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CART FedEx Championship Series: The Sure for Men Rockingham 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Sure for Men Rockingham 500

CART FedEx Championship Series: The Sure for Men Rockingham 500

Patrick Carpentier
Cristiano da Matta
Dario Franchitti
Darren Manning
September 14, 2002


CORBY, UNITED KINGDOM

MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Let's go ahead and get started with our top three press conference following a very exciting Sure for Men Rockingham 500 here today at Rockingham Motor Speedway. We are joined by Cristiano da Matta, who finished second this afternoon, driver of the #6 Havoline/Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He places second, captures his ninth podium of the season. The series points leader widens his gap even further in the championship, if you can believe that, opening up a 58-point lead with four races to go. Cristiano, I guess the race probably couldn't have played out any better for you, I guess if you were one seat over, but not a bad race for you. Most importantly, you build on your points lead. You still have that with four races to go. Things are looking good for the championship.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah. I was, of course, very worried about the points lead coming into here. I felt like I had the car to win the race, but out on the racetrack was very difficult to overtake, with the short straights, long, fast corners here at Rockingham, makes it maybe a little more complicated. But my car worked good. My team gave me some very good pit stops. It's very important when you can collect 16 points at this stage of the championship. Now I have 58 points. Only four races left with 58-points advantage, it's a pretty good advantage. Of course, I still cannot relax. Mathematically it's not over. But I'm very pleased. Starting to miss winning the race. It's been a little while.

MERRILL CAIN: Not a lot of sympathy up there for you. Patrick Carpentier joins us, finishing third this afternoon, driver of the #32 Player's/Indeck/Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone for his third podium of the season, his first on an oval track this year. This solidifies his hold on fourth place in the championship. He boosts his point total to 115 points. Patrick, an excellent performance for you. You started 10th. Moving up through the field, you have to be happy with a third place finish here today.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I'm pretty happy. It was a good day for us. I got to admit, the guys did a fantastic job down pit lane, the last pit stop. That went from I think seventh or sixth to third place. Lift my hat that these guys. I owe them a beer tonight. It was good. After that, we just had to stay there. I tried to pass Cristiano there, but it was pretty tough to make a pass. I'm pretty happy with third.

MERRILL CAIN: Instead of beer, maybe some Scotch. We're awaiting Dario Franchitti. Let's open it up for questions for Patrick and Cristiano.

Q. Cristiano, how difficult is it for you to run for points versus running for the win?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, believe it or not, I wasn't running for points only. I was trying to win the race, too. I had a pretty good chance; it just didn't happen it. If it doesn't happen in the pits, it's not going to happen on the racetrack unless a very, very different situation to a normal situation happens. Every time I had traffic, I saw the leaders had traffic ahead, there was something going on.

(Dario Franchitti enters the interview room with bagpipers.)

MERRILL CAIN: No one can say you don't have a flair for the dramatic. Scotland the Brave, correct?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's pretty cool, isn't it?

MERRILL CAIN: We are joined by your champion, Dario Franchitti, driver of the #27 Team Green Honda/Lola/Bridgestone. This is the 10th win of his career and third of the season that saw him take his first ever oval Champ car victory. He moves into a tie for 10th on the all-time victory list and moved to within seven points of second place in the season championship. Unofficially now let's run down the top five before we get on to Dario's comments. Cristiano da Matta lead the championship with 191 points, widening his lead, Bruno Junqueira second with 133 points, Dario Franchitti now in third with 126, Patrick Carpentier with 115 points, and Christian Fittipaldi rounds off the top five with 98 points on the season. Dario, talk about the win. This is a roller coaster of emotions for you. Your mom is here with you for the second time. You had some struggles early in the race, bad pit stop early, but you came back and ultimately the pits won it for you late in the race.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: My mom, both grandmothers, great aunt. It was an interesting day, shall we say. I knew we had a great car. In qualifying yesterday, I made a pretty bad job of it and we were still able to qualify reasonably near the front. At the start, it was just very difficult to get around anybody. Luckily Paul stayed away from me this time, so I was pretty grateful for that (laughter). I didn't talk to him about it this time before the start. It seemed to work. From that point everything was fine. Came in for the first stop in order. Trying to leave, I was on the limiter trying to slip the clutch, it just stalled. I thought it was a traction control problem. I switched that off, the same thing happened. Obviously, it was a clutch deal. So that put us to the back. We ran a sequence after. My team manager came up with a new strategy to get us out of sequence, get us in some clean air. Everybody else came in the pits. I got some pretty decent laps. I had a clear track. I could run pretty quickly, rather than a pace being dictated by the cars in front. We were hoping there was going to be a yellow flag when I wanted to come in. That way we could have put a lap on the field. There wasn't a yellow, so we came out fourth. That was certainly an improvement anyway. Had a problem with one of the tires. Thought it was a wheel bearing initially. It was a vibration that was getting worse and worse. Came to the point I couldn't pretty much see where I was going. I don't know if it was a wheel weight or tire issue. We had to make another pit stop. No problems. After that, came down to the last pit stop. I've really been giving my guys a very hard time this year about the pit stops. If they ever needed to do one that was a peach, it was right there, and they did. It was perfect. We came out in the lead. After that, I could really stretch my legs, get going, because it cleared up pretty much the whole race, pretty much the 30 last laps. Just terrific to win, win here, first oval race, at home.

MERRILL CAIN: We mentioned this is your 10th Champ car victory. How can you place this in terms of what this means to you? How does it feel to you?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: This one's pretty good, I have to say. It's difficult to say this is the best. Right now this one feels -- this is a great feeling, put it that way. After tomorrow, it will all be about the next race in Miami. Right now it feels great.

MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it back up for questions.

Q. During the race, once the restarts got going and everybody started building up momentum, it was difficult to pass. Talk about the opportunities to pass, they came on the restarts, talk about that, and what happened once everything got wound up and everybody was up to speed?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I think on cold tires, there's different performance on the cars. Some cars are better, some cars are not as good. In qualifying yesterday, when everybody has warm tires, the difference between the lap times, you could see how many cars there were within 3/10ths in qualifying. I think the bigger the difference is on equipment, the more passing you're going to see. I think after everybody was up to speed, tires up to temperature and pressure, I think everybody was running very similar lap times. It makes it very, very difficult to find a way around.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I agree absolutely with Cristiano. The other thing is not many people are making mistakes out there. There's no slow cars for everybody to back up behind. The 19 cars out there were all running very close lap times. You know, I guess in that way, if you want to see passing all the time, CART right now is a victim of its own success, I guess.

MERRILL CAIN: It marks the first time that all three engine manufacturers in the series have finished on the podium since Mid-Ohio. It's also the fifth win of the season for Honda and the second here at Rockingham. First came last year in the initial race here run at Rockingham.

Q. How much of a psychological breakthrough is this, winning an oval, in context of what you might be doing next year?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'll tell you that in Fontana, I guess. We've always come close. The last time in Chicago, I think we had the quickest car there. But as a team, we didn't do the best job. Because of that, we didn't win. Yeah, is it psychological? I don't know. It certainly feels good.

Q. Did you push a barrier down?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Again, I don't know. We've tried for a long time. So many different things have got in the way of me winning. It's just nice that it's finally done.

Q. We had a bit of fun at the expense of the English the last couple days. Darren did a pretty good job, don't you think?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I tell you, it wasn't easy conditions. He stuck in there all day. From that point, I think he did a great job. I think he found the first couple laps interesting. I watched him have a huge moment in turn two. I had one problem. I tried to pass him into turn two, he closed the door pretty hard. I was alongside. Had to get out of it. Little exchange, dive-bombing move on Michel Jourdain. Took him up on the wall. Give him a chance, he'll learn. I guess you have a bit more respect for it when you've hit the ball and realize how much it hurts when you do. Wouldn't you agree?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, I agree (laughter).

Q. We all know how difficult it is to pass on this track. Is there anything that could be done to the aerodynamics to the car, rule changes, to improve the possibilities of passing on this track?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: To me I think the wing setup that we have for Fontana would work here. But it's very difficult to pass because this track has four 90-degree corners. We go from the wall, to the apex, back to the wall. There's no constant line around it. Straightaways are fairly short. The time you have to make a pass is actually -- like today, you probably saw a lot of people going in and then back after that. You basically don't have a lot of straightaways. I think the Hanford device would create a bit more turbulence. But the way the last corner is done, I think it would give the guys behind a chance to get a good run on the guys up front.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know what to do. It's very difficult, again. I think if you put big wings on, I don't know, it would certainly take some of the skill away because I think you'd be able to run easily flat out, which right now takes some doing. If you put the big wings on, it would be too easy. It's difficult with a track where you always appear to be in a corner. That makes it incredibly difficult to pass.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Another thing, I think now we have 19 cars running. Everybody has a pretty good car. Talk about the races with so much passing on the ovals in the old days, with 28 cars running, big difference on performance, every time you have traffic. If you see the race here last year, there was a lot more passing than this year because the teams were not so even as this year. There were more cars, so more slow cars, you were lapping people all the time. The opportunities end up presenting to you.

Q. Dario, yesterday you said you'd take some risks that you normally wouldn't take. Did you take any risks today other than watching some big moments?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, because the car was good. Like I say, I couldn't get close enough to really have a sort of serious go. There's obviously a line between a risk and a silly move. That's a polite way of putting it. As I say, I didn't have really any opportunity to do that. I think we took maybe in the pits a risk with the strategy, but it certainly paid off.

Q. Patrick, you made some changes aerodynamic-wise, more downforce for the race during the warm-up. Can you talk about that? Looked like you were making good moves at the start of the race.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it worked for the restarts. But let me tell you, when I was by myself, it was pretty long because the cars behind me were getting closer. At the end there when I was following these two guys, I was trying to stay close to them. One time Michael Andretti came out of the pits, met him in all the corners. I lost a bit of time. As long as I could stay pretty close to these guys, there was no problem. If they would have left me, you probably would have seen Oriol Servia coming back and giving me a run. It was good. We knew we were going to run in traffic pretty much all day, which is what we did. Those wings were very good to make a couple of passes on the restarts, just to be able to stay wide open pretty much all the way around so when somebody was making a mistake, somebody could capitalize on it. It was good. It was a bit slow down the straightaway. At the end of the day, it turned out to be pretty good.

Q. About two-thirds of the way through the race, Michael was a lap down, running right in front of you. It's the first time we've seen Michael let somebody go by. Did he wave you by?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely. I came out of turn three. I didn't know Michael was a lap down at the time. He just moved over. I thought he was going in the pits. He waved me through. He's done it a couple times before last season. I've done it for Michael, as well. It works quite well back and forth. Certainly there's a big advantage for me. He doesn't lose anything by doing it, for sure. It's very nice of him to do it, for sure.

Q. What did you think of the reception at the media center, bagpipes?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Never happened before. Awesome. Absolutely awesome.

Q. Emotional day?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Very, yes.

MERRILL CAIN: Do you get that on the way out, too?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Hope so (laughter).

PATRICK CARPENTIER: They follow him to the airport.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: To make sure I leave.

MERRILL CAIN: Congratulations on an awesome race. We'll see you in a couple weeks. We'll go ahead and get started with Darren Manning who joins us from Team St. George with his thoughts following his first Champ race here. Driver of the #19 RAC Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. Darren finished ninth today and became the first driver to score a top 10 finish in his CART debut since Tora Tagaki placed 10th in Monterrey, Mexico. He also became the first rookie to lead a lap in debut since Scott Dixon did it last year in Monterrey, Mexico. Darren pretty impressive run for you. It's not an exaggeration to say you know your way around this place. Not quite at those speeds, not quite in these cars. What did it feel like for you? What do you think you did well? What could you have improved upon?

DARREN MANNING: It was all very good really considering the short buildup time we had. The team did just a great job. We didn't want to say too much to you guys, but we were always pretty confident the car was going to be quick. It was just a shame we didn't get any practice qualifying runs before actual qualifying. We would have been a bit further up the grid. A little disappointing. I made a mistake in the pit stops, overshot a bit. I think it was when we were in the back. Didn't make too much difference. Unfortunately, we had an edge-out fail in one of the crucial pit stops towards the end when everybody came in. We only had a splash and dash because of the strategy, a bit like Dario. The weight jack failed. We spent about 30 seconds sorting out - what felt about 10 minutes actually to me, probably only about three, I guess. So, yeah, I mean, you never know. We could have been sitting up here in the proper press conference for top three if things had gone our way.

MERRILL CAIN: Talk about your feelings. You led a lap. What was that like? What was it like to battle with Dario?

DARREN MANNING: It was good. I had good clear battles with Michael, Kenny towards the end there, passing a few people on the starts. I made one big move on I think it was Jourdain going into four. Unfortunately, I got a big push. I think that's a bit of experience. I must apologize if I did run him up against the back. I wanted to pass. I didn't want to trundle around to the back. The team didn't tell me I was leading either. I wasn't looking at my pit board. I was trying to keep in the zone and concentrate on not making a mistake. When the safety car came out, they were waving everybody through, they came to me and they stopped me, I said, "Bloody hell, I must have been leading this race." Bit of a shock really. Put the oil mixture up, let's go for it now (laughter). I was always at the back thinking, "Bloody hell, here we go again." The team just did a great job. Big thanks to St. George, RAC, Rockingham. I think they put on a great show. Hopefully enough to maybe do something next year.

MERRILL CAIN: Let's take a few questions.

Q. You lost your right rear wing plate. You were able to run well without it. How did it affect the car? How were you able to do that?

DARREN MANNING: It was three wheels that kept going. No chance I was going to let something like that stop me. I was getting a lot of push in the car, as well. The front end wasn't working. I was trying to trim it out with the weight jack. Put some cross-weights across the car. It actually helped the balance of the car a little bit. But, yeah, it didn't really affect it too much. The boys didn't tell me until I got to a yellow flag. I really couldn't see it in the wing mirror. They did mention something about it in one of the yellow flag incidents, but said, "Just keep going." It was all right. Only 220 miles an hour, don't worry about it, walls and things.

MERRILL CAIN: Big margin for error.

DARREN MANNING: Inches (laughter).

Q. At the beginning of the race, a bit of a battle between yourself and Dario.

DARREN MANNING: He wasn't coming through, let me tell you. We had a bit of a go. I had one chop into two, and he had one chop into one. It was all right. Friendly rivalry.

Q. Dario said the first time you hit the wall, it might take a bit of an edge off the driving.

DARREN MANNING: What do you mean, I hit the wall once in ASCAR. It did hurt, trust me. Nothing will take an edge off me. I don't have brain cells to worry about that. No, that's right. I'm sure it will. I wasn't pushing maximum with the car. Like I said, if there was a big problem with something like the endplate, I'm sure I would have felt it. I haven't really put a foot wrong in before this. It was probably about 100 or 200 miles, something like that. I was still taking it relatively easy, but still with a bit of a margin for error.

Q. I was told you had a moment at one stage.

DARREN MANNING: It was bigger than a moment. It was a bit after trouser filler, put it that way. Sorry. No, turn two, just come out on brand-new tires. Again, we didn't have a chance to scrub any tires in. Every time I pit stopped, we had to go out on brand-new tires, didn't get a chance to scrub any in. Yeah, just wanted to keep with the guy in front of me, kept it flat. I think Alex as well came around the lap, there were these two black lines on turn two. Got to be impressive, don't you, on your debut?

MERRILL CAIN: We don't know what's going to happen with the future of the team. What are your thoughts? Would you like to do this again?

DARREN MANNING: Definitely, I love this race. It's very tough. You like a challenge really up against quality drivers all the way through the field. Even when I was 16, 17, 18 on the road, it was still just as hard battling as I was for the lead. Classy drivers and teams in this championship. Just fantastic. I'd like to be part of it really. I think I've shown I can run with the best, with guys that have won races, legends in this series. I'd like to be part of it, become one of them.

Q. Look as fresh as a daisy.

DARREN MANNING: I've been training hard for this one.

Q. Not much of a problem physically?

DARREN MANNING: No, it's all right. Trust me, Formula 1 cars, they're pretty physical things to drive. That was part of not the criteria, but from my point of view I wanted to make sure that wasn't an issue, that I was as fresh on my last lap. To be honest, trying to get people out of the way on that start, I didn't actually see the white flag. I didn't miss the double checkers. I knew what that one was. Yeah, I got out a bit dizzy. I nearly fell over. A funny sensation.

MERRILL CAIN: Darren, congratulations on a great effort. Hope to see you again soon.

DARREN MANNING: Thank you, guys.

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