Champ Car World Series: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Topics: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
ERIC MAUK: Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going to go ahead and get started with our post-qualifying press conference, our first round of qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Round 1 of Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. We are currently joined by our provisional polesitter. Our polesitter and our new championship leader, he has a 1-0 lead on everybody in the field, hitting the leadoff home run in the top of the first, driver of the #2 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing, Bruno Junqueira. He posted a quick time today of 1:08.342 seconds, 103.667 miles per hour. Bruno, I know it's been a long off-season for you, you've been chomping at the bit to get back out here. You get out here, you're on top of the time charts first time out. How does it feel?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It feels really good. Long Beach always is a very good track for me. Very happy to, after the long off-season, being so close to winning the championship, I know that this year I have to do better than last year. So really good. We worked really hard over the winter. I think the whole PacifiCare Newman/Haas team worked really, really hard to try to improve my car. The mechanic is working harder in every aspect. Myself, I'm trying to learn. With the experience, I'm trying to get better and better as a driver, in all aspects, being faster, more consistent, everything. So it's really nice to show already in the first day that our work seems to be going forward. It's very good, I mean, to get the pole on the first day. I think the car straight out of the box was really fast today. I didn't change much, just some minor adjustments. Changed springs between sessions, between the 15-minute session to qualify. I'm quite happy with the results. It's really important for myself, for the Newman/Haas team, and especially PacifiCare that is based very close from Long Beach - that means it's their home race - to get the provisional pole is very nice.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about how the Bridgestone Potenzas held up today.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: The Bridgestone tires are really, really good. I was running on the hard tires and I was still able to put some really fast laps. I hope tomorrow, with the red labels, the soft ones, I can go even faster.
ERIC MAUK: Bruno is the defending polesitter from this race from a year ago. Our second place qualifier on the day, driver of the #3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, Paul Tracy, the two-time defending winner of this event, a four-time winner in his career. He puts up a quick time of 1:08.494 seconds, 103.437 miles per hour. Paul, tell us a little about your day.
PAUL TRACY: It was good. This morning we just kind of worked on the car and got comfortable with the track again. We knew the car was decently balanced. Really the first run I didn't get the best of the lap. I left a little bit. The second run, when we went out at the end, I put the red tires on because we knew we had to at least have a try at it. I felt that I could go better if I got the right opportunity, so we decided to go. I had a good lap going. I caught Cristiano at the end of the back straightaway, finished the lap, and I lost the time. I only went a couple hundredths quicker than my original lap. I was up almost two and a half tenths. A little bit frustrating, but that's life. That's qualifying at Long Beach with five minutes to go. You just have to take your chances.
ERIC MAUK: First qualifying session, both you guys are already just within a second of the track record time. Do you think that's reachable? How much quicker do you need to go tomorrow to get a pole?
PAUL TRACY: I think for sure the track will be faster tomorrow. The track was a little bit slower this morning than last year. A lot of rain over the winter here. There's no rubber left over from last year. I think tomorrow, once the track gets some more rubber and some more cars run, Trans-Am is out there some more, the track will be quicker for sure.
ERIC MAUK: That is a track record that has stood up since 2000. One we have been shooting at for a while. While we wait for Sebastien, we'll take questions from the media.
Q. Bruno, how much time do you think you can get in addition to what you got now? How much time can you chop off that?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It's very hard to say. Often the track improves half a second a day here in Long Beach. I run 8.3, maybe 7.8 tomorrow. But then we have the soft Bridgestone tires that I don't know how much faster we can go with that. But today was a really good lap. I don't know, maybe 7.8, 7.6 tomorrow, 7.7, I don't know. I hope I can do enough to be on the pole.
Q. Paul, you're in the same car for a couple of years now. Talk about the comfort level of using similar equipment and how much improvement can they make from year to year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, you can make a lot of improvement. Everybody now has the same equipment: same tires, same engine, same car. Everybody's got access to the same shocks, same diff. There's really no disparity from team to team. The differences you see out there is the experience level of the drivers. The front drivers are very experienced; the guys in the middle and the back are still learning. I mean, I think we proved last year, I mean, if you don't develop your car and stay on top of things and take care of all the little fine details, you can fall behind quite easily. From 2003 to 2004, we really didn't develop our car at Forsythe, and kind of went with the same routine. We started out good here, but then as the year wore on, it became more difficult to qualify at the front and more difficult to have the type of race pace that it took to stay at the front. Now, I mean, you're dealing with just little small changes that make a big difference. It's much more fine-tuning of the car. Small shock changes can make a big difference. In the years past, when you had a new car every year, you'd come to Long Beach, you're still trying to figure the car out. Most people didn't figure out the car till halfway through the year. These cars are very refined now and very well-tuned, and right off the trailer they're fast because people have been working with them for three, four years now, so they know what setup is going to work. You have to just stay on top of it and just finesse everything to the maximum.
Q. Bruno, still a long weekend to go. How much would it mean to you to get off to a really good start here, maybe win this race?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: As you said, there's still a long way to go. But I think last two years, I was very competitive here in Long Beach. I finished third in 2003, actually because Adrian had a good pit stop strategy. I was just running behind Paul. Last year behind him, as well. So I finished second. Hope this year I can finish first. It's really important to start the year with a good result. A win is the best way, but if you can start the year in a strong race, showing that the PacifiCare car is fast and reliable, that's the most important thing. If you can get the win, it would be a big bonus, especially because PacifiCare is from Cypress, that's very close from here. They support the team. I hope we can get a win for them.
Q. 17, any pressure (inaudible)?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: No. To be true, I mean, last year I don't know how many races between me and Sebastien won, but more than half of the races. I hope someday I can win the race here. Just I think Newman/Haas has been fast on this track for the last three years. I mean, Cristiano in 2002, as well. Myself in the last two years. It's just a matter to get a good race on and you can win the race. It's not because you don't have speed. I think we have speed here. I like the track. My car is really good on this track. We can get the win, I mean, with me and Sebastien as well. There's no reason why we cannot.
Q. I was wondering, there's a lot of new drivers out there. How were they on the track either during practice or during the qualifying session?
PAUL TRACY: I mean, I haven't had any problem with anybody. The only guy I had a problem with was Cristiano at the end, and he has plenty of experience.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For me, I had no problem at all. I think one of the nicest things about Champ Car this year, when you look at least on the paper, all drivers that came to the series are really, really good. Wirdheim is Formula 3000 champion, Sperafico won a lot of races in Formula 3000. I don't know. All the other guys, as well, they have really good credentials. They already won races on the highest level of motorsports, they must be really good.
ERIC MAUK: We are now joined by our third place qualifier on the day, our defending series champion, driver of the #1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Sebastien puts up a top lap of 1:08.736 seconds, 103.073 miles per hour. Sebastien, how do you feel about the way it went today?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I'm pretty happy. It's the first time I think I go under 1:09 or something like that here, so I thought it was going to be pretty good. But have to kick my ass because it's not good enough, apparently (laughter). No, realistically Bruno historically has been very fast here, a bit faster than I have. We made up last year during the race, but I think he's going to be a very strong contender here. PT has won a lot of races here, too. We've got two tough guys to beat here on the front. We're going to work on it. The McDonald's car was pretty good. All in all I only get to do two days of testing before the start of the season. It's like everything is going a bit too fast here and I'm not feeling all that ready. Hopefully everything is going to fall into place during the weekend. When I came into the pits, I felt it was a pretty good lap, but it wasn't good enough. We're going to keep working on it and see how everything goes tomorrow.
ERIC MAUK: Sebastien is currently working on a Champ Car record streak. He has qualified in the top three in each of the last 15 Champ Car starts. That is an active streak and it is a Champ Car record. Further questions.
Q. You look at the times. Two guys out there that were like seven miles an hour slower than you. Is there any concern about these guys coming in at the last minute getting up to speed?
PAUL TRACY: No. I mean, I don't know much about the driver Del Monte. It's a brand-new team. They just got their equipment like four days ago. They're still trying to figure out what they're doing. I mean, they've got people down there helping them that I've seen around with experience, some engineers, some crew guys that I seen. I've seen Russell Cameron there from CART helping them, who is very experienced. They just got to learn as they go. There was no testing. The guy just got in the car with no testing. I don't know his background. I know he's done well in Formula 3000. He's won races. You know, just have to see how it goes.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I guess you've got to check every race, every series. I'd be curious if you find any series where there's not at least a couple of guys who are that far off anyway.
Q. Sebastien, with the 24 hours of LeMans, where do you think Long Beach ranks (inaudible)?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think I just put every Champ Car race at the same level. You know, it's always a great moment in your career. You know, to win in a professional series like Champ Car, it's awesome. I had that pleasure many, many times last year. Hopefully we'll be able to win races we didn't win last year. But it's tough. The field is strong. I know we're going to have to work very hard. But, no, I cannot compare the 24 hours of LeMans and things like that. It's completely different. If you win an endurance race, you share it with all the people you're working with, the people you're driving with. It's something different. I won't venture into comparing that.
ERIC MAUK: Just to clarify, in case there's any confusion, no change from last year in the qualifying rules. Bruno Junqueira does get a championship point for leading today's qualifying, he is guaranteed a front-row start for Sunday's event based on today's results.
Q. Bruno, in your Champ Car career, you've got poles, you've won races, you have been a runner-up in the series. There's only one thing left for you. What is it going to take for you to break through?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I mean, I have to do everything a little bit better. For sure last two years I was close on the championship. I was very close to win, but I didn't. I have to improve in all aspects myself as a driver to try to win. But it's really important to take one race at each time. I'm thinking now tomorrow, try to do a good qualify and Sunday a good race and start from here.
Q. I wondered, Paul, talk about your strategy about the tires you used today.
PAUL TRACY: Well, our strategy was really just to try to get a good time in the first run. It was good, but probably I left -- I made a couple of small mistakes that probably cost me a tenth or two. We knew we were within range of being able to go for the pole. When it went red there at the end, we just decided that we would go for the red tire because it's a softer tire. We thought it would come in faster. I felt that I had a car to get the pole. We were almost there until the last couple corners when I caught Cristiano. That was frustrating. But our strategy now, they've only got one lap on them, so they're still in great shape for a race tire for Sunday because they only got one flying lap on them.
Q. Bruno, could you talk about why you didn't use the red tires.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I felt at Long Beach, qualify, especially on the last 10 minutes, is a big surprise. Everything can happen, red flag and everything. You know that the track always improves Saturday. The weather forecast, it's sunny, so we decided to save the two red tires, the soft tires, for Saturday so we can do a good run on the first outing tomorrow on the soft tires and guarantee a good lap time. Then on the second one, if there is any red flag, anything, you already guaranteed a good run, a fast lap with the soft tires.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think Bruno just summarized the thing. It's been our strategy to just work with the same set of tires throughout the session. I guess it makes our life a bit easier. Just pretty happy to work with the regular tires on Friday, and on Saturday then you put two sets of alternate tires. For us it proved to be pretty good every time we did it. I think we're just going to have to stick with that, and whatever people are doing.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to our press conference. We set the final grid for Sunday's race with qualifying tomorrow beginning at 2:00. Thank you.
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