. But for sure I thought I put a very good lap together. That's all I had. We did a good job, I think, today because this morning we had a mishap in communications, and we lost a lot of the session with the technical stuff that went wrong for us. So it was a nice rebound. You know, it's always like that. You know, the track improves a little bit and you've got to keep up with it and try to get the best car. I think the Target car is a very good car, it's just not enough to beat Cristiano yet for the pole. But we keep working at it.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano da Matta is your pole sitter for tomorrow's race. Driver of the No. 6 Chevron Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He wins the pole with a top lap of 58.679 seconds, a speed of 120.800 miles per hour. It's his second consecutive pole position, the second of his career, and joins him with Adrian Fernandez as the only drivers this season to win multiple poles. Cristiano also earns his second championship point of the weekend. With the effort, it gives him 53 for the season and widens his lead over Michel Jourdain, Jr. to seven points. That equals the largest lead that anyone has held this season. Michel Jourdain had a seven-point lead over Dario Franchitti after the Milwaukee race. You obviously have the car very dialed in this weekend. I know you were pretty happy with the car's setup. You said that the track conditions were pretty much ideal for you today.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, of course I'm very happy with the way everything went this weekend for us. I didn't have any type of problems during all the sessions we've had so far. Everything just went really smooth. We were able to improve our car, you know, to follow the track conditions quite well. Probably the only session we weren't very, very on the top of the situation was this morning when we were struggling a little bit with a couple things on the car. After we said, "Okay, maybe this is what's going on," we went back to something similar to what we had yesterday. And the car was, of course, quite good. I think I was a little bit worried about our qualifying performance because I feel the car really strong for the race situation, the car is very kind with the tires, the car was able to put many, many fast laps together, and the tire wear is not too bad. So I was worried about the qualifying because I didn't feel like we were gaining enough every time we were trying new tires. I think the warmer weather helped us a little bit on that. Just the whole conditions, more rubber on the track, everything was very good. I was able to do my lap time on my first set of tires. The second set I made a few changes to try to make it a little bit more neutral, but it was a little bit over the top, so I had a little too much oversteer in my second set, couldn't go as fast as I did on my first set. I think we have a pretty good control of what we have right now, what we need for tomorrow for the race. It's going to be obviously a difficult race, you know, many cars going really fast. I think, you know, the Ganassi cars are going to be following me from very close, also Christian. It's running really good, too. Couple cars that are lapping really close to us. I think qualifying maybe not the best picture of what going on on the racetrack. And it's a very tough race because it's going to be I think a very hard race physically because our longest road course race. Portland, my point of view is, if not the most physical track, the second most physical track apart from Laguna. A lot of G forces on this track. The surface is always very grippy. Steering wheel gets quite heavy race time. It's going to be a pretty interesting race.

MERRILL CAIN: Before we open it up for questions, I want to note on the performance from the Toyota engines today, obviously the Top 3 spots up here. Cristiano da Matta's pole position is the 14th for Toyota in Champ car competition. It's the third of the year for a Toyota-powered car after Bruno captured the pole at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, and Cristiano earned the pole at Laguna Seca. We'll open it up to questions for our Top 3 qualifiers.

Q. Cristiano, you won races before, but this year all of a sudden two poles in a row. Is there a new strategy at the team?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I had qualified second so many times before and had never won a pole. Last year here I was very close. Obviously Long Beach I was 2/1000ths of a second close. I've been close many times. We didn't change anything on the way we were working, it just happened that we came to two tracks where our cars run really good. I don't think it's nothing different, no different approach that we have for the qualifying sessions or anything. It's just a little bit of coincidence that we have two tracks in a row that we have such a good setup.

Q. Cristiano, the weather tomorrow is going to be about what it is today: fairly cool in the morning. Does this track change an awful lot when the cloud cover burns away and the sun comes out? What does that do as far as you having to go and chase track conditions to stay competitive?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, it changes a little bit. Probably this track doesn't change as much as some other ones that we go to. But it really does change a little bit. What happens here is that session after session after session, the track, it's picking up more and more and more rubber. So that's kind of hiding whatever the track -- the temperature, ambient, and track temperature are doing to the car. You always feel the car getting a little better, a little better, a little better. So it changes, but I think there's a lot of other things that are going to be a lot bigger than the ambient temperature.

Q. Cristiano, you talked a lot about what happened with the car that made you so much better this year. What's happened with you as a driver? Anything in particular you're doing differently as you're approaching your driving this year?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. You know, just the normal progress you have as a driver year after year after year. But I think I'm just on my normal form. It's just last year we couldn't get everything we needed to together. But I feel like if I had the opportunity, myself and the team, if we had things sorted out as we have this year last year, I probably would have the same kind of results. Of course, I always feel like I'm driving better than the year before, otherwise something would be wrong (laughter). But it's not that big of a difference - not as big as the difference of my results are comparing this year to last year.

Q. In the past, this race has been quite a fuel strategy race. Obviously you have different rules this year to try to eliminate that. How do you guys look at tomorrow's race? Do you see strategy coming into it quite a bit in that way? You have different (lap length?), As well this year.

KENNY BRACK: Lap length (laughter)? I didn't know that. I thought you said "lap length."

Q. No, no. Kirk is gone, so no more changes in lap length (laughter).

KENNY BRACK: Ooooh.

Q. So....

KENNY BRACK: I think it's going to be like it's always been this year. It's going to be a sprint race from start to finish with three stops in it or something like that - four maybe. Three probably, yeah. And if there's yellows, maybe there will be some more stops. There might be some people at the back that reverse the order, and if they get lucky, as they did in Long Beach, they all win the race.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: The window here is a lot smaller than other places we've been to, so it makes it more difficult. Especially whoever starts and tries to do something different, I think the possibility to work right for them is going to be a lot smaller.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: You can pass here. Better than I think Laguna or Long Beach.

Q. You can pass here?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yes. This track has one good overtaking point, where Laguna there's half taking point.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: None (laughter).

Q. How has having a third car made your life different? Or has it?

KENNY BRACK: I don't think. It's more crowded in the engineering room, that's about it. I think the Ganassi team, it's a team with a lot of strength, wanted to be able to do something like that in the middle of the season. I think I touched a little bit on that yesterday. It's a big undertaking. It's not just to have, you know, a car, an extra car. You've got to have extra spare parts. Instead of making four or five sets of stuff for one or two cars, you got to have to add to make more pieces essentially. It's more load on everybody. But they have a lot of resource in the team. And I haven't seen any negatives; I haven't seen really any positives either. It's stayed the same. That's good, because, you know, hasn't affected our program I don't think.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I agree with Kenny. The biggest difference for us as driver, the engineers' room is crowded. Sometimes you want to go there. You see the guys on the door. You don't go there. Apart of that, it's okay. I think Team Target is doing impressive job to put three cars in the middle of the season. And I think me and Kenny is still doing good as before, and that's really good.

Q. First car didn't go out until 26 minutes had gone by.

KENNY BRACK: We were worried about that because he's always going out first. He was waiting. We thought, "Shit, no one's going to go out today."

Q. You, the drivers asked for this cutoff now. Is there any way to compromise, see more cars out there?

KENNY BRACK: No.

Q. You obviously like it the way it is?

KENNY BRACK: That's another question. I thought you said if you can compromise. I think for the racing, I think this qualifying format is better, as long as I've been in CART anyway, because it's most fair for anybody. Doesn't matter where you are in championship points, you get the same shot as everybody else. Yeah, you can get, you know, traffic and stuff, and that happens to all of us, you know, during the season. But at the end of the season, I think you're going to have a situation where you got blocked maybe five times, and so did the other guys. So it's very fair from that standpoint. You know, we have to do what's best for us, obviously, to qualify up front. We have to take everything into consideration, track grip, and everything else. As the track improves, the more the car runs on it. So that's why cars are not going out until, you know, right at the end when you have to. It's nothing new. It's been like that in Formula 1 for years. They've had the same qualifying system. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

Q. (Inaudible) it's been the old CART system for years and years.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: You have to do what is better for the sport. For the sport, the better thing is all the drivers have the same situation for qualify, everybody has the same shot.

KENNY BRACK: Last year, was it 30 minutes qualifying? So you have about the same track time now. So it hasn't changed in that respect; it's just that you sit and drink coffee for a half hour (laughter).

Q. Coffee?

KENNY BRACK: Spy on the other cars a little bit, see what they're running for bits and pieces.

Q. Any of you, once again Toyota is pretty well dominating the top end of the grid, as was the case in Laguna. There's not a lot you can say technically about it. At Monterrey, the Fords and Hondas were up there. Can you talk about the progress that has been made by Toyota, that's given you a bit of an edge the last couple weekends?

KENNY BRACK: I don't know. I think for me, I sort of anticipated that to happen this year because I saw it already last year. You know, Toyota is a company that their biggest goal is to win the championship, both from a manufacturer standpoint and driver standpoint. If you look at the resources that they have, I think it's quite natural to see that happen. So to be racing with them is the best boat you can be in right now. The only problem is there's a lot of Toyotas out there (laughter). But I think we have an upper hand on the Fords and the Hondas in terms of driveability and power actually.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I totally agree with Kenny.

KENNY BRACK: I need a spare cylinder. I need a V-9 next time (laughter).

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think Toyota is doing a very good job. I remember last year every single race they would improve the engine, same as happen this year. You always have something new on the engine. Every time can see more horsepower. That's really good. I think when came out with traction control, they improve a lot the traction control, as well. That's it. I think Toyota's doing a good job and make a big competition between us. That's going to be good. At least you're going to have just seven or eight drivers. I hope they improve a lot, then just going to be Toyota competition.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: They got a little bit mad at us because we keep on asking them for more powers, everybody. "We need bigger advantage." But it's very good, of course. For me, I've came a long way with Toyota engines, since I started in CART. It's very good to see where we came from and see where we are at right now. Very rewarding, of course, for me, and I feel the same for everybody. I know a lot of people inside TRD. It just feels good because at the end of the day, you make a lot of friends there. It's good to see your friends doing that well. Not only you're associated with them, but it's all your friends, too. It's a good feeling.

Q. During those first 25 minutes, if no one is out, you don't have timing and scoring to watch, what do you do?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: We wonder who is going to go out first.

KENNY BRACK: We make bets of who is going to go out first (laughter). I lost today because, what's his name, (Herdez?), He went out and did an engine check.

Q. Do you do anything special? Talk to the engineers?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. We sit and wait. We hope somebody goes out so at least we can watch on the TV (laughter).

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I have two: When chip is here and when chip is not here (laughter). When he's here, "There's nobody on the track, it's time to go." When he's not here, then we can talk, my engineers decide what have to do. I don't know, I think today is really a gamble. I don't know, I did a change last set of tires. I don't know if the track gets hot or the setup was wrong and traffic that I got as well. Anyway, I don't know. Early in the session was cooler, but then the track has the rubber, it like compromise. You never know, if you going to be the first out as well you going to get somebody going out of the pits with cold tire. You don't know if it screws your lap. Is a big compromise you have to do. Decide today to wait until 20 minutes ago.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Today actually was quite surprising to see how much everybody waited. It took so long.

Q. Do you think that was a mistake? It was overcast.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: You asking for us three? For us probably worked really well (laughter). But it depends a lot on so many things. As Bruno was saying, so many compromises. You never know for sure when is best. The thing is, percentage, if you look at the past, usually at the end of the session is better.

KENNY BRACK: On a road course, it's nearly always best in the end, unless there's some rain or something strange going on, like cloud cover. I think on a road course, like when all the rubber goes done, it will improve grip.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: The only time that the thing is on the race, (inaudible) race everybody together.

Q. At Long Beach you talked about the problem of people going out on cold tires. Has anyone brought up a topic about tire warmers again?

KENNY BRACK: Not really. It's a big thing, you know, to bring tire warmers, to haul them over to Japan and everywhere we go. We're not going there anymore, but we're still going to Australia and everywhere. It's a lot of stuff. It's not one pair of tire warmers. You're talking three or four per car. It's not a cost issue, it's a logistic issue. You know, everything that comes -- there will be additional things to think about for everything you add. And we've been doing it this way, so it works pretty good.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Everybody's doing a pretty good job on getting out of the way. I've seen this year at least a lot more respect on the track than I've ever seen before. I mean, I don't have any complaints. Everybody's been very fair. I also try to get out of everybody's way.

KENNY BRACK: You leave stuff down sometimes (laughter).

CRISTIANO da MATTA: That's not my fault (laughter).

Q. The curves up here, you three will be starting up near the front. You have to be aware what's going on behind you. How will you approach the start?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me, luckily I've never had any problems in the curves since I started in Champ cars. I had one in the past in Indy Lights, I got collected starting second. I've never had any other problems. Try to stay like this. And this is first time I starting on pole here, so it's a lot less likely that I'm going to have a problem tomorrow than previous years when I was starting right in the middle of the field. It's good that everybody is so conscious about the turn that everybody takes extra care going into there. There's always one wild man - hopefully it's not me tomorrow. But it's a difficult corner. Probably the most difficult start of the season.

KENNY BRACK: You know, I don't know. We'll see what happens tomorrow. It's always difficult there. I think it's about 50/50. If you look at the history of the race, that sometimes it happens and -- we've got good starts here, too. I think last year was pretty good. Spun around, but I was starting at the back so it didn't matter. We'll see. Usually problems happens, you know, third, fourth, fifth, sixth row and stuff like that.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It's a very difficult because if you will be too aggressive, you're going to hit someone. If you be too cautious, you're going to break a little bit early and someone going to hit your behind. It's kind of a compromise. But I hope not going to happen the first two front row front row and second row I think going to be just fine.

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much, guys. Good luck tomorrow in tomorrow's GI Joe's 200.



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