CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're happy today to be joined by two drivers for Newman/Haas Racing, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta. Both of these talented Brazilians had impressive performances in the opening round of the CART FedEx Championship Series a few weeks ago, and they'll be looking for similar performances as the series gets back on track April 12th through the 14th at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. First, we welcome in Christian Fittipaldi, driver of the No. 11 Eli Lilly Toyota/Lola for Newman/Haas Racing. Christian is in his eighth year of competition in CART and he's posted two career victories, one at Road America in 1999 and in the 2000 season finale at California Speedway. Christian started the 2002 season strong with a third place effort for new sponsor Eli Lilly at last month's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Monterrey, Mexico. Christian, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you very much. I'm all set and ready to go.
MERRILL CAIN: We're also joined today by Cristiano da Matta, driver of the No. 6 Chevron Toyota/Lola for Newman/Haas Racing. To say that Cristiano enters the event at Long Beach as the hottest driver on the circuit would be a bit of an understatement. After finishing fifth in the final season standings in 2001, Cristiano posted his fifth career FedEx Championship Series last month in Monterrey, Mexico, and with two straight wins to close out last years, he's currently riding a three-race win streak. He'll be looking to tie the CART record of four consecutive victories when he takes the green flag in Long Beach in just a little over a week. Cristiano, thank you for taking a few minutes to join us this afternoon.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: My pleasure. Thank you. I'm ready.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll open it up for questions for both Christian and Cristiano.
Q. You have a very strong first race, both of you very competitive. You've had a good test program. Things have been coming together. How do you guys explain the level of competitiveness you showed at Mexico, what you're going to hope to continue into the season? Christian, could you start?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think we had some good testing in the beginning of the year. On top of that, we change a couple things on the technical side in the team, and I think that that really helped us a lot. I think overall as a team we're looking a lot more on like the big picture right now as opposed to all the previous years where obviously we were also emphasizing that, but there was always a big internal battle like in the team. With the changes we did this year, there still is like the battle. There's no doubt about it. I actually think it's very good because that motivates really both of the drivers, but at the same time I really do think that we're looking at the big picture a lot more than what we were a couple years ago, and I think that's really making a difference. I had a very good test in Sebring about two weeks ago. I don't know. Coming out from Mexico, going on to Long Beach, I definitely feel very confident about that race.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me I think the biggest reason why we've been competitive, of course I think the changes that we made on the team during the off-season, especially in the engineering department, is one of the biggest reasons, probably the biggest reason why we started the year strong. We've been strong on off-season, too. We had a good off-season. Now last couple weeks, Christian had a great test at Sebring, so probably we will be hopefully even better for Homestead. My only concern at the moment is our oval setup. That was probably the place where we struggled the most last year, and we still don't have a hand on it like a hundred percent. It's getting better, but it's still not probably what we want to have. We're fine with our superspeedway car, but with our speedway car and our short oval car, we're a little bit concerned. But we still have some time before we head on to Japan. We have lots of ideas. I think with the way the engineering department is working, I think we're going to have a decent car over in Japan.
Q. Christian, you had a pretty interesting thing you said earlier. "I think we're looking at the big picture now." What is the big picture? What's changed from your previous perspective?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I think right now we're definitely trying to analyze all the races before we really get to the week prior to the race. We're trying, as I said before, to look at really the big picture as the whole season. Before what I felt is that we were always trying our very best, but we were going on a race-by-race championship. We thought that the whole series was one race. If we did well at that race, okay, we won the whole series. If we didn't do well at that race, then we had to go on to the next year's series, for example. I think right now we're really thinking about like all the races and concentrating to make our car even better on the places we know we are strong, and the places we know we are not as strong we're trying to understand why we're not going really that quick and do some changes in the team to make sure that once we get back there, we are going to be very, very strong.
Q. Cristiano, we have our index, dominator index. You are I think third in the index behind Sam Hornish and Michael Schumacher. You have the highest ranking of any driver without a championship in the series. Do you consider yourself a dominator in any way, especially with these three victories in a row and the potential for a fourth coming up at Long Beach?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, because I think for you to say that you've dominated a series, you have to win it in a way that Zanardi won the championship or Montoya won the championship in '99. I think that's what "dominate" is. I just had a couple of good races. If I have a bunch of other good races and eventually get to the championship, then maybe I would say that. But I'm still very, very far for dominating.
Q. For both of you, new year, team has started off great. Do you think this is possibly the year that you can replace Penske, since they're gone, as the dominating force in the series?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I hope you're absolutely right. There's no thing -- it couldn't be any better if it really happened that way. That's something that we have been fighting for, especially in my case for the last couple of years. I hope that you're absolutely right. Having said that, the competition is hard. It's very competitive. I know we always say that in the beginning of every year, but I've been with the series for a long time and it seems that instead of getting easier, it gets harder every single year, maybe because I'm getting old (laughter). Like, in my opinion, it seems that it's getting harder every year because the teams that maybe are not as strong, they really learn how to make the cars better the following year, so it becomes tighter, tighter and tighter.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me, I hope you're just right. I just disagree with one thing that you said, that Penske dominated the last two years. I think they just won the championship. Dominate is another thing. Dominate is what Ferrari did last year in Formula 1, what Ganassi did in the previous years with Zanardi and Montoya. That's dominate. They just won the championship, and they didn't win that many races, they were just consistent. It's a big difference.
Q. Do you two see the team has gelled well enough that the consistency is going to be there this year for you two?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: For us it's looking like in the road courses and the street courses, it looks like we're going to have a pretty good car. I can say that due to all the testing we've been doing, the kind of circuits, it has been good with me and Christian everywhere we've been. Just we cannot say for sure right now it's about the oval car, that concerns us a little bit, but we still have time to get our hands on that. I hope we get the consistency right.
Q. Can you both talk a little about the Long Beach race, the track, what they like about it, maybe some quirks in it?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: What I like about that track, believe it or not, I like the hairpin area, especially like in the race. You really need to be able to put the power down very well. If you can do that, you actually create a very good passing place at the end of the straight. Right after you leave the hairpin, you have a long straightaway ahead of you, so you need to exit that space as quick as you can. Then after that, I really think the new part of the track, that fountain area, then the two quick right-handers is very nice also, the new complex which we started racing on in 2000, if I'm not mistaken. I really like the area. The rest of the track is pretty straightforward. It's been exactly the same for the last, I don't know, but I would risk to say the last 10, 15 years. I really like it coming out of the hairpin in the race on the new complex.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me, I think it's one of the most challenging street tracks we go to. Maybe together with Surfers Paradise, which is another long, challenging course. I think Long Beach, there's a big challenge. You have some hard brakings, and it has all that stuff that you have to be fast on the straights, but you can't take too much down force or you struggle in the twisty parts. It's a challenge to set up the car there. It's quite different than the other street courses that you can just go, you don't even have to think about it, you just put the maximum level of down force in the car, and that's it. Long Beach has this something particular that you cannot do this. Braking is quite difficult. I enjoy the track a lot. I was actually driving a Celica there for the celebrity race yesterday. I was giving media rides. I was just having a lot of fun. It's very nice circuit.
MERRILL CAIN: Both of you guys, he asked about the circuit itself, but what do you like about racing in the market of Long Beach? One of CART's most popular races in the United States, a lot of celebrities, fans that come out. What is it like racing in that environment for you? We'll start with you, Christian.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I would be able to answer this a couple years ago, but right now I can't answer it to you exactly the same way that you like position the question. But Cristiano thinks it's the babes because he told me already that he thinks that the Californian babes are really awesome. I can't talk about that any more because I'm a married guy already and my days are gone. So I'm a serious person right now. So I really enjoy the Californian weather and the big crowd. I honestly think it's awesome for us to go there because there's a bunch of people, and it's great for us to put a very nice show in front of a lot of people. I think it's good for the series in general, and it's excellent for us as drivers.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think it's just like what Christian said. I think he's right on everything. On the top of that, I think it's fun to go to a place that it's not only a big race, but it's a big event, too. So there's a lot of people. There's a lot of things going on - not only the race. Of course, the race for us is what matters, but it's just the atmosphere around the whole event is great. It's just a fun place to be.
MERRILL CAIN: And the babes aren't bad either, right?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Not too bad.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: I told you.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: I cannot say that, too, because I'm a serious guy, too. I have a serious relationship going, so I cannot say much.
Q. We're looking ahead. There's a bunch of CART teams. They're going to be heading off to Indiana. As near as I know the Newman/Haas guys aren't going. Does that take anything away or is that to you guys just another race really?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Obviously, Indy is always going to be Indy. It's a huge race and everything. But unfortunately we're not in the position of going up there right now and feeling that we can put the same amount of effort that we can put in the CART series. We think that the CART series is definitely more important for us than actually going for a one-off race. I guess that's why we're putting all our efforts into the CART program. I'm pretty sure when the right time arrives, we will be going over there together with all the other teams. But, unfortunately, based on how we think, we don't think that the right time is there. We're going to put all the effort in the CART series and try to win the whole series by all means.
Q. Christian, looking ahead now, way down the road, you certainly have a lot of racing left in your career, do we see Christian Fittipaldi as a team owner at some point in the distant future?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Oh, that's a pretty interesting question. I see myself as a team owner, yes, in terms of a challenge. In terms of maybe the headaches you get as a team owner, no, I don't see myself as a team owner. So at the moment, as you said, I still have a lot of racing ahead of me. Right now I'm really concentrating on my driving like the best way as possible. At the same time, I really give it some thought sometimes. Like I haven't made up my mind if I want to be a team owner one day. But every now and then when I have a little bit of spare time, I stop to think a little bit like if I had a team right now, what would be my team, what would I do with my team, would I do X or Y, would it be different somewhere? This is what I do basically when I have free time. But answering your question, if I would have a team in the future, right now I have a lot of motivation to do that, especially to go very well, but I don't know if I would do it.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: I have one thing to add on Christian's answer. When he stops racing over here, he wants to race touring cars in Brazil. We have this agreement between us both. I think the team he's talking about is a stock car team in Brazil, which means he is going to be the driver.
Q. Speaking of Brazil, we don't seem to get a whole lot of news if there's going to be another race in Brazil. Obviously for both of you that's a big deal, to have a race in your home country. Can you comment on that?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, it's tough question. Something we miss a lot. For me, since I stopped racing Formula 3 in Brazil in 1994, I only had two opportunities to race back in Brazil, which was the two CART events I raced there in '99 and 2000. It's not that it's completely different, but it's not a normal race either. You just have some special taste for you. You're there and like you have lots of friends there and you have the crowd really pulling for you. It's just different. I miss it a lot. I wish we knew -- wish we could have a better answer if we could be back there, how soon or how later we going to be back there. I just hope we back there one day and get to race again.
MERRILL CAIN: We are looking into obviously the option of racing returning to Brazil. Hopefully we'll see something with that down the road. Again, we're looking at the all the options. I think it would be great for the guys to go back there and race there.
Q. Could you go into a little more detail on what you think might not be right 100% with your oval setup? Is it an arrow issue, balance issue front to rear, mechanical grip? What do you feel you have to work on?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: For example, only Cristiano drove the car. The last time I drove the car on an oval was a Firestone test at the end of last year in December in Fontana, which we had obviously the superspeedway setup on the car. The car felt very, very good. So for me the last time I drove the car felt good. I'm going to pass this question on to him because I think he's much better to answer it to you than I am.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, for me I think we had a lot of time to discuss everything that happen on the Homestead test, which was the last time we tested the car in an oval. We believe since a bunch of other Lolas last year and this year have been running really fast on the ovals, we really believe that it's not arrow, because the car is of course obviously good in that oval configuration. The arrow really works well. I mean, at least it's been working well for anybody, so the problem can't be arrow. If it was something as easy to fix as arrow balance from front to rear, I would be very happy now. We believe it's something we're doing mechanically that's upsetting the balance of the car. We have some good clues for what the answer for the problem will be. But we still don't have anything confirmed. We believe it's mechanical, but also I cannot say a hundred percent sure that it's -- I cannot confirm that it's mechanical. But everything indicates that it is.
Q. Cristiano, your name keeps coming up in connection with NASCAR, particularly the Busch Series. I understand your main interest is CART. Can you talk a little bit about what you want to achieve or what you're looking for from NASCAR Busch?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: That's for Christian, not for me.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Actually, I've always like followed that type of racing because I'm a race fan. Whatever's on TV on Sunday, if I'm sitting down at home, like I'm really watching it. Instead of going by what everyone says, NASCAR is this, NASCAR is that, I wanted to try and take a peek over there. As I said before, all my efforts are on like the CART series and trying to do a great job this year. But at the same time I wanted to try and understand that form of motor racing, understand how everything works, see eventually if there's a good opportunity for me in the future, if I really like what I am experiencing this year, maybe it could be a way to go. But right now, if you ask me, "Is Christian next year going to be racing NASCAR," no, I don't think so, Christian is not going to be racing NASCAR. I really enjoy the types of cars that I race. I get a big thrill when I'm driving them. I'm using my Busch races as more of a learning curve for me and really understand how the sport is over there instead of taking a dive with no experience. If I ever did that, I think I would be going into the sport in a wrong way. I'm really on a learning curve over there. I'm going to see what's going to happen.
Q. Cristiano, this is a long break between Mexico and Long Beach. When you're on a roll like you are, many times people want to get with it. Do you feel some frustration at having no races for the last three or four weeks?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. It's not something that is not expected. The calendar was there, the schedule was there since the end of last year. We all knew that was going to happen. We just getting ready for that. It was the same last year. We went to Mexico and then we had a good month between Mexico and Long Beach. This year is the same, no different. I think we all in the CART series know in the beginning of the season we have this big gap on the schedule, but we better enjoy them right now because after June we're not going to be at home much. So we try to enjoy it in some other way.
Q. We talked earlier about your love of blues music, Stevie Ray. Had you had time to get caught up on some of your music?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I haven't been playing blues much lately. I've been playing guitar a lot. Been playing a lot of folk music from Brazil, a lot of bossa nova, just trying to learn some new stuff. I've been playing blues for a while, not that I'm a good blues guitar player, I'm still a very bad blues guitar player. I just wanted to try something else, see if I do something better than I play blues.
Q. What are you finding out?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: I'm a lousy guitar player no matter what kind of music I play.
MERRILL CAIN: We all know that's not true.
Q. Christian, while you may not want to race Busch or stock cars up here, I know there's growing popularity in Brazil with American-style stock cars. Are you interested in doing anything in Brazil?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No, no, no. Definitely not now. I think, for example, both myself and also Cristiano, we are going to end up over there, but I would say that's 15 years down the road.
Q. In your retirement you'll race them?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. I would say in my retirement, I don't want to think about anything else. I don't want to race. I just want to look and talk to people, remember the good old days. I think we still have about three to five years that we'll still at one stage of our lives going to enjoy the racing down there.
Q. How about sports cars, a lot of people are going over like Daytona, Sebring, when you have free time?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: No. At the moment -- although it's a very nice kind of vehicle and very well-built, but I don't have any interest like in that type of racing right now at the moment, no.
Q. Cristiano, do you?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me, I enjoy a lot this kind of racing, the endurance races. I like to race the bigger ones, like the Daytona, Sebring and LeMans one day, but it's not on my plan for the near future. If it happens, the opportunity shows up in front of me, maybe I'll take it. Depends a lot on if it's going to upset my schedule in CART or not because, of course, that's the main focus. But I'm going to try hard to race there one day for sure, I just don't know when. I don't have a big worry to race there right now, but one day I'm pretty sure it's one kind of racing I'm really going to want to do.
Q. Christian, I know you were testing I believe at Bristol. You were scheduled to race there in the Busch race, then you had a test with your CART car that popped up. How disappointing was it to kind of get all revved up about running a stock car and then it doesn't happen?
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Well, it is a little bit like on the sad side, but at the same time it's very clear in my contract that the CART series has like No. 1 status over any situation, including a race situation on the Busch Series that could eventually come up. We were actually due to run there, but unfortunately the CART team scheduled a test for me to do Thursday and Friday. It was okay if I only ran Thursday, but then by running Friday I wasn't able to go to Bristol to get the car like in the race and race on Saturday. Now my plans are returning Monday and Tuesday in a test session. I'm going from Long Beach to Virginia, Richmond, right after the race. Right after the Montegi, we come back, I'm going to do the race the following Friday, my first race of the year, in Richmond.
MERRILL CAIN: Christian, Cristiano, thank you very much for joining us in the CART media teleconference this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck coming up in the race in Long Beach in a little over a week.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: We look forward to seeing you on the track at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, seen on the FOX Television Network on Sunday, April 14th, with air time scheduled for 3:30 p.m. eastern time. Again, thanks to all who participated in today's call. Have a very pleasant afternoon.
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