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Champ Car World Series: Vegas Grand Prix

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Vegas Grand Prix

Champ Car World Series: Vegas Grand Prix

Sebastien Bourdais
Simon Pagenaud
Paul Tracy
April 6, 2007


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

ERIC MAUK: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our opening press conference of the 2007 Champ Car World Series season, first round of qualifying at the Vegas Grand Prix, Round 1 of 16 of the Champ Car World Series championship. We are joined by our top three qualifiers of the first day.
We'll start with our third0place qualifier, the three-time and defending champion of the Champ Car World Series, driver of the #1 McDonald's Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. His best time today, 1:20.197 seconds, 109.530 miles per hour.
Sebastien, you spent a good bit of the session on pit lane with some mechanical issues. Tell us about your session.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, it's pretty much in line with the way testing went. We just keep piling on problem after problem. So it's hard. I mean, the McDonald's team is doing a great job, but it seems out of our hands. Between the gearbox department and engine department, we just can't seem to get things reliable. It's really troublesome because obviously if you can't do more than 15 laps without doing problems, entering a race is going to be kind of a little bit of a problem.
But other than that, when we are on track, we are pretty quick I think. Only doing one run, being on blacks, the car behaved really well. There's really nothing to say about it. It's just we're going to need to be able to do more laps than this without coming into the pits and opening the rear deck.
ERIC MAUK: Problems that can be fixed easily or something that you're concerned about for Saturday and Sunday?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's an easy-fix problem, except it keeps on coming back. We keep on burning coils one after another. Yeah, it probably takes five minutes to change them. But if you burn one during the race, you're out of the contention. Don't quite know what to do. It's the fifth pair we burned in pretty much three days. You know, that's pretty much it for us.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Good run today.
Our second-place qualifier, driver of the No. 15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Team Australia, the reigning Champ Car Atlantic champion, making his first Champ Car start, Simon Pagenaud. Great run of 1:19.998 seconds, 109.803 miles per hour. How does it feel?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, it feels really great to be with you today. Obviously we have done a great job with the team to make the car great for this weekend. You know, it's really, really good to be here because I couldn't believe that I would be in the top three qualifier for the Friday on my first race of Champ Car. So it's kind of a relief because it means that I'm already on the pace. I still need to work a lot on myself and the car, too. I think we have a pretty good shot for a good place overall, even at this race.
So we just need to keep focused, try to understand what we did today, which was a very good run. We put the reds on because we thought we had a shot at the pole. Unfortunately, Paul did a better job than we did. But obviously tomorrow I think we'll be right on the pace again. We are looking for the first or the second row for tomorrow.
ERIC MAUK: You mentioned that you ran the red-walled alternate Bridgestone Potenzas. Tell us a little about the difference between the blacks and reds from your standpoint?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It was lots of new today because it was my first time on red tires. Kind of different. I had to change my driving style a little bit. I got a little more understeer with these tires. I was trying to brake a little bit later, but I locked up the front wheels, so I had to step back a little bit. After that, I got one good lap with a set of red tires, and that was it. That was the good lap.
It was kind of a very enjoyable day for me because the car is really good to drive. I got -- I mean, it's so fun to drive this car around this track. The corners are really well-made. I really enjoy it.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Good run.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Thank you very much.
ERIC MAUK: The leader of the first day of qualifying for the Vegas Grand Prix, driver of the #3 Indeck Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, and 2003 Champ Car World Series champion, Paul Tracy. Paul puts up what will currently stand as the track record here, 1:19.784 seconds, 110.097 miles per hour. Paul earns a guaranteed front row starting spot by leading today's qualifying, starting spot for Sunday's event. He also earns a championship point for leading today's qualifying, making him your first-day leader in the championship, which is significant because it is the first time in the last 22 rounds that the points leader has not been a young man named Bourdais.
Paul, good strong lap. Nice job coming out of the box quick. Tell us about how you feel about it.
PAUL TRACY: I feel great. I just got to thank the whole team at Forsythe Racing, all the sponsors involved with Bridgestone, all my personal sponsors. Just a great day for everybody. We worked really hard over the winter. Kind of had to work extra hard this last week when the team decided to take on a second car. There was some feelings within probably other teams that that was going to kind of upset our flow for the weekend.
But, you know, the team has done a great job. We've brought in a bunch of guys for this weekend that are new with Mario. Everybody's pitched in and done a great job. I can't be more happy for the team and for Gerry Forsythe and everybody, all my fans that are out here.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about the racetrack.
PAUL TRACY: I like it. A couple sections where I still feel like I could pick up some time. But overall I think the city and the organizers and Chris Kneifel has been here for the last month. I came out to the track six months ago when they set the first block. The job they've done, the job that Chris has done, I think it's a first-class facility.
It's kind of ironic, we're racing in the streets of downtown, and sitting here you can see the Speedway right over there. I think it's an awesome feeling to be right here in the city and right in front of the fans.
ERIC MAUK: Are you surprised that you came out first session and ran as well as you did? To be frank, the testing sessions, you were not very happy with the way things were going.
PAUL TRACY: I think we had a couple of up-and-down tests. Our first test went pretty well at Sebring. We went to Houston, it just wasn't a good test for us. Everything kind of went wrong. When one thing went wrong, we got behind in the amount of -- the amount of laps we could get in, then started to panic a little bit. Then came back at Laguna and had a great first day at Laguna, then decided we're going to try some weird stuff with the car, just see what it does. We know now that we can go quick. We know we're on pace. Just take a step back and try different things with the car and see what it does.
I think that's really what set us in the direction on where we needed to be for these races coming up.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Good run today.
We'll take questions from the media.

Q. We've had testing with the new car, but where do we stand with this as far as you are concerned?
PAUL TRACY: We've had so much experience with the Lola. Everybody was so used to the Lola. You kind of knew all the kind of problem areas you could have with the Lola, where things needed to be addressed. When you have a new car, you're going to have some reliability issues that pop up, some mechanical issues that pop up. That's part of developing a new car.
I've kind of been through the whole gamut of when I began at Champ Car, you got a new car every year. You had to figure out the bugs with it. We're very much more restricted on what we can do. Whatever we do to fix a problem, even else has -- you have to submit a form, tell Champ Car what you're doing, this is a problem. That's trying to help everybody else. It's kind of one of those things, we don't get a lot of testing, you're going to have some little issues.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'm not going to keep on bitching because it doesn't make any sense (laughter).
As far as I'm concerned, obviously we can't be really happy with reliability. The car runs fine when it's running. That's the problem. It just spends a little bit too much time in the pits for us. It seems like it's not a general consensus. Obviously we seem to have more problems than others. I don't know if it's just pure bad luck or if it's just something that we do wrong.
But it doesn't really appear to be things that, again, are in our control. We've had a lot of problems to fix. I think they fix most of it, but there's still apparently some little things to be done.
So hopefully everything gets figured out and we can get a clear shot at going racing. But, yeah, once the car is on the track, it feels pretty good. It's a good step. I think everybody likes the new look of Champ Car.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Compared to the Atlantic car, it's a good car (laughter). It's like 500 more horsepower. It's great.

Q. (No microphone.)
PAUL TRACY: A little bit. Obviously, I was losing a little bit of time on the speed traces through there. My quick lap, I got through there really well, then started a second lap and launched it off the curb, was airborne kind of going all the way into the tunnel.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Take off on the curb and go over the bump (laughter).
PAUL TRACY: Kind of hit the curb, missed the bump. That was kind of how I started my second lap. But I caught some traffic, and really the lap was slower.

Q. When you're flying, is it gaining time?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously you want to try to gain as much time as you can (laughter).
They know about the bump. I guess they're going to try to work on it tonight when the track is closed.

Q. Paul and Sebastien, was it the right thing to go to a new car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think it's definitely a great thing. We needed a new face for Champ Car. That thing was getting a little old. The car design was getting really old. So it's the new era of Champ Car. It's a great thing.
Obviously there are going to be problems. You can't ask a driver to be a driver and be happy running into problems. But that's the thing you have to expect. As far as I'm concerned, it was definitely needed. It's a great challenge, too.
PAUL TRACY: I like it. I like the looks of the new car. I enjoy driving the new car. I'm still trying to find a gear shift lever in there (laughter). Sometimes I end up trying to look for it.
You know, I've driven so long with a stick, you just come to do things without thinking about it. It's second nature. A lot of these young guys now come from Europe, all the cars now are pretty much paddle shift. They're used to that. They come here. Go to a stick, they end up with big blisters on their hand from the shifter. It's kind of the opposite for me. I'm trying to figure it out.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: So you have blisters on your fingers (laughter)?

Q. Do you feel any particular pressure to accumulate points early in the season after last year?
PAUL TRACY: I think it's going to be important. These first three races, with the break we have in May now, without going to China, with that race being moved further back in the year, we have a long off-season but a fairly short off-season when you consider when all the teams received the cars, when the first test happened, the amount of testing we've had. It's been very short. The teams have had very limited time with the cars. We got that break.
I think we have our car figured out pretty well. We don't seem to have a lot of reliability problems, a lot of downtime, which has been great. I mean, hopefully we can knock on wood and that doesn't happen in the race. But we've really tried to do our homework with the car. It's going to be important to score as many points in any race. It's a fairly short season compared to a NASCAR season or anything else. We have 16 races. Every race is very important.

Q. A lot of talk that the new car is going to level the playing field. Sebastien has obviously dominated the last three years. What do you think at this point?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think the key players are still going to be the key players. Obviously, Sebastien's team is great. He's a great driver, a phenomenal driver. He hasn't won three championships for not being a great driver.
It's just the usual teams are up here now, Team Australia, Aussie Vineyards team with Walker, they came on really strong the end of last year. They have good engineering, good people. They have a core group of people that Derrick has had for a long time, and two young drivers that are really hungry to show what they can do. That team came on very strong the last three races last year and they've kind of continued that through.
Really the big question mark right now is where Justin with his new team and everything, how that has kind of transferred over, how that is all going to pan out. The normal teams are going to be the strong ones.

Q. With the arrival of the new generation, are you scared that they can be strong, those kids?
PAUL TRACY: You know, I had my team over to my house the other night on Wednesday. I have every race that I've ever driven in on DVD. We started watching races from like 1992, '93. I was looking at guys like Bobby and Arie, all these guys. They were like 38 then. I was 22. Now I'm that age and these guys are 22, 21, 18.
So, you know, that's what motivates me. I go out there, I want to go fast, I want to race, I want to race people hard. I'm not content with finishing second. It's probably cost me a lot of second-place finishes by crashing out. You know, I'm not happy being there. That's what motivates me to keep going.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'm very happy you're categorizing me in the old generation already (laughter).
But, no, realistically I think you've got your level. You get better through that number of years and then you settle to a certain level, then you start declining, and that's time to stop. But obviously I didn't get there yet.
ERIC MAUK: You become a father, you automatically drop into that level.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'll try and correct that on Sunday (laughter).

Q. Simon, did you expect to be here today, your first race?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I'm working for that every day. I'm working for that every day. I'm very motivated to do well in motor racing because I'm living for that. I'm living for winning races. I'm like these guys: I just want to show to everybody that I'm able to win races in Champ Car. When I did all my preparation over the winter, we didn't have much testing in this car, so I had to adapt myself very quickly. Obviously that's what I did. After that I knew that it wouldn't be easy to be up front in Las Vegas.
You know, I just try to be as focused as I can. I don't care what happens around me. I just drive my car, do my best with my engineer, with all my team. This is where we are now. From there, we need to be consistent because it's going to be a long championship, much longer than was the Atlantic last year.
So, yeah, I expect to be up front all the season for sure, but it's going to be hard. There will be some weekends where it's going to be hard, you know. It's not going to be easy every day, for sure.

Q. Paul, you're local here. You're on pole. If I remember you were a second ahead of Simon in the qualifying session. Did you come out early and check out the track?
PAUL TRACY: I mean, not really. Yesterday was really the first time that I got around the track, last night, to have a really good look at it and see where everything was. You can't really tell how everything is when there's cars all over the place, people, the walls aren't up.
Really I had a really good look at it last night. You know, that's kind of what you have to do at every race we go to. You don't get a lot of time to look at things. You've got to get out there and pick it up really quickly, learn really quickly.

Q. You have a different engineer now. Is that working out okay?
PAUL TRACY: I think it's been good. We've obviously had a revamp of our team. I have a new engineer that came over from Walker Racing last year. He was Will Powers' engineer. They came on really strong last year. We did a lot of shuffling around of some people. Eric Zito, who was my engineer, is now kind of the team director, technical director for the team, which is great. So he's kind of in charge of all of the engineering, the engineering staff. We picked up a new great engineer. Has kind of a different perspective on things, how other teams were doing it, which has really helped us.
ERIC MAUK: Just to clarify, Paul's 2/10ths up on Simon, and Simon is 2/10ths up on Sebastien in qualifying.

Q. Is this track, after your initial run here, more a technical track or one where you can hang things out and rely on your learned skills?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, it's a very technical track. It's still a street course. It's still very slippery. You can't really let it hang out. You have to be very tidy and stay online. You can't get off the line and think you're going to get away with it.
But it is very fast. It's very technical. You've got to place the car in the right section of the track and carry a lot of speed. The corners are quite a bit quicker than traditional street tracks that we go to.
It's kind of almost like a road course. Kind of got combinations of both. It's got fairly quick corners, kind of like a road course, but it's slippery and concrete like a street course.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you all very much. We'll set our final grid with tomorrow's qualifying which begins at 2 p.m.



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