CART FedEx Championship Series: The 500
Topics: The 500
MERRILL CAIN: We'll get started with our top three press conference, following today's qualifying for tomorrow's 500 Presented by Toyota. We'll start out first today with Cristiano da Matta, defending race winner here, driver of the #1 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone, taking the third spot in today's qualifying with a time of 31.679 seconds, that's a speed of 230.575 miles per hour. Cristiano started third in last of the each of the three oval races CART has run this year. He went on to win at Chicago and place second at England. Probably not quite where you want to be seated, but not a bad run. Quite honestly, if you're starting in the first couple rows, I think it means a lot anyway.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, it's good to be with these two guys here again like we were in Australia. But I prefer the arrangements we had in Australia with me in the middle. Of course, it's a 500-mile race. The important thing is to have a consistent car for the race. Qualifying is always important, qualifying up front, because at least from the start you are already clear from the rest of the pack. I mean, third is not too bad at all. Third is a pretty good place to start here. I mean, we had a good run. The car is performing well. The engine is good. I think for the race, it will be quite strong tomorrow.
MERRILL CAIN: Qualifying second this afternoon, Bruno Junqueira, driver of the #4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone. He will be starting on the outside of the front row after posting a time of 31.610 seconds, a speed of 231.145 miles per hour, earning his best oval track starting spot since winning the pole at Motegi, Japan, also the fifth time this year Bruno has started on the front row. Another great run for you. You seem to be quick on ovals. Talk about the performance of the car this afternoon.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: The car was very good in qualifying. We struggled a lot yesterday. We improved a little bit today. Qualifying, the car was really good. It was really difficult to drive. But I'm quite pleased to start second. I wasn't expecting. Maybe top five. With just Tony left, I started to hope a little bit, maybe I could get a pole. But Tony was really fast all weekend, and he got the pole. I hope I can get the race.
MERRILL CAIN: Tony Kanaan is your polesitter for tomorrow's 500 Presented by Toyota. Driver of the #10 Pioneer/World Com Honda/Lola/Bridgestone, he wins the pole for the 500, earning his fourth pole of his Champ Car career, and his second of the season, his first coming at Miami, his adopted hometown, with a time of 31.483 seconds, that's a speed of 232.011 miles per hour. The pole gives Tony a championship point and earns him 81 points on the seen. As Bruno pointed out, you've been fast all weekend long. It seems like you had the pole in your hand up until the very last lap. Talk about the approach to the race tomorrow.
TONY KANAAN: To begin with, it was a payback. Remember Japan?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I remember something from Japan. I was watching these two guys. You know, Tony was on pole in Japan. He gets out of the car, congratulates everybody. Then Bruno goes out, he's like watching. Bruno goes by the start/finish line, improves his time. Today I saw the other side of the situation. Bruno got out of the car, "Yeah!" Tony goes out and he's like, "Yeah." It's funny to see how both were reacting.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: It's between friends. It's okay.
TONY KANAAN: What can I say? I can't complain much about my car. We knew we had a good car. Obviously, I got a huge draft this morning. But I did a run by myself, and you did a 232.3 this morning. When you have some cars around the track, sometimes you draft even if you don't have anybody in front of you. I knew I could do a high 231. Obviously, my first lap was a 232. I just cruised in the second lap. I enjoyed my ride.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: 231.3.
TONY KANAAN: Exactly (laughter).
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I didn't want to make you look bad, so I did two laps (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: Tony, talk to us about your approach to the race. Obviously, a very long race. How much does starting up front help?
TONY KANAAN: It feels good, that's it. Doesn't help anything. By turn one, I think I'll be third or fourth. By turn three, I'll be first again. It's going to be like that all the race. It's the only race you don't have the advantage to start on the pole. But I'll take the pole because it feel goods to have clean air. After the last weekend that I couldn't see anything behind these two guys, it's good to have clean air. I would say it just feels good. But the race, you're going to see a lot of passing. It's open for everybody. Anybody can win.
MERRILL CAIN: Before we open it up for questions, this is the fifth pole of the season for Honda and the second for the manufacturer here at California Speedway. The other came with Gil de Ferran when he set the world closed-course speed record of 30.255 seconds, 241.428 miles per hour, coming in the year 2000.
Q. Last year we had 73 lead changes, 19 leaders. Do you think it's going to be a similar kind of race?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think Tony is so fast, that I don't know. There's going to be some passing, but not as last year.
TONY KANAAN: I think it's going to be a lot of passing, for sure. People are going to try to take care of each other a little bit more. Last year it kind of got crazy in the middle of the race. I don't want to predict anything, but I think definitely you're still going to see a lot of lead changes. Nobody wants to lead, that's the thing. Last year I had a problem. I was going up in the front. My guys are yelling at me on the radio to go back in the back. I'm like, "What's the deal?" Obviously, you want to try to save your engine, save a little bit of fuel. The stints here are just 33 laps. They designate the pit stops. I think it's going to be a little bit easier. They're not going to try to stop early unless they have a problem. Otherwise, you're going to go all the way to 33.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I think it's going to be very similar to last year, too. Last year we had the problem like nobody wanted to lead because of fuel economy and of course because of the engine durability, too. This year, we only have the engine durability part. The fuel economy, nobody has to really worry about it. But still I don't think many guys are going to be leading, especially early in the race. I mean, you want to be in the front of the pack, but not leading.
Q. Your last oval was a couple months ago. How difficult is it to transition from the mindset of the road circuits to the high-speed oval?
TONY KANAAN: I would say it's not difficult. Especially, a speedway it's easier. I think if it were a mile oval, it would feel more. The superspeedway, it's so big, you have the time to get used to it. You start everything, you have a lot of patience. The weekend flows by because you're not in a hurry. It's a race that you see everybody is really calm before the race because nobody's trying hard enough, because qualifying is not that important. The transition, it's definitely a little bit, but I couldn't feel the difference between Australia and here. I would say if it was a mile oval, yeah, I would feel a lot more.
Q. You guys did 40 laps in conditions that, from what I could see on television, were not good enough to drive a street car in. This time you have good weather, you've got a high-speed oval. How is the transition between those two situations for you?
TONY KANAAN: Let's not even talk about last weekend because it's not worth it. But I think there is no transition. It's mentally this race is a lot tougher. I would say probably it's the same as last weekend because last weekend was tough, just on the mental side. I needed a blanket in my car because it was freezing. Mentally, it's the most stressful race for me, here at least. Physically it's okay. It's an oval. Mentally, you have to pay a lot of attention, you're running so close to each other that you can't just joke around. Especially when you have too many cars around, sometimes your car does something that you're not expecting it to. You have a tendency to be a little bit more tense, grasp the steering wheel a little harder. You have to pace yourself to relax during the race.
Q. They changed the rules to make you stop. They've given you plenty of fuel. Why wouldn't you want to run out in front?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Because if you save fuel, when you come in, you put less fuel in. You make a quicker pit stop. Again, having said that, pit stops here, if you lose two seconds, you're out on the track in the pack again, you're going to be in the front again. Honestly, you may be right. We maybe wanted to run in the front a little bit more because doesn't matter how long is your pit stop, as long as you're in the pack, you can still be in the front. You have to worry about having a good car and setting up your car for the last pit stop.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Not only saving fuel, but why you're going to lead? The same question goes the other way. Why you going to lead? You are just going to be in front of everybody, putting stress on the engine because you're not lifting as much. You're not going to pull away, you know that.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: You can stop on the pit stop and come first to 15th with two or three more seconds on fuel than the other guys. Then if you go to the back of the pack, it's better to run second or third than go back to the pack.
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