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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
Christian Fittipaldi
June 14, 2002


PORTLAND, OREGON

MERRILL CAIN: We'll get started here, Ladies and Gentlemen, with our Top 3 as we wrap up the first day of provisional qualifying here for the GI Joe's 200 on Sunday. We'll start off with Christian Fittipaldi, drivers of the No. 11 Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He finished third this afternoon in qualifying with a lap of 59.215 seconds, a speed of 119.706 miles per hour. After leading the morning's practice session, Christian is coming off his best finish of the year last week when he placed second at Laguna Seca. He's finished third in Portland twice in the past two seasons. Christian, kind of go over your day with us this afternoon. Obviously a very strong morning session for you. You bounced up towards the end of the charts there in provisional qualifying, as well.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Pretty strong afternoon session also. I wouldn't change third for probably 15th or something like that. But unfortunately it didn't go exactly what we were thinking it would. I had a lot of little loose, like the car was like loose everywhere on the first set of tires. And I was expecting to go a lot quicker. And I had huge moments on my run. And then we had to compromise a lot for the second set to make sure that I could finish the session in the Top 4. And I think that killed maybe a little bit of speed off the car because we started pushing some in the second set, but the loose was still there. Like it wasn't exactly right, the balance. And we ended up where we ended up. Am I really overjoyed, delighted right now? No, I'm not. But am I happier than if I was at T6 or 7? Yeah, obviously I am. But I thought we had a shot at it. Unfortunately, it didn't happen this week. But at the same time, when you look at the times, like I'm only a 10th off pole. So the Top 3 are really close. For example, Kenny is half a 10th off pole. So it was, I guess, wide open for any of us three drivers on the second set of tires today.

MERRILL CAIN: We have the same podium here as we had following our race Laguna Seca last week, a different order with Christian in third, Kenny in second place, and also Toyota power obviously performed very well here today with the Top 3 spots in provisional qualifying this afternoon. Kenny Brack qualified second today in the No. 12 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. He had a lap of 59.168 seconds with a speed of 119.801 miles per hour. Kenny is coming off his first front row starting spot of the season. He qualified second in Laguna Seca. He's looking to earn his best ever Portland starting spot, hoping to better his fifth place qualifying position from his rookie season of 2000. Kenny, talk a little bit about the last few laps to qualifying there. Very exciting with you and Cristiano bouncing back and forth as the clock ticked down.

KENNY BRACK: Well, I didn't see all that action, obviously. I was trying to do my best in the car. But we had a solid run in the Target Toyota. I think that we've found a really good, you know, road course setup. We got to work away at it. Today was very close, like Christian said. It could go to any. You're talking half a 10th or a 10th of a second around this track. It's a little bit of tailwind in someplace. So it's very close, but we obviously have to work to get better. I think that for sure in the race situation. So last week I think Cristiano and Christian has a very strong package. But for now, I think we're fairly happy where we're sitting, and we're going to try to work for tomorrow and see if we can get a little closer.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano da Matta takes the pole position and earns one championship point and guarantees a front row starting spot, finishing with the quickest time today with a lap of 59.083 seconds and a speed of 119.974 miles per hour. He'll be looking to double his total of career Champ car poles tomorrow. One week ago he took the car pole position at Laguna Seca raceway. The championship points gives him 52 for the season and extends his series lead to six points over Michel Jourdain, Jr. I also want to point out he is guaranteed the third front row starting spot in four road course races this year. Obviously, you're very comfortable with your road course setup. You were telling me a little bit after qualifying out there you really felt on your second set of the tires that things really started to pick up for you.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, I was actually surprised by how much the better the track -- because I had a very good run on my first set. Then I see a lot of people improving the lap times a lot and I was thinking about how good my lap was from my last set of tires. I thought, "Well, everybody is improving a lot. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to go all that faster, you know." I went out and I just found the track was a lot better, like more than I would expect. Because here in Portland, usually the track gets better very, very slowly. Last year, for example, the difference between my first set of tires and my second set of tires was only a 10th, and a 10th was more coming from me than from the track. So I was actually surprised. The track was good, at least 3/10ths faster, 4/10ths faster on the second set of tires. Of course, the car was working very well. We're pretty happy with the setup. The team seems to have a very good understanding of all we need to do to the car to give me whatever I'm asking them. This morning I wasn't all that happy with my car. This afternoon it turned out I'm a lot happier, like the problems we've had in the morning are not as big right now. We still, of course, have some tuning to do, but I'm pretty happy on how quick we're able to react.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano actually has to do a live TV interview outside for one second. We'll bring you right back up in here. We'll open it up for questions for Christian and Kenny.

Q. What's it going to take to get around these teammates during the race?

KENNY BRACK: I don't know. Maybe he's going to be on pole tomorrow and we'll have to get around (laughter). That's a good start. Starting from the pole is obviously good. But, I don't know, we'll see. I think the Target Team will come a long ways, you know, since the beginning of the season. I think obviously I'm new to that mix. During the winter testing, we've been testing good, but not as good as the Newman/Haas guys. If you look at their performance on most places they've been, on the road courses, they've been really good. And I think that we're starting to get a good understanding of what we need now. So we have some catching up to do, but we have a very skilled group of people working in the team. So I think it will give us a little more time and we'll see if we can stir things up a little maybe already for Sunday. Who knows.

Q. (Inaudible)?

KENNY BRACK: Well, I mean, the situation is that you go out and you have maybe two or maximum three laps to do your time because when the tires are new, that's when they have that extra little 3/, 4/10th grip that you need. You know, when you're done your laps, then you can run around. I guess I could have run around and tried to do a da Matta, but I decided not to (laughter).

Q. That's not fair, he's not here.

KENNY BRACK: I decide that, you know, when I couldn't go any faster, so it's really no point in being out there running around. So that's the way it is.

Q. Kenny, three cars obviously in the past few races. Do you think this is a hindrance or is it a help in terms of having additional input and so forth in the program? How do you see it?

KENNY BRACK: It's hard. I don't think it's either/or. I think it's just something that's there, and obviously Scott Dixon is a very nice guy and all that, and a very good driver. So, you know, he's certainly, you know, contributing to the team's results. But if you ask if my performance is getting better because of it, I don't think so because in the end we have, you know, subtle differences here and there that we have to work with our own engineers to try to figure out. I haven't really seen any positives in that respect. I haven't seen the negatives either. So I guess it doesn't -- the team's handled it very well because they haven't taken any effort away from me or Bruno in doing a third car. And if you think about adding an extra car in the middle of the season, that's a big undertaking that you have to have a very, very organized team to do that. So that says a lot about Target Team, I think.

Q. In a way it has to be a bit of a relief to you, just from the point of view of logistics?

KENNY BRACK: It's always obviously when something like that happens, it's always you never know how it going to turn out, you know. It could be good or it could not be good. But, you know, it's no point worrying about it because nothing I can do about it. I drive my car as good as I can and I work with my guys on the team and my crew as good as I can, and they work with me. Decisions like that, it's not my job to take them, it's not my job to worry about them.

Q. Christian, your team's performance has picked up especially on the road courses. Is it an oversimplification to say your team has looked up on the road courses or do you feel you have momentum overall on the team's performance?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Maybe it's an oversimplification of everything (laughter). Sometimes when you get too complex, I wouldn't say it's the way to go. Kenny is a driver also, and he understands exactly what I'm saying. Sometimes you want to try and maybe even be a smart-ass out there and try to like overdo stuff compared to all the other guys, and you just can't get it together. What I basically think we did, especially from last year, is I think we maybe got everything we had, try to take away all the negatives, and concentrated very much on the positives, and made it as simple as possible, just get out there and do your time. This is a very competitive series where like, for example, when I went out on my second set of tires, I was P 15 or 14 today, and I knew I shouldn't have been there, but we just lacked a little bit. Then from P 14 or 15, I almost put it on the pole. So it's really competitive out there, and we just went out there and got it running as quick as possible.

MERRILL CAIN: We talked about Kenny and the new teammate situation there. Obviously, you've driven the last couple races with Cristiano, you've been pushing each other, as well. Can you talk about competing with your own teammate and how it's raised your level?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think it works very well. Obviously he's going through a great phase of his racing career right now. He has a lot of good races, and he's unbelievably quick also. He weighs very little, so that's a small advantage for him. But I don't blame him. I wish I could weigh what he weighs, and maybe it would have been a little bit different. But I think he has to use all the pluses to his advantage. And it's working pretty well. Especially like in the race, I think we're pushing each other very well. My last race, I was pretty happy. And when I went out of the last pit stop that I crossed -- no. As soon as I went by the last pits, "Shorty" just went by me on the track. And at one point during the race, he was probably 20 or 25 seconds in front of me. So I was pretty happy that we managed to pick up a lot during the race. Maybe if I had started in the Top 3 or Top 4 in the last race, I could have challenged him a little bit more. There were one or two stints that I was actually quicker than him, and there was another stint that he was a little bit quicker than me. So I think that it's working very well. One guy helps the other.

Q. There seems to be (inaudible) the turbo-charged engine. I wanted you to comment about that, if that happened, how you would feel about it?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I like the noise.

Q. You've driven a Ford-Cosworth before. I don't think Cristiano has, but Kenny has.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: To be quite honest with you, if no one told me that my car had a turbo inside, apart from the noise, I probably wouldn't even noticed. The way all the engine manufacturers are now, they work it in a way that it's so smooth, so smooth, that you don't even notice that you have your -- that you're actually driving a turbo car. It's just the way it goes. They try to maximize it as maximum as possible.

KENNY BRACK: You have to realize, too, the boost level now is very low anyway. So, you know, it's not going to be a big deal whatever way they go.

Q. Do you have a preference either way?

KENNY BRACK: Driving-wise, I don't think there's a preference, you know. I don't think so.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Driving-wise, the more power you have, the more you enjoy it.

Q. If, in fact, this Cosworth engine program stays, then we're going to have more power than we would have if we'd gone to the 3.5. What is your view as drivers? You answered it to a degree, Cristiano.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me, is a very sensitive subject because I have a tight relationship with Toyota, and I've never driven any other engine before. I have a very good relationship with them. And, of course, I wouldn't -- I would never want to lose the relation I have with Toyota, which if it is right that we're going to Ford, I'm going to end up losing it. I mean, if you just asked me about only the power, only the driving the car, I'm sure I'll be happier to drive whatever has more power. But I think it's very difficult to look only from this side. You have to look at the side, you know, the work I've been doing with Toyota, the amount of races -- the number of races we won together, all the development program we have together. So it's very, very difficult. For me, it's like I really prefer to leave it on CART's hands, and whatever happens for me I just take it. Both ways it has a good side and a bad side for me, for example.

Q. Kenny, your opinion on that?

KENNY BRACK: You know, I think that the power aspect of it, I mean, on the road course, it's good to have a lot of power, it's fun to drive and all that stuff. It doesn't hurt our racing on ovals. Does it hurt our racing? Yes, it does, because we have to have all this strange Hanford device and stuff on the car so we can't race anymore. So maybe a turbo engine would be good because maybe you could lower the turbo pressure to have less horsepower, do something with the cars that have produced better racing, then leave it like it is on road course. I don't know. But it's something that I think the key question is -- the key is to get manufacturers into the racing and then bringing in sponsors and all that stuff. You know, I think that's more important to look at, from that point. As a driver, you can wish for stuff. I mean, nicest cars to drive are probably Formula 1 cars with all the automatic stuff they have these days and power steering. We wouldn't have to work out as hard and all that stuff. You know, is that better for the interest of racing? Is that what the fans like? Do they want to see cars running around with 300 feet between the cars? I mean, you have to ask yourself those questions. That's more valid, I think, than what the drivers think about power, not power.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think adding to everything that he said, which makes all the sense in the world and is absolutely perfect, I have even another view on the ovals. I think it's not so much a matter of power. Obviously, too much power also can be very bad. But if we remember a couple of years ago or a bunch of years ago, in my opinion nowadays the tires are just too good. Because of the tire war in the late '90s, Bridgestone really stepped up their game, and the tires don't go off anymore. That's why it's really hard for you to pass on the ovals. I remember when I first came into the series, we qualified on an X amount of time. We were lapping in the race about two seconds slower, two and a half seconds slower. And the cars that didn't go loose really went forward. And the cars that went loose really went backwards. My last oval race on the last stint, I was going like 6/ or 7/10ths slower than what I qualified, in the middle of the stint, with half tanks or almost full tank. I think what we're doing with the cars, we're only making them go quicker or slower on the ovals, but we're not really solving the problem as far as what can we do to make passing again on oval racing. It's a tough call, because what are you going to do? You're going to go up to the tire manufacturer and say, "We need a bad tire out there"? No way they're going to do that. They learned a lot and it was very hard for them to get to this level. It's a little bit complicated.

Q. Cristiano, why you were outside, Christian was talking about the weight difference between you and him.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I was pretty clear. I was talking about the weight difference, the guy needs to use it to his advantage. He's going through a great phase of his racing career, and hats off to him.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think you're trying to make us fight (laughter).

Q. Starting with Mid-Ohio, they're going to weigh you. Are you eating potatoes or drinking beer?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think the weight, as far as I know, is going to be the weight we had in spring training, from what I've seen so far. Well, if they're going to weigh me in Mid-Ohio, I'm sure I can pick up a couple pounds from here to there (laughter).

Q. Christian, what was going through your mind when you realized you were in the pole position?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: For me?

Q. Yes, personally.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I mean, right now? I am not in pole position yet. That's the problem.

MERRILL CAIN: Provisional pole.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: It's very good personal satisfaction. Of course, it's a very good relief, too, because that guarantees you a place on the front row. And, plus, everything gives you a championship point, too. So, you know, apart from the personal satisfaction of being the quickest that qualifying always brings to you, it's a big relief, big relief. Like worst case, tomorrow I'm second. So starting second, you have the window of opportunity open to you. You have a huge, lot bigger chance of -- of having a great race than if you start on the back.

Q. How do you find the course today?

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: The track is good. It's like still a little bit down grip compared to how we qualified last year. But it's normal for the first practice. Every time we get to a track on Friday, we start putting rubber down. On Friday, that's when you see. I'm sure tomorrow everybody's going to go faster in qualifying than they did today. Just normal racing.

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate your efforts. Good luck in qualifying tomorrow.



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