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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Cristiano da Matta
July 2, 2002

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART Media Teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We look forward to hearing today from the current CART FedEx Championship Series points leader and winner of three consecutive Champ Car events, Cristiano da Matta. We will also be joined today by Kyle Krisiloff who will be making his debut in the CART Ladder System this weekend competing in the CART Toyota Atlantic Race in Toronto. First off, we welcome in Cristiano da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Havoline Toyota Lola Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing. Thanks for taking a few minutes to join us on the teleconference this afternoon.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No problem, thank you. Good morning, everybody. Good afternoon, everybody.

MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano has won three consecutive CART FedEx Championship Series races including Sunday's CART Grand Prix of Chicago which marked his second career win in the Windy City. With Sunday's victory Cristiano has won six of the last nine Champ Car races dating back to last year, and he extended his lead in the season points race to 25 points leading Bruno Junqueira by a count of 95 points to 70 points heading into this weekend's Molson Indy in Toronto. On Sunday Cristiano will also be looking to tie the All-Time CART record for consecutive race wins equaling the accomplishments of Al Unser, Jr. and Alex Zanardi. First of all, congratulations on another impressive weekend. You had an eventful Sunday winning the race, of course, but you also got to see your native Brazil team capture the World Cup soccer title and you and the other Brazilian drivers got your heads shaved like soccer player Renaldo. I am just wondering, has the reality of the haircut sunk in yet.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: (Laughs) Yes. It did yesterday. Actually I was -- I stayed in Chicago on Sunday night. I flew yesterday afternoon so yesterday morning I went walk around with my mom and dad because they stayed in Chicago because my mom didn't know the city. So I am walk racing around and I see a lot of people looking at me. I am thinking, wow, I am probably pretty beautiful, you know, really nice looking, and then I remember that I just remembered that it was my hair that was all weird and that's why everybody was looking at me. Then I said, geez, I have to do something. It wasn't a good experience going through security in the airport like that too.

MERRILL CAIN: You turned a few heads, I imagine. Let us open it up to questions.

Q. Last year you seemed to kind of breakthrough a barrier, had a real good year. This year you just seem to be building on that. What's made the difference the last couple of years for you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think the biggest difference from when I started, definitely is first the same experience with both teams I have driven for so far, PPI Motorsports where I started and Newman/Haas Racing. PPI I had a first year that wasn't -- it was okay rookie season but then the second year was a lot better. Same thing with Newman/Haas, I had an okay first year, of course a lot better than the one I had with PPI. The second year has been a lot better so far. I think that just shows how important it is when the team and yourself starts to understand what you need -- what kind of information you have to give one another, and when the team really start to understand what you want out of the car. So that's very important. I think it's like also how much teamwork motorsports is because if it wasn't teamwork it would go in a new team and do good right away. It's not like this. You always improve in the second year. I am sure if there's a third year it can be even better because it is just getting used to working together.

Q. I was wondering about the margin -- point margin that you have, it's pretty big for CART Racing. I just wanted to know why -- I know you said that you were with your team for a period of time, but what else is it that separates your team from the rest of the competitors?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, this year especially we had a very good off-season. Of course in the off-season it always makes a lot of difference if you have a very good off-season or not. So we definitely had a very good off-season this year. And that, of course, we can show that on the results we have right now; how good the off-season was. So I think that's the main thing. I think there's a lot of very good other teams there. And if I knew exactly the reason why we are doing so much better than the others I won't be able to tell to everybody right now. But it's just hard work, I think. It is like -- not that the other ones aren't working hard. They are too, but it is just -- we had a couple of good things, very -- a couple of very good tests in the off-season. Now we're just collecting all the fruits that we were growing at that time.

Q. It wasn't anything specific that you did in the off-season; it was just general testing?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, the team had a couple of changes inside, but always small changes. We never changed anything big. We still have the same chassis. Still have the same Toyota engine. Still have the same crews, the engineering group changed a little bit. But nothing -- we haven't made any major change. So it is just working together. Maybe the change on the engineering group it's a big factor because we brought in -- before the Newman/Haas engineers were all working together for a long period of time, so they were all used to think about, you know, on the ways of fixing a certain problems with the car handling, more or less in the same way, and one thing that was very good that the team hired a new engineer from other team and he came in with lots of new ideas, and I think that added a lot to the team. I think if I have to say, of course it is a combination of a lot of things, but if I have to name one thing I think that's going to be the biggest one.

Q. How satisfying was it to win on an oval because I guess you hadn't been as successful on ovals as you have been on the road courses but to go out and dominate like that on Sunday, what did that mean to you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It was, of course, very, very reward especially we have had a very tough time on the ovals so far. Up to that weekend we were improving and improving and improving but we never felt like we were in that good of a shape up until qualifying. Then when qualifying came and we were able to qualify third, I thought, wow, we have a shot of winning this thing tomorrow. Of course, we were actually a little bit surprised because we didn't know that we had improved so much in the ovals. So it was very rewarding in many ways. First because of the engineering group, they did a great job, they did just a terrific job about setting up the car, you know, considering where we were at the beginning of the season and where we are right now, it is a long ways. The first of all race of the season we finished 15 laps down to the leader just so you think I am not exaggerating. And now we're up to win the race, so it is a big -- long way, so the engineering group did a great job on, you know, finding what was wrong in such a short period of time. And other one was my crew just, we had some terrific pit stops yesterday, so you add everything and it is just a great team win, you know, of course I wasn't doing as good on the ovals too and to conquer the victory yesterday, so it was just a good satisfying day for everybody.

Q. What would it means, do you think, in Brazil to have a Brazilian win the Vanderbilt Trophy for the third straight hear?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, the CART FedEx Championship is very popular over there. Of course, with Gil deFerran winning the last two years it became even more popular. Now I am getting -- there's a lot of people commenting about this season, especially that me and Bruno Junqueira are running first and second right now. So that's attracting even more press and more fans than in the past. So I don't know. It's a good thing. I think as long as the Brazilians keep on doing a good job, they are always have huge fans there, but we're still quite a long ways to get to where our soccer is right now.

Q. Let me expand a little bit if I can on that engineering change you mentioned because I think that's pretty significant. You have got Rocky comes in, he's worked with Scott Dixon. He comes in with new ideas and new vitality to work with. Is it kind of you have an old dog at home and just bring a puppy home and watch the spring in everybody's step improve?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think that's for sure the main factor. What Rocky did inside the team that was very, very interesting was before the -- the team has lots of engineers inside the team. But all of them have learned everything they know with Peter, that has been there for a long time. And if not, with Peter with Bryan Lyles (ph) which is another senior engineer we have on the team that has been there for a long time. So they all learned to think an approach situations in the same way. They are all very good, of course in what they do. But they all very used to doing everything in a very similar way. So it was the first time for the whole group that they were able to see different approach to different problems. I think that's what it counted.

Q. Let me talk to you about Toronto coming up here, the street race, very popular race with the drivers, Andretti has won this darn thing seven times. You come this in as the points leader. It's bumpy, tight, narrow. It can be slippery. Your thoughts with the Lola coming into Toronto because Michael said we're going to have to wait and see; maybe that's the same situation with you. What do you think coming into Toronto right now?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I have a very good feeling about the Toronto race. This type of track, it's a type of course that we have been running really well. The car has been running really well. As a team we have been strong in the street courses and the road courses a lot more than in the ovals, so I am feeling comfortable going in. I think we have a very good chance to do very well. It's always such a tough series -- such a tough competition because sometimes you think you are in good shape maybe end up 10th or whatever but I think we have a very good chance to be inside the Top-5 and be fighting for the lead at the end of the race.

Q. Last Wednesday you and I talked and in three different answers to questions you thought or you said you didn't think you really had a chance at all at Chicago.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: (Laughs) Yeah, I really meant that.

Q. I am glad I didn't bet my hair.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: All right. (Laughs).

Q. (Laughs) So what happened?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, we were in the improving process with our oval setup. Since Motegi we have been improving a lot. If you look back to the left, the race before Chicago, which was Milwaukee, I was running within the Top 6 up until I had a mechanical problem, and Christian finished fourth. So that's already a big improvement from Motegi. I just didn't believe that we were going to make that much more progress in that month off we had between Milwaukee, a month off -- off oval races but we had a couple of road racing, but I didn't think we were going to make that much progress. I think because last year we struggled so much in those type of tracks, I really didn't think the engineers were going to be able to find a good solutions for the problem in such a short period. They did. (Laughs). You know, I have to, you know, take my hat off to them, congratulate them for the great work they did, and that's -- that was all the difference. It was all understanding of the car and the ovals, understanding the aerodynamics and the mechanical grip and we were just getting closer and closer to be ultra competitive in the ovals.

Q. You always had a lot of faith in your team. Is that faith now just increased -- do you almost look at them as though they are magicians?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I say yes, because to come -- I have seen teams be in a situation where we were, for example, with our ovals struggling bad, struggling so much that just sometimes you think back and you know, I am a huge race fan so I have seen teams in this situation before and I think every time I see a team in the situation like that, usually when it is so bad, when we were so slow like we were usually it takes like two years so you come out of it. So to do it -- to come out of that situation in like, in six months, it is just, for me, it -- they did a superb job, like they are very -- of course they are very proud of themselves right now and they should be because it's just -- it is unbelievable. I swear I didn't expect it. I got into Chicago and I was thinking, okay, if I finish this season Top-5 I am going to be doing fine because then next couple of races we're back to the road courses then I can start scoring big points again. But we won, so they impressed me. I think they are magic.

Q. When you climbed out of your car after qualifying, you kind of walked away a little bit and I don't know -- don't even know if you remember this but you turned around and you looked at the car again. I was thinking, gee, I wondered if he thought maybe he climbed in the wrong car.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, I -- after the morning session I had the feeling for the car and the car was pretty good. So I knew I was going to have a shot for the pole. I was a little mad because I made a little mistake in my last lap, left corner on qualifying, and I lost the chance of being on pole. I was pretty mad at that time. But I didn't want to say anything because I wanted to try to surprise people. Because if I say I had the car to go for pole and I made the mistake, I didn't want to say that, otherwise, people would expect us to run good on the next day. I say no problem, I told the engineers what happened. I tried to push too hard coming out of Turn 4 and I lost the rear a little bit and correct it but I lost some time there. I kept it -- the team kept it to themselves. The guys told me, hey, you know that you are coming this much faster that lap, I said, yeah, I know, but sorry, I miss it. And I knew it was going to be good on Sunday.

Q. It is getting to be a rubber stamp all three of you on the podium every race. Congratulations.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you.

Q. There was some talk from some of the drivers that the rear wing configuration at Chicago didn't allow for passing and that it -- the cars would get quite unstable as you got up close. What was your experience with that?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think the rear wing is not bad. The rear wing seems to work fine in other tracks, like Japan, and Motegi, we had a lot of passing. Germany and England last year, and Milwaukee we had some passing too, it was just the Chicago track is a tough race to pass. I think the winning configurations maybe still not perfect but we're going the right way. I think the changes CART has been making they have been all very positive. And if you look right now, it's a lot better than last year. It's easier to pass than last year, but still not where we want it to be. The Chicago track is a tough track to pass. It is a tough track to drive so it makes it a tough track to pass too. That's the biggest thing. I think on the wing package we're going the right way. Maybe we still have some more to go but we're definitely heading the right way.

Q. Going into Toronto this weekend, passing pretty much is narrowed down to Turns 1 and Turn 3. Do you see any other places that you might be able to make a good move?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yes, I think also going into turn 7 it's a little bit more difficult than going into Turn 3 and going into Turn 1 but it is possible to pass there. I have seen passing there in the past, but it's not -- definitely not impossible, but it is difficult. For overtaking points for a street course it's pretty good. I think Toronto is probably actually the only street course, I think rather than Australia, they that offer us so many overtaking points.

Q. Good luck this weekend.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you very much. Congratulations again. It's really a routine now.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you. I don't know whatever, but it's a good one.

Q. Christian had the problem with the wheel nut so did other people in other races. What is the team doing to try to correct that or have you figured out what went wrong?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think there's no -- nothing wrong with the wheel nut. I don't think there's anything wrong with the guns that we use to change the tires. It is just -- now we don't have to refuel the car all the 35 gallons the fuel tank can take. So what happens it's sometimes -- before you could take your time changing the tires because the fuel was going to take more time than tires anyway. So the fuel would be the determined factor for how long your stop was going to take. Now because you don't have to fuel the tank up, if you rush the tires you do gain time in your stop. I think everybody is just pushing harder and harder on trying to change the tires as quick as they can, and when you are pushing hard you are on the edge, it is just more likely to make mistakes.

Q. I assume the team is practicing those this week too?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I am sure. It's probably one of the biggest strengths of Newman/Haas. It's definitely the crews we had. For my car and for Christian's car, they both have been there in Newman/Haas for a long time. They all know each other very well for a long time, and they have been practicing that together for a long time. So if you see a crew like Christian's do something like that, it's just happens, you know, it is just like sometimes a driver spins in a race, or, you know, right to right something wrong it is just -- it a human mistake. It's always going to happen.

Q. With the three wins behind new a row what is your level of confidence going into Toronto? Is it higher than you would have been without them or are you getting a little anxious that somebody might be catching you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, I am not thinking like this. I am thinking about what we can do to make my car better and what I can do to make my drive better. I am not thinking about people trying to catch me or trying to run away from people. I am just thinking about improving and I think once we -- if we do that, if we do it right, I think the result will come naturally, and we don't have to worry about that.

Q. Seems like you got it under control. Good luck this weekend.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you very much.

Q. Let me advance a theory here about this confidence issue. You've had some success coming in at the end of last year. You had success at the beginning of this season, and you had a test with F-1 and all of this has maybe given you some encouragement to -- that you do have skills that were obvious, but an athlete needs to be encouraged. Did that help with your confidence and your ability now to be -- to have this kind of success you are having now with three straight wins even on the oval where you didn't have success before?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I had success before in the oval. I just didn't have it last year and at the beginning of the season but I won the Chicago race before and I won Fontana last year too.

Q. That's true. But what has the success this year and the confidence that people have shown towards you, what has that done for your confidence in believing that, yes, I can run at the front and I can win?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I always knew I could do the job. I never had any doubt about myself because I have won not only won but every previous series that I competed before the CART race I have won almost every Championship that I participated in before. So I knew I could have done the job, but the thing is you organize everything around you so you can do the job too. I think of course, your confidence -- once you get to a level like CART you have -- everybody that's there is because they have won a Championship or has dominated other series. So you are competing against guys that are pretty confident too, and very good too. So against those guys to get something extra, sometimes -- it's not that I had some doubt. I knew I could win races. I knew I could fight for the Championship, but to know that I am able to win those many races in a row, that increases my confidence because I didn't know that I was going to be able to do that.

Q. So it does matter when you go out at the beginning of an event, you have got three events in a row now and you go to Toronto not trying to win or proving to win but knowing that you can and that someone, like a Championship fighter, someone is going to have to knock you out to get the victory?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, yeah, it's just -- I believe a little bit in those things like in the atmosphere inside the team, in the -- how positive everybody is about it, about the team, so I think about the races, about themselves, and I think it's not only for the driver, but for everybody. When you are doing something and you are not thinking, well, I am doing this right, and maybe this is the right thing to do. When you are thinking just I know I am doing this right because I won this and this and this and this in a row or I have won so much lately I am sure this is the right thing to do. It really makes a difference.

Q. Just like Brazil when you go out in the World Cup Final you have to bring your best shot because I am going to be there and you are going to have to catch me at the finish.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, it's the same kind of deal, like Brazilian players they are better than the Germans. It was just too, you know, be calm and do the job. So now that's the way we're thinking inside the team. We know we're very good and we know we have tough competition too but we can do it.

MERRILL CAIN: Thanks again for taking some time with us this afternoon. We hope you can enjoy a couple of days off here. We look forward to seeing you on the racetrack this weekend as you go for the record of four consecutive victories in the streets of Toronto at the Molson Indy. We appreciate it.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you, Merrill.

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