Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
ERIK MAUK: Thank you for joining us today on a special media teleconference as we bring in two of our title contenders for the 2003 Vanderbilt Cup, as we come to the end of the Bridgestone presents Champ Car World Series. We have two races to go the Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfer'S Paradise, Australia which comes up in two weeks following the Champ Car 500 at California Speedway. And then we will have crowned a champion, and it very well could come from one of the two gentlemen joining us on the call today. First is the driver of the #3 Lola Ford-Cosworth for Team Players, our points leader right now with 226 points, Paul Tracy. Paul, thanks for joining us today.
PAUL TRACY: Thank you.
ERIK MAUK: And we are joined by his closest pursuer, Bruno Junqueira, driver of the #1 PacifiCare/Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman Haas Racing. Thank you for joining us today.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Thank you.
ERIK MAUK: We'll start with Paul. Obviously a big weekend for you last week in Mexico City and a huge crowd came to see it, 221,000 people on race day. You picked up your 7th win of the year, had 64 laps and one of the better days in the season at a time you needed to put one up on the board, how satisfying was that event for you?
PAUL TRACY: For our team it was very satisfying. For us the last four or five races have been a bit of a struggle. Qualifying has not gone very well. Race performance maybe was good but not as good as we would have liked. Both Bruno and his team, they were starting to gain a lot of momentum in the championship and for us, it was important to kind of pull the momentum back our way. So to qualify on the pole the first day, and then start from the first and win the race was exactly what we needed to do, and what our hopes were to try to do and we were able to achieve it.
ERIK MAUK: The 29-point lead going into the final two races, got to imagine a bit of urgency to maybe wrap this things up in Surfer'S Paradise. As you get a 500-mile race on the California Speedway oval, as we've seen many times, anything can happen and usually does at that place. How important is it for you to put the wrap up this thing in Australia?
PAUL TRACY: I think it's something that we can't focus on because for me, the last couple of races I may be was concentrating too much on just trying thinking about points, thinking about the championship. Those races did not go very well for me, and really this last weekend I just started focusing on what I had to do every practice session to drive the best to my ability and get the most out of the car, get the most out of the team, and that's what we're going to focus on what we go to Australia is just concentrate on every practice session and not worry about points, just do our best and if we're able to wrap it up, that's half the battle. If not, we keep racing until the last lap in California.
ERIK MAUK: Bruno, you had a strong race car in Mexico City and had a chance to stay up front, unfortunately what a lot of people didn't know at the time was that you had been struck ill and definitely were not feeling very good. How tough was it to drive a 750-horsepower race car feeling as poorly as you did that day?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Well, it was very difficult, I was feeling really sick, but, unfortunately, the race was going good I felt we could finish second. The second pit stop, we have to see, but I think we lost a bit of power at the end of the race. People start to pass me very easy on the straightaway. And even if I was fast enough to keep the second position, I couldn't go back. And every time that I try to pass someone, someone would go and pass me by, and end up finish second was a bit frustrating and makes thing more difficult to win the championship -- inaudible. I will try to the last race.
ERIK MAUK: You definitely have a shot at winning this thing heading down to Surfer's Paradise, a street track, but a different kind of street track, and a pretty quick layout. What are your impressions of Surfer's, and do you enjoy going there to race?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah, I like Surfer's a lot. Last year I was on the pole Friday and I lost the pole by Cristiano for 1/10,000th of a second. Unfortunately in the race last year , we were racing I was leading and they decided to call a yellow flag and then I finish 14th. But I hope this year the weather will cooperate and we can go racing, and I hope that we have a good race there.
Q. Paul, this race of course is taking place about as far away from Toronto and maybe from the media glare here in Toronto on you. Does that take some of the pressure away and now that Jacques Villeneuve has departed from the F-1 scene, you are the tentative preeminent race car driver, does that also now put some pressure on you, can you address those two points?
PAUL TRACY: For me, I mean, Jacques is doing something totally different than what I've been doing for the last six, seven years. So the impact of what has happened in his career really doesn't affect me at all. To answer your first question, when you're in a championship, it doesn't really come into your mind where the race is or what's going on. And when it comes down to a situation like this where you're battling for the championship, there's no less pressure anywhere. The pressure is very high and the competition level now is getting much tighter than it was at the beginning of the season, a lot of the new teams, the drivers are figuring out how to do this and you're seeing a lot of different people on the grid up front. So it's getting harder and harder to win now at the end of the year, and so really the pressure is at a maximum level right now.
Q. It's got to be tough when you have a pretty nice lead with two races to go, because now you have to drive for points and that's so against your style. Just talk about your mind set for the last two races.
PAUL TRACY: I think my mind set really is going to be the same as what it was for Mexico. Like I said at the beginning, I think the last couple of races I started thinking about the points too much and driving by the point number of my position. You know, I just went back to how I started at the start of the season and just said to myself, "This is an important race." I treat every race like it's the last race in the championship right now, and I have to finish and I have to score as many points as I can. And that's how I'm going to go into Australia, just go everything that I can to have a good result.
Q. Bruno, I watched the race and it looked like Sebastien's guys might have short-fueled them and that's how you lost your spot going out. Can you talk about how your teammate is supposed to be helping you, right?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah, that didn't help me much, but, I mean, we still had a problem on the second pit stop. Our second pit stop was five seconds longer. I had a three-second lead on Sebastien -- even if he short fuel, he never pass me. But because I had the five second longer pit stop and he short fuel, he was able to pass me. I was talking to my engineer before, and we are going to have to figure out what's happened because you lose so much baseline speed by the end of the race, and this why people pass me. Even if I was really fast on the chicane, on the rest of the track, I could not pass anybody and everybody passed me easily. We have to figure out what happened at the end, if something happened on the car.
Q. You could perhaps become the first Canadian champion since Jacques Villeneuve, the first CART champion, how important is it to you as a Canadian to be the first one in a number of years to achieve that?
PAUL TRACY: I think for me, I don't think of it as being Canadian or being this or being that. It's just a goal that I've had since I was a kid, since I started racing, to be a champion. All of my individual goals I think I've set. I've won a lot of races, 26, 27 races now, and all of the individual goals that I've set for myself, I feel that I've achieved but that doesn't mean as much as a championship, until I achieve that, that's what I'm striving for.
Q. And did you have a sense going into this season, I mean, there was some changes for you in the off-season coming into the season, did you have a sense that this could be the year for you?
PAUL TRACY: I felt I had a good chance for sure, but I didn't think I would start as strongly as I did. When we started with the new team, I felt it would take us some time to learn and adjust to each other and maybe by mid season I would be winning races. My off-season didn't go as well as I would have liked. I was very fast, testing and spring training, things like that. So really I didn't expect to come to the first three races and win three in a row, but it happened that way and everybody on the team got confidence in themselves and I was confident and then it just all started to go up from there.
Q. You have three Top-10 finishes in Australia, including the one win you have there. Do you feel that your experience at Surfer's is going to be a big advantage over Bruno going into this race?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know if it's a big advantage. Obviously Bruno last year started on the front row and he knows how to get around there. For me, I've always been very quick there. I've won the race. But Surfer's is a very tricky track. I mean, they have never had a repeat winner there. When it's 15 years that you've never had a repeat winner, it shows you how demanding it can be and how easy it is to make a mistake. The goal for us is just to go down there and do everything we can to have a good result.
Q. Will you be bringing the same car you had in Mexico?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, same car.
Q. Paul, going off of what you talked to the other reporters about -- does the added points you got this last weekend help you relax and maybe go back to a better focus on the race?
PAUL TRACY: I think it puts everybody at a little more ease, but maybe sometimes that's not so good. Definitely when the championship comes down to 13 points, the pressure was being felt by the team, but it seems like we are able to respond to that. So my focus is to keep my intensity up. I hope that the team, their intensity stays up for the next two events, and that's what we need to try to do.
Q. How do you feel now?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I'm feeling better. I was feeling really bad, even at Miami. I still have a bit of a stomach disease but I'm 90 percent recovered. I think by tomorrow I'll be okay.
Q. Paul, you've been at it now for 13 years on the circuit and I was wondering if 13 happens to be a lucky number for Paul Tracy?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I'm not really that superstition about numbers, but definitely this year, a number that's been a big factor in a lot of things. At the start of the year, I changed back to the #3 and we won three races in a row a couple of times this year and a lot of things have been multiples of 3 for whatever reason. But something that people just bring these things up to me but it's not something that I really pay attention to.
Q. With all of your success you've had this year, is it at all bittersweet given the financial troubles CART has had?
PAUL TRACY: No. I think now with what happened in Mexico City and I think the venues that CART is looking at in the future and the sale it's going through with my team owner, his partners and what they are trying to do, I think he can finally got the series points in the right direction. I feel that some good things are going to happen.
Q. There are some weekends you come in and you look like -- maybe it's your intensity, that you just can't be beat; it's like you are perfect throughout the whole weekend. You made some comment about how after the last couple of the races you've had poor results you've sat down and had meetings. Can you talk about what types of things everyone focuses on to get back into a winning mode, and if there's anything in particular that you can put your finger on to make the change?
PAUL TRACY: I don't really know. I think maybe the only thing that I can really put my finger on is that Miami, I was very fired up to come in and have a good weekend, and we arrived at the track and came out to practice on the morning. Right away we had a problem with the car and we didn't get on the track, and then as soon as we got on the track it started raining and it just seemed like it all kind of just fell apart from there and things started to snowball and the crew guy -- I went out in the rain and I crashed and everybody got on edge and kind of nervous feeling, like a tension on the team. The whole weekend didn't go well. I think sometimes it can go that way. I think it's important when you go to a race weekend to get started on the right foot and have a good -- if you come off the first practice and the car is good, then sometimes the whole weekend goes well. When you start off bad, it's sometimes difficult to recover.
Q. Bruno, there has been a number of times this season where you lost race confidence, but I know your aspirations if you win the championship would be to go on to Formula 1, I have a question based on the things that happened yesterday. I know particularly you had an offer a year or so ago to the IRL with Chip Ganassi and you chose not to do that. I was curious if you could say what those factors were, was it because of your interest in Formula 1 in the future, was the money, was it safety, what made your decision to stay in CART?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: First thing, I like CART. I think of it as the best race series in the world. I think you have to be a really good driver to win this championship. You need to be a really good road driver, oval driver, and street driver. And for me, that was a big challenge. I had the chance to race in IRL and I had the dream to race in Formula 1. But in my dream of Formula 1, I was winning, and even when I was racing in Europe and I had some opportunities to race with some of the Formula 1 teams, I have a lot of respect for them, I never had a chance to win a race until I came to race in America. About IRL, I don't know, I was really happy with the opportunity to race for Newman Haas. I think it was a good team and I decided to keep in CART. I could even make more money to race in IRL, but I prefer to stay in CART because at the end of the day, I do what I love, and for sure, CART is more safer than IRL. That's another thing, especially after Sunday's crash of my friend, Kenny Brack, then I think that discourages the other drivers. I think I have three of my friends really hurt this year -- inaudible -- and Kenny Brack. That's not my interest at this moment. That's the important thing that you put at the end of the day, that racing is dangerous but you have to look by ourselves.
Q. It must have felt a little strange getting into the car the first session with no tobacco logos on the car.
PAUL TRACY: Not really. I knew that was going to happen before the season started, and I think it's a great gesture that Players has made and the team has made, to thank the fans for their support for the program that's been going on since 1993. I think it's very classy what they have done. You could show up with nothing on the car and they have decided to thank the people that have supported.
Q. Going into Australia, you've got a huge time zone difference, the traveling time I think is about 18-some-odd hours. Going there, it's not too bad because you have time to acclimatize and get ready for race week, but coming back to North America, it's a pretty short turnaround venue, how does that affect you; and obviously it affects all of the drivers, and how do you look after yourself to combat that?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think for me, it's always been a little bit harder to get back on to the time zone here. I think what helps the most is a lot of the drivers, every year there's a huge party in Australia Sunday night, and then everybody catches the flight on Monday morning and pretty much everybody is zonked out sleeping the whole flight. So you get about 13 or 14 hours sleep on the way back over because of your hangover, and by the time you get off the plane, you're pretty well rested.
Q. We talked right after the third win of the season and does the end part of your statement -- you talked about how great the season was going but you said, "It's early in the season." So from that point to where we are today, look back and kind of gauge where you think the team -- how the team performed through the season.
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think we've done a really good job. It's been up-and-down for us. I don't think that our trip to Europe didn't go really how we wanted it to go. We made a big mistake engineering-wise on the car for Germany. But we felt that it was going to -- we were going to get maximum points in England with the downforce configuration. We decided to run, we kind of hooked ourselves in, let's try to win the road course, and let's finish in the top five or six on the oval and it didn't pan out that way. We blew up the gear box. So we really got hit hard twice. So maybe that was a little bit of a wrong thinking. You know, there's been points in the season, a couple of points in the season where I've made mistakes, at Elkhart and Miami, but for the most part the team has done a great job. The car has been very reliable. I've had no mechanical troubles for the most part. Now at the end of the season, there's still two very important races to go, and like we had in Europe, you see you have bad luck, a 28- or 29-point lead, that could go away real quick. So we need to still continue to have good luck and reliability.
Q. Knowing that Paul could win, if he wins either Australia or Long Beach, there's really nothing you can do about it. I'm trying to sit here and think about how much pressure that must be for you, or is that pressure for you?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I mean, the only thing that I can do is try to win the races or try to do the best that I can and see what happens with Paul. I'm in a difficult situation because I don't depend on just myself. I depend on Paul to not do well on one of the races, but then I try to do what I can do, maybe try to win the race in Australia and see what happens, see if I at least have a shot at Fontana for the championship.
Q. Everybody is very familiar with the dangers of high-speed ovals, but after watching Sunday's incident with Kenny, does that make you guys just a little bit more apprehensive when you get in there and get behind the wheel at a place like Fontana?
PAUL TRACY: That's a difficult question, because, you know, there's always inherent risks of racing, for sure, and things could happen. But I think what happened at Texas, it's just one of those things where the cars are fast, they are running 220-plus miles an hour, and running very close together. You really have to trust the other guy; it's not all down to you by yourself. When you're running in that close quarters with that many cars around you, if one person makes a mistake, you make somebody else move and next thing you know, what could have happened could have happened two or three cars in front, and it's a chain reaction by other people, to react to somebody else's problem. I think probably the risks are always high on ovals, and if you have an accident, it's going to be a big accident. When you're running ovals every week, sooner or later, you're going to have an accident because it's inevitable. The odds are always there.
Q. Now based on what you just said, will there be any more apprehension, possibly with the two of you, seeing as we get still a fairly large amount of guys that will be in there that haven't had a lot of experience on the high-speed ovals?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I could tell you, I'm very impressed with the job that everybody has done this year, at Eurospeedway in Europe, it was close quarter racing with high a downforce package and everybody was racing very close to each other. Through the course of season, the new guys and the rookies have done a fantastic job. I don't have any complaints about any of the drivers that we have in our series.
Q. I know that you were chosen as the Lexmark Indy 300 Ambassador for the Australian race, and I was wondering if having watched you under complete siege in towns where you have high social commitments to the media and to the event, that you're a little bit concerned about not having the time to yourself that you need to focus; will this give, perhaps, Bruno an advantage?
PAUL TRACY: I don't think so. It really just involves the general things that we always do in Australia. There's always a morning luncheon press conference, and it really doesn't involve me having to do anything more than I would do out of the ordinary. Australia is always really good about that, and the presser that runs the event down there, he knows how to treat the drivers, and that's the way he's able to get the drivers to do a lot of things before the race and make it such a great event because he doesn't overload people.
Q. In '95 you won, but the last four years, you've done pretty well qualifying for it, but you've done that with the Reynard chassis, and knowing how much you seem to have an affinity for the Lola chassis, obviously you said you really prefer it and like it, does that give you more confidence going in?
PAUL TRACY: The last few years, my qualifying -- I think I'm a better qualifier now because they have equalized all of the weights with the cars and the drivers. So, that's really helped my qualifying this year. And I think I have a good chance. Any track that we've gone to, I've done well in qualifying, so we'll just have to see what happens.
ERIK MAUK: That will bring an end to our press conference today. Thank you guys very much for taking the time to talk to people today.
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