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CART FedEx Championship Series: Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland

CART FedEx Championship Series: Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland

Patrick Carpentier
Cristiano da Matta
Dario Franchitti
July 13, 2002


MERRILL CAIN: Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll go ahead and get started with our top three press conference today. We'll start with Dario Franchitti, as we await Patrick Carpentier and Cristiano da Matta, your pole sitter for tomorrow's race. Dario Franchitti qualified third this afternoon in the #27 KOOL Honda/Lola Bridgestone with a best lap of 58.515 seconds, that's a speed of 131.895 miles per hour. Dario of course is the defending champion of the Marconi Grand Prix. He claimed his best road course starting spot since he gridded second in the season-opening race in Monterrey, Mexico. Dario, if you would, talk a little bit about your afternoon. You spent some time at the top of the charts before Mr. Da Matta came along. Seems like Team KOOL Green has its qualifying setup down pat.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: The car was good today. The car has been good all weekend. We just had various dramas with me going off the track this morning and the fire yesterday. So we've had various dramas going on all weekend. The car has been strong. I actually felt there was more in the car than I got out of it, which is kind of frustrating. You know, when you're not on pole, you're either frustrated because you got the maximum out of the car and the car wasn't good enough, or as in today's case, the car was good and I didn't -- there's a fine margin between pushing too hard and going off. Maybe a bit conservative. I was just a bit too conservative in a couple of corners. So that -- I'm kind of upset about that. I've got lots and lots of time to make up for it tomorrow. Was it 115 laps? I think I'll go for long distance races, it would appear. Going for value for money here (laughter).

MERRILL CAIN: Patrick Carpentier joins us now. He qualified second this afternoon in the #32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard Bridgestone. He starts on the outside of the front row after putting up a best lap of 57.470 seconds, a speed of 131.923 miles per hour. Patrick made his best lap just a minute before going off course late in the session, but the lap would stand up to give him his best starting position of the season and his best since he started second at Vancouver, that came last season, as well. Patrick, talk about your qualifying run today. As we said, you're one of the first few people to go out in the session, but, of course, you turned your quick lap very late.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: The team did a fantastic job this weekend. Every time we changed the car, we improved it, made a lot of improvements. Again on the second set of tires, we changed just a couple of things. The car was really comfortable. It's my engineer's birthday today, so it works out well for him. So, no, I'm really happy for him. He's been working hard. We seem to have a lot of problems. Ford-Cosworth this weekend went really smoothly. And we improve the traction control coming out of corner one a little bit and we made a lot of changes for that last run, and it seems like it paid off. So I'm really happy now. I'm going to find out tomorrow if I can hold that for 115 laps. We'll see what it is. But to start second up here is fantastic.

MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it up for questions for both Dario and Patrick as we await Cristiano da Matta.

Q. You went out with a second engine. Was that a concern to you?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, the -- it was at the end of the session this morning so it didn't really cost me any time, nothing. But we're actually lucky because I didn't want to go back out. My engineer said, "No, we got to try something. You have to go back out." There was like a minute and a half left. So finally we went. And on that lap, the engine gave away. So it was a good thing because it would have happened this afternoon early in the session. They put another engine in. This one ran really, really well. I had no problems. Everything was good. Everything has to be good to be up in second place. Compared to the weekend we had in Toronto, it's been actually a pretty quiet weekend. We seemed to have run into troubles every 15 minutes out there. But this weekend we have none. So, no, it's good. I lift my hat to the team. They did a wonderful job. It's good for them, too, because it's been a while.

Q. Both you guys kind of hinted at 115 laps. Can you talk about your feelings on that? Is that too much?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it's pretty long. I would rather it wasn't quite that long. Yeah, it's pretty long, you know. There comes a point where the race, you know, it's -- I was quite happy with the distance it was before. But it's the same for everybody. But it is going to be physical tomorrow. I'm kind of glad I've been working out as much otherwise I think tomorrow would come as a bit of a shock. It's a pretty physical track.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think it's a bit long, too. 12 laps for me would be enough (laughter). No, I think it's a bit long. For sure, a little bit shorter would be good, too. But we'll see. Like Dario said, it's a tough track. It's bumpy. It's going to be a long race. Just got to be there at the end.

Q. Do you feel anything about a numbers game? There's four guys with Reynard and 14 with Lolas. Are you a little bit behind of eight ball because of the small numbers of Reynards?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: If you would have asked me that half an hour ago, I would have said, "Man, we're so far out, it's not even funny." Now I think it's not too bad. I think if we find the setup and we find a good combination, I think it's not that far off. I think it's more when we get to street circuits that we seem to be struggling a little bit more. On the road course, Alex did pretty well at Portland, was running up at the front also. So we'll see what's going to happen in the future. But on this these types of tracks, like Mid-Ohio, Elkhart Lake, it's very similar. It's on the street circuit that it's more of a difficult thing.

Q. Dario, the first turn, do you remember last year what happened? You won the race, so... How do you see it for tomorrow?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know. I'm sure there's going to be endless discussions about it in the drivers' meeting tonight. Everybody is going to leave the drivers' meeting and forget completely what we discussed (laughter). It's one of those things. It's like first turn at any track. You know, there's a lot of advantage to be made up - particularly somewhere like here. Overtaking is very difficult, so when you make a move, it counts for a lot. From that point of view, you can make a lot of gain in that very first corner. People risk a lot. Particularly here, you can go so wide. You can go I think eight plus wide, and then what happens is people lose their visual markers, their braking points. The next thing you know there's a big mess. Hopefully that will not happen tomorrow.

Q. Do you think it's possible again this year to do what you did last year or is it more difficult?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, it would probably be more difficult. I think anything's possible. Much nicer to stay up front all day. A lot easier. But I think every race is different. We just got to get through turn one tomorrow and see where we go from there. I think the car is very good, so we'll see.

MERRILL CAIN: We want to bring up Cristiano da Matta, your pole sitter for tomorrow's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland presented by US Bank. Driving the #6 Havoline Toyota/Lola Bridgestone wins his fourth pole in the last five races, taking the stop spot with a lap of 57.040 seconds, that's a speed of 132.917 miles per hour. The pole is the fourth in a row for da Matta and gives him another championship point, that gives him 120 on the season now and widens his lead now over second place Bruno Junqueira to an even 50 points in the overall points standing. Cristiano, what else can you say? You had another great performance today. It was a matter of getting a clear lap and it was pretty much history after that.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Because everybody seems to be waiting longer and longer and longer to go out in those qualifying sessions, it's getting quite busy out there. Of course, I think that's everybody because everybody was out there. At the same time I had some laps on traffic, but I had some decent clear laps too. That was all we needed. I was able to get everything out of my car. Of course, I'm very happy the way the car's working. I've been saying that the whole year. The car is just awesome. We were able to get a clear lap. But the main concern we had like going into qualifying, the changes we made, the car of course was really very good, very well in the morning session, so we didn't do anything crazy with the car, we just tune it a little bit. We had some understeer. We dial a little bit more understeer out. The car responded. The track I believe was maybe a tiny little bit more difficult than this morning with the wind - at least it was for me. But everything worked. Only good things to say; nothing to complain.

MERRILL CAIN: Couple more notes here. Cristiano is currently on pace to eclipse the CART record for points in a season, that's held by Alex Zanardi with 285 points. He'll be looking to set a CART record tomorrow by taking his fifth straight win in the series. It also marks the second time in the last three events that all three engine manufacturers have started in the top three spots in the grid. That also came in Chicago. That was the other time that happened in the last three events. We'll open it back up for questions.

Q. You said you were conservative today. You couldn't afford to do that last year. How is the track different than when you won it last year?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: The guys have shaved a lot of the bumps out of the track. They've ground the bumps out in turn three, four, five and six, as well. It's been repaved in turn seven. So it's a little bit smoother, in particular, the transitions between runway and taxiway. From that point of view, the track is quicker in those points, which I think is quite interesting. The times are pretty close to last year even with a lot less horsepower. From that point, the main difference. The straight and stuff, it's still pretty bumpy.

Q. What is the thinking behind waiting for the half hour before you go out? Can you explain that?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: We're just lazy. We're all chatting and stuff up in pit lane, coffee morning with the drivers. I think everybody is waiting -- the more cars you get out on the track before you go out, the more rubber, the faster the track is going to become.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: More rubber and gives you a chance to see what the other guy's doing for time, too.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: There's lots of different reasons for it. You know, also traffic-wise, as well. If you go out early, you know, with a hot lap, there's guys coming out on cold tires. There's many different thought processes behind it.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: So we decided all to go out at the same time so we make sure everybody gets traffic the same (laughter).

Q. Cristiano, other guys go out, they improve their times. Yesterday you had 4/10ths. Today you got the same. Do you feel you have a comfort cushion in that?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Of course, 4/10ths in this track is a very good difference. Yeah, I feel comfortable. But it's two different stories. Tomorrow, the race, is everybody together. On performance, my car had an edge on the other cars so far this weekend. But, you know, how many times you've seen a race that whoever had the fastest car didn't win the race. This year, because it's so competitive, sometimes is up to yellow flags, pit stops, so many other things. So it's the same thing. It's a pretty tense start here, especially because of the first turn. It's a long race. I think it's probably -- since I started racing CART, I think it's the longest road course race I'll ever done is going to be tomorrow. So it's going to be hard on the cars, on the drivers. This track is pretty physical. We've been getting a little bit of a break because the weather has been cooler, so it's been a little easier on that point. But it's bumpy and it's hard on the equipment. So I think, more than anything, I think whoever is there at the end is going to be able to get a good result.

Q. Dario, I missed the first few minutes, I don't know if you covered this, but yesterday in the morning session you started off going pretty well, then you had a problem, sort of maybe put you a little behind for the rest of the weekend. Obviously, you've caught up. Do you get a sense the team is really starting to get a handle on the Lola in terms of road course setup or not?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think each track -- you take each track as it comes. You know, Cleveland has its own peculiarities and stuff you have to work towards fixing. The car unloaded very well from the transporter. We've had problems. We had the big fire yesterday. I had the wall this morning. That cost us a lot of time. Plus the engine this morning, the guys had to change engines between sessions. I've been keeping my guys very busy this weekend. I think if we had a little more track time, we'd be even in better shape. But like I said, I think the car was good enough to I think go as quick as Cristiano. I don't know if he was on the limit or not. I think the fact it was my fault, I didn't get the most out of what I was given today.

Q. Cristiano, you touched on it a little bit. How do you feel about such a long race? Does it bother you one way or another?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: The longer the race is, the more concerned you are, because of course more difficult to get to the end of it. Those cars are all built, everything is about performance. There's just so much. The longer you race, the more distance, the more reliability issues you going to have. So, of course, physically-wise, too, I don't think I'm going to have a problem, but it's going to be a tough race. It's not going to be an easy one. I think it's pretty difficult track physically. It's one of the most difficult, at least in my opinion, I think this is one of the harder places.

Q. Cristiano, everybody says that Toyota/Lola is the best package, followed by Honda/Lola. Are you surprised to see on the front row a Reynard Ford customer?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, I was very surprised. When I came out of the car, I was looking at the times, I see Pat there. Especially in the previous sessions, he wasn't doing that well. I thought, knowing the guy, I knew he had put on a hell of a lap (laughter). But, yes, I was a little surprised, yes - not because -- just because, as you said, the equipment. Definitely the Reynard for sure is a little bit behind the Lola these days, at least that's the feeling we have.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Do you think 4/10ths (laughter)?

Q. Cristiano, what happened in front of you as you were coming out?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I don't know. It's all scummy out of the pits. Dominguez spun. He was just coming right in my direction, so I had to just avoid him. It was a pretty big moment for me because as you're coming out of the pits, you don't expect a car spinning (laughter). Dario said he paid him.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'm not giving him the rest of his money because he didn't complete the job (laughter).

Q. Dario, can you talk about Cristiano's dominance? Is it demoralizing when you're seeing him putting up lap after lap as quick as he is?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Tony, Cristiano and I flew back from Portland together and I threatened to throw him out of the plane without a parachute. Then in Indianapolis, our housekeeper threatened to break his legs. One of us should have made good on our promises (laughter). Joking aside, Cristiano and his whole team are doing a great job. You know, they've got the car working well. He's driving well. Everything is quick for him. The only thing we can do, you can do two things: You can give up or you can fight and you can try and beat them. And that's what we're doing. And we fully intend to close the gap. I think we did that today. Like I said, I think we had the car today, and today I didn't do my job properly. We'll see tomorrow if we've made any gains.

Q. Dario, in '99 you had a pretty good year, good battle. Things were going pretty good for you in stretches. What's going through a driver's mind when things are going well over a course of months?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I've forgotten. I think you'll have to ask Cristiano that.

Q. We keep asking him. Get tired of the same question.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: When everything is clicking, I remember in Toronto in '99 when I won the race, "What was everybody else doing today?" We were cruising. I felt like I was cruising because everything was working well. When you get into that rhythm, the car is working well, you're driving the car well, everything just clicks together, you know, it feels easy. The trick is, and the thing is, to do it week-in and week-out. I think Cristiano has done a good job just now. That's why we're working hard to stop him.

Q. Friday morning Pat said the car looks very good, easy to drive, the times were not there at all. Then you were talking about having a good time because the car is so easy to drive. Is it the kind of car you have to be very smooth or very aggressive?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I'd say smooth and aggressive (laughter).

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Depending on the corner. Depending on the corner, you know. You've always got to be smooth, but at the same time there's a bit of an aggression. You have to fight. It depends on each individual corner at this point, for sure.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think the same. I think especially on the two corners at the very far end, it's very important to be aggressive, push it to the very edge, because two high-speed corners. On the low-speed, chicanes, if you get sideways or anything, you see the lap time going away. On the faster corners, you can actually get a bit upset not to lose a lot of time. But I think it depends a lot on the corner.

Q. Last week Cristiano was able to cruise without much pressure behind him. Is this the kind of place where you can be more aggressive and put the kind of pressure on the leader to force him into a mistake or can you take more chances at a place like this as opposed to one of the regular street courses?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No (laughter).

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I was really aggressive last week and I was going backwards, it felt like. I don't know, I think I'm just trying hard every lap, every time. If he starts to go away, you're pretty much at the limit right there, and trying to catch is very difficult because he's probably not at the limit. He's driving hard, but if you're right up against him, he probably has another notch to go. We'll see tomorrow. Some time in the race it's different. But if you can follow and it goes well, you can challenge, but sometimes it's difficult.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Your teammate was pretty aggressive last week, too.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: So that was you?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Always somebody else's fault with Pat.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I have no comment.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: It depends. Really any track, I think if your car is working well, you can put the guy under pressure. If you have things working your way, then good. In Toronto last weekend, Cristiano was quicker than everybody, therefore nobody could challenge him. But that's all it comes down to.

Q. Historically this track has had accidents in the very first turn on the start. Being up front, do you look in your mirrors at all to see if anybody is coming up to hit you or do you look ahead in that first turn?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Nobody's looking (laughter).

DARIO FRANCHITTI: You've seen what happens in years before. You're just trying to survive really a lot of the time. If you're in the front row, you only got to worry about where you brake, then see what happens behind you. But anything can happen really. You can think -- you're on pole, you can be thinking, "Great, made the first turn," then somebody spins into you. A heck of a lot of luck involved in the first turn.

MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations on a good performance. Good luck in tomorrow's race.

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