July 27, 2002
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. We'll go ahead and get started with our top three press conference following today's final qualifying for tomorrow's Molson Indy Vancouver. We're joined by Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. We'll await Cristiano da Matta, our polesitter today. Start out first with Dario Franchitti, driver of the #27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone. He qualified third this afternoon with a time of 1.00.559 seconds, that's a speed of 105.874 miles per hour. It marks the second consecutive race that he's qualified in the third spot. Dario has qualified third or better four times this season, and he's finished on the podium in two of those races, that coming in Monterrey, Mexico, and in Chicago. Dario, talk about your qualifying effort today. Team KOOL Green has obviously been fast all weekend. You seem to be pretty comfortable with the car setup.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think the guys at Team KOOL Green did a good job coming here. Paul was very, very fast in Toronto. I kind of struggled a bit. But we made some changes to my car in particular for this race, and we both -- you know, all three cars, including Michael's came off the transporter. We're very happy with the balance, how the cars are performing. Qualifying yesterday was pretty frustrating for me getting stuck in traffic all the time. And today, you know, we gave it a good shot on the first run. The second run we made some changes, made the car a bit slower. That was a bit of a pain. That was about it. The first run, a couple of good laps in there. The second run, it was just really catch the car all the time. We just lost the balance and the speed of the car. We had a problem with the valve blowing out also in the second run. Otherwise, I think we could have given Cristiano a run. To start third, it's not too bad. Certainly better than last year where we started 19th. I'm quite happy with that. Paul is in front. I think we've got a good car for the race tomorrow. I think we've got a good balance in used tires. We'll see how it goes.
MERRILL CAIN: Canada's own Paul Tracy qualified second this afternoon, driver of the #26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone, he'll start on the outside f the front row, the third time this season. He takes the second spot with a top lap of 1.00.502 seconds, that's a speed of 105.973 miles per hour. It's the second time here in the last three seasons that Paul has started second in Vancouver. And he's converted that front row starting spot to a win, that came in the 2000 race. Paul, it was a very exciting qualifying towards the end there. You pulled out all the stops to go for Cristiano, and eclipsed the track record. Talk about those last few laps.
PAUL TRACY: I had a good -- we made a change right before the start of the session. And my first run wasn't fantastic. I think it was about sixth or seventh quick. We weren't very happy with that. We made some changes back, made some other changes, and I went out. The car felt very good right away on the warm-up lap. So it was just a case of I had a clear track. It was all up to me. And I just really kind of overdrove it a little bit. I tried a little bit too hard, and I was close, but lost a little bit of time in a couple of areas just from wanting to get that time. And that was it. I mean, it doesn't take very much to lose a 10th here and a 10th there. You know, I think we're only a 10th and a half behind. So a little disappointed because the car was good. I didn't get the best out of the car, and I didn't get the best from myself. But to be second, we've had a great weekend. The car's been working really well. The car is working well on old tires, which is fantastic. And we'll see what we can do on Sunday.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll be joined by Cristiano da Matta momentarily. Before we do, let's open it up for questions for both Paul and Dario.
Q. You guys are on the same team. Is there any way you can help each other out at the start to overcome Mr. Da Matta?
PAUL TRACY: Dario said we're going to try to tie him up, put him underneath this shaky table and jump up and down on it, try to collapse it on top of him. You can be sure both Dario and myself would like to win this race. We're going to do everything we can.
MERRILL CAIN: We're joined obviously now by Cristiano da Matta, today's record-setting polesitter. Driver of the #6 Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, he wins the pole with a new track record time of 1.00.339 seconds, that's a speed of 106.260 miles per hour. It eclipses the track record of 1.00.405 seconds that was held by Dario and Gil de Ferran. The run gives Cristiano his fifth pole of the 2002 season and his first on the streets of Vancouver. It's the fifth consecutive road course pole for a Toyota-powered machine and the sixth in the last eight road courses. Cristiano, if you would, obviously a great run for you today. Congratulations on setting the track record and winning the pole. You took a little interesting tact to qualifying, something we haven't seen much this season, when you went out early. Was that more of a situation were you wanted to get a clear track?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Oh, definitely, because yesterday I couldn't have -- couldn't get not even one clear lap. It was just a zoo out there at the end of the qualifying. And I'm pretty sure nobody really got a clear lap. I think that's why the lap times yesterday were so slow. And today we knew that the only chance we could have to get a proper run would be if we go out right in the beginning of the session. So we went out. We thought for us would be more important to get a couple of decent laps, get into a rhythm, would be like more important than to get the track on its very best at the end and get maybe only one lap or the other. I think with the session the way it went yesterday, everybody of course played it different. So it was a pretty smooth qualifying for everybody, looked like from the outside.
MERRILL CAIN: Quick note. Cristiano earns one championship point obviously for winning the pole today. It gives him 121 points on the season, widens his lead over second place Bruno Junqueira to 51 points entering tomorrow's race. We'll open it back up for questions.
Q. Cristiano, you have two teammates behind you to start tomorrow. What kind of strategy are you going to apply?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I don't know (laughter). You should ask those two guys what strategy they're going to apply so I can apply my strategy, too.
PAUL TRACY: I already told them. We were going to tie you up and put you under the bench here, jump up and down until it breaks on you (laughter).
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: So I have to run away really (laughter). I'm smaller than these guys; I can't do anything about it.
Q. Cristiano, you were saying this morning, because of the problems you had yesterday, you really didn't have the time to kind of dial the car as well as you would like. You were saying it wasn't quite good in the middle of the corner. Were you able to get it really right for qualifying, or still maybe a touch off?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: No, we made it quite better for qualifying. Of course, it's natural with improvement you do session after session. This morning we just a little bit off because I think we didn't really -- not at the beginning of the session, because I think I went out with pretty good tires, at the very start of the session. But then our laps started to drop off a little bit. Then we could see really where the problems with the car were. So we made a couple of experiments during the session, and it was a very productive session. We were able to have a good look at everything, how the changes made, all the data we had between the qualifying and the -- between the morning session and qualifying. Definitely for qualifying the problem was a lot smaller. I think race cars will always have something to work on, but it was definitely a lot better.
Q. Cristiano, if you could talk about what a dramatic change it's been from yesterday to today with how everything went wrong, but by this afternoon's session, everything was going right for you.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, yesterday we just had all kinds of problems. Was strange. It was probably the first day in my whole career racing that I got back to the hotel on Friday night and I had no idea how my car was. I knew wouldn't be bad because I saw that Christian was running pretty well, so that gave me a little bit of a peace of mind. But I couldn't feel it myself. So it was frustrating. But today, how everything went bad yesterday, today was extremely smooth, the morning session and the qualifying. So it paid off.
MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano, one of the secrets to your success we kind of unveiled in Toronto was the Canadian socks you were given here on a visit to Vancouver. I understand you're wearing those same socks today.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Not today. Just for race day.
MERRILL CAIN: That will be the secret tomorrow.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, I hope so (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: We hope you washed them, too.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I'm not like my teammate. They use the same bicycle sock from Thursday all the way to Sunday, and also practices with that thing. When he's changing into his racing shoes, you better leave the track (laughter). He's so nice, but he doesn't like those shower things and washing things very much.
Q. Paul, you were fastest this morning, then had some complications getting quick in the afternoon. Was it the rise in track temperature that threw everything off?
PAUL TRACY: I don't think so. I think this morning the session went extremely smooth. The time for me in the morning, every time I went out, I went quicker, quicker, quicker. It just seemed to come naturally. And I knew what time this afternoon Cristiano had done, and I was just trying very hard and overdrove the car. I left, you know, some time out there on the track. Just a situation where, you know, when you're trying too hard, you actually go slower than just letting it happen.
Q. Paul, you said yesterday going out early might not be an advantage. Maybe after today, do you change your mind for the next weekend?
PAUL TRACY: The one thing I can say is that this track, Vancouver, they've done an excellent job preparing the track. They washed it thoroughly. The track has been very good all weekend. It was fast in the first session. There wasn't a lot of dust. And it seemed like today when Cristiano went out, there was quite a lot of rubber down, the track was clean, so he was able to do a time right away. Hats off to the people that organized the track and prepared the track. The track is in really good shape.
Q. On the track, when this track was designed years ago, it drew pretty heavy criticism. Is it more user-friendly? Is it any better than it used to be? Are you used to it now?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the track was pretty good when it started. I was quite happy. I won the first race here. I was delighted quite frankly (laughter).
PAUL TRACY: I think we both like the new track better than the old one. But I think there were some problems with tires and things like that, construction issues. But the layout I think everybody was happy with. It was just some things, fencing and things like that, that we weren't generally satisfied with. But they've made every effort to improve all the time.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Stu Ballantyne, all the guys here, have done a pretty good job. It's great to come and race in Vancouver. When you see the stands are full on Friday, makes us all feel pretty good. I think the track is up to a standard where we enjoy coming to race here as well. It's not the easiest place to pass on, but no street circuit it. It's very unforgiving. You can't make a mistake, otherwise it kind of bites you a bit. Same for everybody.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Also repair a couple places on the racetrack. There may be some places pretty bumpy last year, a little bit better this year, shaved some of the bumps. Definitely, like Paul and Dario, always enjoy here. Never saw a problem. It's getting better. Still making it better every year.
Q. I know the fastest time Cristiano did was under the track record. Obviously, you're running with a little less boost, less power. Where have you made all the differences? Is that traction control?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it's a softer tire. I think Bridgestone have really got a soft tire in comparison to what we had here in 2000. That's what I see. Also the development in the chassis, traction control a bit. I think main thing is the softer tire that Bridgestone have brought.
MERRILL CAIN: Cristiano, do you care to comment?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think it's just tires, just natural evolution of the race car, the setup for every team. Just everything is a little bit better. But the power.
Q. The time of year when you as drivers are looking for your ride next year, negotiating contracts, if that's distracting to your action on the track, how much more distracting is it this year with rumors of the future of CART, teams going to IRL, all those rumors?
PAUL TRACY: I'm hopeful that I can get a job driving da Matta's bus next year because he's going to make so much money (laughter).
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I'm hoping to get a job as Paul's domestic in some bicycle somewhere.
PAUL TRACY: I think, you know, for me, my standpoint, I believe in CART. I want to stay in CART. That's my future, short and long-term. I'm pushing forward. I'm sticking behind CART. So that's where I want to be.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I'm with Paul all the way.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I mean, I think I'll go with these guys (laughter). I think we all enjoy what we're doing here. We all love it. We love racing against the best guys, the best teams, and all these great places we get to go and race at. None of us want to give that up, so hopefully we won't have to. You know, such a good series going here. You know, the competition is so strong. We all have a great time all the same. As I said, hopefully that won't change.
Q. Paul addressed this yesterday. So Dario and Cristiano, can you answer this: Are we going to have a championship battle by the end of this year? Are you going to run away and hide?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I really hope that there's not a championship battle (laughter). But I think it's too early to make any predictions. It's half of the season now. I think Team KOOL Green has improved a lot. Of course, they changed chassis. They're a lot more -- of course, they struggled a little bit in the first couple races with the Lola on the street courses, road courses, but now they're up to speed. Ganassi is always running strong. There's a couple other teams there just getting better, too. We maybe got a little bit of an advantage over the others at the beginning of the season, but it seems like everybody's just getting more and more equal now. So I think the battle is going to be all the way to the end, although I hope it's not.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I've got a different outlook on that one. You know, I think it's going to be very difficult to catch Cristiano. The guys at Newman/Haas and Cristiano, they've done a great job this year. It's not over by any means. I know I'm pushing a hundred percent, Team KOOL Green is pushing a hundred percent, the big guy at the end there is pushing a hundred percent. We all want it pretty badly. But we'll see. We can only do our best.
MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
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