April 27, 2002
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. We'll go ahead and get started with our Top 3 press conference following today's very exciting Bridgestone Potenza 500. We'll get started with Dario Franchitti as we await our second place finisher and our champion today, Alex Tagliani and Bruno Junqueira, respectively. Dario finished third today driving the #27 KOOL Honda/Reynard Bridgestone. It's his second career podium finish at Twin Ring, Motegi. The other podium came in 2000 when he finished second over all. This is his 27th career podium finish overall and his first since he finished second in the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. Dario, very quickly we'll go to you for a question. Obviously, pit strategy and fuel strategy played a key role in this race. Towards the end I know you were hoping for a yellow at the end. You were looking pretty good. I know you wanted to bring home that first win for Honda here.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah. Actually, the pit strategy, we made the mistake very early in the race. We pitted very near the end of a yellow. We didn't hear the call of "one lap to go" on the radio, and the starter didn't give us the one finger, so we came in. As we exited the pit lane, Paul and Tony were coming around, put me a lap down. Then Bruno put me a lap down. From that point, it was a pretty big struggle. We were hoping for a yellow to work out way and put us back onto the lead lap. It didn't really work. So from that point we were really playing catch-up, trying to open up the window, hoping after Bruno pitted, and then between Bruno pitting and the end of the race there was going to be a yellow we could use. But it didn't work out. So that's the way it goes.
MERRILL CAIN: Alex Tagliani joins us now. He finished second today, driving the #33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard Bridgestone. He matches his career best finish. His previous second place finish came at Toronto in the year 2001. This is his fourth career podium finish in CART. Alex, if you'd kind of go over your day with us. Obviously an exciting finish towards the end there and a good performance from you in the Ford.
ALEX TAGLIANI: I'm very pleased for the Player's team. My guys worked really hard this weekend. We had all kinds of problems in the first two days, changed engines quite a bit and cars as well. So didn't have a lot of rest. The result is really good because at least keeps a little bit pressure out of our shoulder. We're going to have a good month before Milwaukee.
MERRILL CAIN: One other quick note on Alex before we get to Bruno. It was his career best finish on an oval. His previous best oval result was third at California Speedway. That rounded out the 2001 season. Bruno Junqueira is the champion of the Bridgestone Potenza 500. Driving the # 4 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone. This is his second career victory, his first since winning at Road America last year. It's his first career victory on an oval. His previous best finish on an oval was fourth at California Speedway, and also at Milwaukee last year. Bruno if you'd tell us a little bit about your day. Obviously great performance for you. I know you talked in previous press conferences we had over the past two days how important this was for you to bring home a victory for Toyota here in Japan.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah, I'm really happy to get this win for Toyota. And I really thankful for them because they give a very good engine for all the three days. All the three days, I was fastest. Toyota done a good qualifying engine and a very good and reliable engine for the race. I'm happy for them because I know that means a lot for Toyota to win in Japan, their home country. But I'm really happy for myself and for Team Target. We had two terrible races on start of the season, the first two races. But I knew if I was fast, I could do a good result. This weekend everything just went smooth and right for me. All the days the car was good just out of the box, you know. And I'm really happy. I hope that we can continue to do good races in Milwaukee. But now I'm going to race in (inaudible), I'm going to try to represent CART very well as I did last year.
MERRILL CAIN: If you would talk to us a little about the strategy of the race. It obviously played a key role, as well. Tell us about your strategy on the day, if you would.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I know that Tony and Paul Tracy, they were fast. And because of the draft, it's really difficult to break away. I know how Tony and Tracy are. I knew they would try to pass me on the first lap. I did a good start, but nothing you can do. Tony just get my tow and pass me on three. It was okay, I relax. Then Kenny just came and pass me. But then I pass him again. Then came Tracy. And I just let Tony and Tracy fight for the lead and just follow them because I knew we had to break away from the other guys, and that's what we did. We just break away. Unfortunately, I got some traffic, and they open a little bit, but then they got traffic and I got back to them, you know. And I knew that you had to run to the last pit stop because before that there was no reason to fight because just after the last pit stop then you really should race. Then Tracy had a problem, and then I was following Tony. Were two pit stops to go, and I decided to try to have a pass Tony to see if I could do it, and how my car handle run in the front. Then I pass him. My car was good running in the front. Then he try to pass me again. And I let him pass and start to try to pass him again. I just stay behind, if you could break away from the others at that time. Then in the end, I got a lead. We had a problem in one of the pit stops. But they told me too late, I was already turn three. Then at pit I have to do a drive-through. But my car was really good all the race. I could pass Tagliani. I was behind Dario, but had to stop again. Just drove to the victory. That's it.
MERRILL CAIN: We did want to give everyone a quick medical update on the condition of Townsend Bell. This is according to Dr. Steve (inaudible), director of medical affairs. Driver Townsend Bell sustained bruises and abrasions on both knees as a result of the single-car incident, occurred in turn three on lap 140. The CART medical staff performed x-rays in the infield medical facility which revealed that Bell did not sustain any fractures in the incident. He will return home as scheduled back to the United States. We'll now open it up for questions.
Q. Bruno, would you say this was a more satisfying victory for you than your first win at Elkhart Lake last year?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: When I won Elkhart Lake, I told you that was best. Then that one is in the past. This one is more satisfying. If I win again, the next one will be more satisfying. Win is win, no matter what. That's the maximum that a driver can achieve. The only thing better can happen is to win the championship. But is a long way to go.
Q. Bruno, also right at the end there you really seemed that you came through traffic really well and, boom, you went. Did you get your car better at all or was it good all the way through?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: My car was really good all the way through the race. And I stop the car very good in traffic, not too fast by myself, because I know that I would have a lot of traffic. And if I need it on the last pit stop, then I will change or make it better by myself if I have to race against someone. But I didn't have to do it. Then my car keeps really good in traffic, and good by myself whole race. I'm going to have to thank a lot the Team Target that did a very good job.
Q. Could you make a comment about the pit lane speed limiter. Obviously, this is done for safety. Obviously, we don't want any recurrences of what happened to Alex last year. It seemed like it was a little bit too long. Do you think there could be some way to have perhaps a two-phase speed limit in the pit lane? What are your thoughts on that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think we suffered from it today because of the timing of our first stop. So I think stops are the same for everybody. I think it does help the safety. You know, absolutely, I think it was our decision to do it. It does feel like a long time when you're crawling around there at 50 miles an hour miles an hour. But I think it was an absolutely correct decision because we can't have what happened to Alex happen again.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think that's a nice thing. I suggest at the driver's meeting to have a two phase, maybe 50 miles per hour on the pit lane and 80 or a hundred, depending on the track, going out of the pit. That is still slow for the car, but not going to be so painful. But I think you have to have it, because what happened to Alex cannot happen anymore.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I think safety first, but after this race I think they will collect some data. There's always room for improvement. I'm pretty sure something will change, but for the best.
MERRILL CAIN: Bruno becomes the third different winner in as many races this season. We also want to go over the Top 5 in points. Dario Franchitti leads the point standings right now with 34 points. Michel Jourdain, Jr. is second with 32 points. Cristiano da Matta in third with 27. Alex Tagliani in fourth with 26 points. And Bruno rounds out the Top 5; he has 23 points.
Q. Following up, this was the first oval with the prescribed pit stop limits. Do you think it's having the intended effect? Do you think it made the show more exciting or do you think it was more of a problem in this case or difficulty?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it was good because, as Bruno and I were just talking about it, you can run flat out which is really what it's all about. Unfortunately, I think the biggest factor was probably the length of the pit stop. Like I said before, I think that was the right choice. The reason I think there was such a gap between the first three maybe on the second lap was because we made a mistake with strategy. It's definitely an improvement. For the driver it's much more fun to be able to go as hard as you can and not have to save fuel and all this nonsense. It's a lot more fun.
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