Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car World Series
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's media teleconference for the Champ Car World Series as we head into the Lexmark Indy 300 on the streets of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. That race will be run from October 22nd through the 24th. It will be the 13th of 14 races on the 2004 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford calendar. Today we are joined by the two main title contenders for this year's Vanderbilt Cup, Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira, both of Newman/Haas Racing. Sebastien Bourdais at the moment has a total of 307 championship points. Bruno is right behind him. He's 27 points behind with a total of 280. As many of you know, Patrick Carpentier still has a mathematical chance of winning the Vanderbilt Cup. However, with the new scoring system this year put forth by Champ Car, if Sebastien simply takes the green flag in both of the last two races, Patrick will be eliminated. We'd like to start with Sebastien, driver of the #2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Sebastien put together one of the better seasons in recent memory. He leads the series in wins, in poles and in laps led and in earnings. Sebastien, kind of take an overall view. You were Rookie-of-the-Year last year. I'm sure you came into this year primed to have some success. Are you surprised as how well things have gone this year?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, hi, everybody. As you said, I think it's a bit of expectations for the McDonald's crew. But quite honestly, I won't deny I'm happy with that. We've been working really hard and have been rewarded for hard work. It's a pretty neat feeling. We have things pretty well under control. We've been strong pretty much in any race. I'm looking forward to the last 2-1s and I'm sure we can wrap this up in Australia. I'm sure Bruno is going to be right there. It's going to be a fight until the end.
ERIC MAUK: Sebastien has had unprecedented qualifying success this year. He's qualified in the Top 3 for each and every race this year, dating back to last year now has a streak of 13 consecutive races in which he's qualified in the Top 3. That is a Champ Car modern era record, of course being from 1979 up through the present. Sebastien, tell us a little about why you have been so strong in qualifying this year.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, that's a good question. I don't know. Just all I can say is we're working hard. Consistency is really important this year. We had the speed last year, but got lost in some events just because I didn't know everything about the racetracks. You know, there was a lot of things for me to learn. Even though the car was pretty close, sometimes I was not able to lead my engineer the way it should have been done. This year it's different. We have a strong baseline to the race every time, and evolution we put on the car throughout the year. Obviously, it's working really well. I don't really know what to say. It's just great. All I can say is I'm hope it's going to end like that till the end.
ERIC MAUK: You have a 27-point lead. If you score eight more points in Australia than Bruno does, that clinches you the championship. Heading into this race, where does that sit in your thought process?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: For sure, it would be really nice to be able to wrap this up in Australia, especially because the (inaudible) is going to be pretty wide over there. But what can I say? It's not the main target. Obviously, it would be really cool. But if we have to wait until the very last lap of the last race, it will still be as good as ever. I don't want to put everything and to risk everything to win it in Australia. If the circumstances are all together right there to allow me to win it, then for sure I'm going to take it. But, you know, if Bruno wins the race and we finish second, then fine, we just score big points again, and it would be hard for Bruno to win it still. The very important thing, as my engineer and chief said on the Champ Car website, I think is to both finish and we should be able to put a strong 1-2 for Newman/Haas Racing. That would be really cool.
ERIC MAUK: The man chasing Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the #6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing, Bruno Junqueira. Bruno has been one of the top drivers in this series for the past three seasons now. He is the first driver since Emerson Fittipaldi back in the early '90s to finish as a series runner-up in two consecutive years, having done so in the last two seasons. His on-track record is one of the strongest out there. In 69 career starts, Bruno has 24 podiums in those 69 starts. Eight of those podiums came this year. Bruno, it's been that consistency that has kept you in the title hunt all year long. How do you feel the way things are shaping up as we head into Australia?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think it's been a pretty good season for the PacifiCare Newman/Haas team. We've been consistent. We're getting great results and doing a big fight with Sebastien for the championship. We were a little bit down with two races to go, know we need to do a very good two races, finish strong, and hope that Sebastien has a bad results for us to win the championship. So I'll try to do my best. I'll try to do two good races and see what's happen.
ERIC MAUK: You've had success on the 2.795 mile street course in Surfers Paradise, at least in qualifying. You've qualified on the outside of the front row in each of the last two starts there. Tell us a little bit about that racetrack, how you feel about it.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I like a lot the racetrack in Surfers Paradise. I been doing very well in the past two years. I was leading both races. For some reason I was taken (inaudible). I hope this year I can lead again until the end of the race. That's a racetrack that I like a lot, to go to Australia, and I never got a good result in the end of the race there. And I hope this year going to be a breakaway and I can finish with a strong result in Australia.
ERIC MAUK: Best of luck to both you guys. We'll go ahead and open it up to questions from the media.
Q. It's been a long season. You have been battling it out all year. Here it is going down to the end. The team being so strong, such a big part of it. When you're being competitive like this, the drivers and the team's very competitive, I guess it's the best and the worst of both worlds in many ways. What would you say about that?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'd say it's the best because, obviously, we're leading the championship, and we are 1-2. You know, if it was not because of Bruno and I, the team would probably not be as strong. We're working very well together since the beginning of my and Bruno's relationship with Newman/Haas Racing. The team is great. The chemistry is very strong between all of us. That's why we're all successful. It's not because I, Bruno or any of the individual is good. It's a team effort. It's a package.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think the (inaudible) for Newman/Haas Racing, start from having a very good two team owners like Carl Haas and Paul Newman who loves racing, able to get some good sponsors like PacifiCare and McDonald's that give the money to hire the best engineers, the best mechanics and the best drivers. And then, again, me and Sebastien and the engineers working together very well changing formations, make the Newman/Haas cars every time faster. I think working like we're doing is what very rewarding to see both Newman/Haas cars fighting for the championship in the last two races. I have a meeting before the start of the year. That was the goal. We want to see both Newman/Haas guys 1-2 in the championship. If I do well in the last two races, I think we can achieve that.
Q. I want to ask Bruno, going back to the start of the year when there was all the uncertainty of whether the league was going to go there, when you look at this season, how rewarding has it been that there's even been a season, but how disappointing has it been that you've had so many second-place finishes to Sebastien, just that little bit behind him?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For sure I'm quite happy that Champ Car have a season, and it's been a very good season for the fans, very good races. I'm not disappointed because I think I still am doing a very good year. If there's anything, the only race of the year that I would be disappointed is my favorite race, Road America, that even though I didn't finish second, I finished 15th, that's a race I always want to win. But it's been a good season. I thought I could win maybe Road America, Portland, but I didn't. I thought I could win more races to be in a better position in the championship with Sebastien. But that didn't happen. So I still have a chance in the championship, and I'll try to do the best race as I can. I'm quite happy that every year I've been competitive. I'm fighting for the win, fighting for the championship. That keep me motivated. Very important to be consistent like that. I've been very lucky to have a great team to give me a good car to always fight for the wins.
Q. I know you were talking about your relationship with Sebastien has been good. I know some of the Andretti guys play jokes on each other. What have you done? Have you gone out together? Have you played jokes on each other? Have you done anything like that that can kind of show what your relationship is like?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think me and Sebastien, especially when he live in Miami, I help him to move, and he came, we go out and see each other a lot between the races. Now he lives in Tampa, I live in Miami. Actually just see him in the races. We always go out to dinner with Carl Haas and Paul Newman after the races. We work hard as a team. Always small things, we comment about other races, Formula 1 results, some things happen, because on the engineer, we sit opposite of each other, so we always talk about not just racing but some other things, as well.
Q. For you, Sebastien?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, as Bruno says, we were really close when I was living in Miami. Obviously, it's a bit more difficult, you know, living in Tampa. But we have a great relationship. It's very productive. And it's good for the team. We have a lot of respect for each other. I think we are both pretty smart and good drivers. So I could not really dream of a better package in the team. And Bruno is a very nice guy anyway. As he said, he helped me to move in when I first came. I'll always be thankful for that
Q. He never did get you up early enough to work out with him?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, he's a pretty early waker.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Unfortunately, Sebastien not here in Miami, because I wake up 6:30 this morning. It was raining. Then I going to ride in the afternoon. If you were here, you can ride in the arch.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Bruno, you should be living in Tampa. It was a beautiful day today. I wake up at 9:00. I had a great ride (laughter).
Q. The pressure of the championship for this year, but let's talk about next year. There's been talk of Cristiano coming back. I know Carl Haas has gone on record saying that. How do you feel about a possible teammate, third car next year? How would you feel about that?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think Bruno is better qualified than me to comment on the question because he knows Cristiano much more. I think it would be great. A third car with a great driver in it would be an even stronger package if we can plan it early enough.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I agree with Sebastien. Cristiano is my friend since we were kids, since we start racing go-karts. He's a very good driver. If he adds to the team, it would be great. I just don't know what is on his mind. He's enjoying a lot his time in Brazil. But let's see what's happen. For sure need to have time to prepare, if that happen, to prepare the third car. But it will be a good add for the team. I think the team is very strong right now. With another very fast and technical driver like Cristiano be even stronger. I think it would be the Dream Team.
Q. We see the four-car Andretti Green team in the IRL kind of dominating this year. Would a third car help in coming up with the best setup for the race? Are your driving styles close enough that you could all share that kind of information?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think (inaudible). But to be really, really honest, because we have the cars for three years, the 2002 car, it's very hard now to find a little new thing on the car. We always find some very small change that suits like more little bit of the drive style of the driver. Because we have a very good baseline from the car, and I think it really help, like looking for 2006 and beyond, if we'll have like a completely new car, and we have to change a lot the setup, then we'll have three different feedback from the drivers. Right now you always hope, because he's really good, maybe he can see something that me and Sebastien didn't see on the car. But he drove this car, as well. You start with his setup when me and Sebastien start driving for the team. So he help, but can help more in a different car.
Q. What do you guys think about the 'push to pass' at Surfers this week? There's a bunch of short straights. Do you think the 'push to pass' will create more competition this year?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: First, the straights are not that short. That's the first deal. I think it's probably one of these places where the 'push to pass' is going to be really powerful because the chicanes, you don't really need to have that -- when you lose the downforce, you don't slow down the car that much in the chicanes because they're pretty slow, and you can stay pretty close to the guy in front of you. So you might have a shot every time you press this button. So I guess it's going to be a real challenge over there. And definitely this is a point that I think has been the biggest improvement in the series this year, to generate some passing and to make a race even more exciting. Personally, the Denver recovery would have been impossible for the McDonald's car if it was not because of the 'push to pass'. So I'm pretty happy with that.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I agree with Sebastien. I think the 'push to pass', you make a very exciting race for Australia. But it's been exciting for all the past years. Long straightaways, I think the 'push to pass' will generate a lot of passing. It's been the best thing that Champ Car made since I'm on the series, on the last four years, the best new thing they made, make a lot of (inaudible) on the racetrack.
Q. Just to follow up, we saw the introduction of 'push to pass' and the alternate tire this year. Are there any other rule changes you'd like to see moving ahead into 2005?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I'd like to see to keep the 'push to pass' and the alternate tires. But all the other change, I'm not very keen on that.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Personally, I think the fact that we came back to something like a pit window is pretty good. It makes racing less of a gamble, and I'm very happy that they came back on it. Yeah, I think they tried experimental changes, and they've been smart enough to come back on the ones that were not very good and to keep the ones that were pretty good. So I think the package we have right now is exciting and competitive. So why should we change it?
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: Yeah, that's how I think. I think you don't need to change the 'push to pass' and soft tires. It's been very good. The qualifying for us is great. I think they made adjustments inside the company to make the series grow.
ERIC MAUK: Question for both of you guys. The Newman/Haas Racing team itself has earned seven race wins, eight poles this year. One of you two walk away with the 2004 championship, it will be the fifth championship in Champ Car series history for the Newman/Haas team. Bruno, maybe you can answer this first, especially since you came from an organization that was used to winning as well before you joined them, but tell us a little bit why you think that this team does so well in Champ Car.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I will repeat a little bit what I said before. I think everything is start from the team owners. I think Carl Haas and Paul Newman, they have the race team because they love racing, they love to win. Both of them have enough money to live their life. They are not doing that for money. That's the first and most important thing. So they are able to have a very good group of engineers and mechanics, and I think the fact of the team being in Chicago is pretty cool because all the mechanics stay on the team for a long, long time. We have mechanics that they are on the Newman/Haas over 15, 20 years. So that makes the team pretty consistent. And plus we have a very good sponsor. I think PacifiCare, McDonald's have been very supportive of the Newman/Haas team. That's very important. I think because Paul Newman, Carl Haas, they know racing, they always pick good drivers, as well that's important.
ERIC MAUK: Sebastien, your thoughts?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think Bruno got it done.
ERIC MAUK: Let me ask you this. Many of the media may have seen the article that was on the Champ Car World Series website just the other day about the rookies in 2004. Actually, Sebastien, you were quoted in that article. But, Bruno, give us your thoughts about the rookie crop this year and how you think they've done and how you think they have positioned themselves for the future.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think you saw (inaudible) the Champ Car series, he's a very experienced driver. He's very, very good. And for sure AJ is a real rookie, and he's doing a very good job. He's very fast. And he's not a driver of the future; he's a driver from right now. He can win any race. So he's very good. One of the nicest thing that I see in Champ Cars since I start, every year the rookies that came to the series have been very, very strong. The series keep bringing two or three very good drivers every year, that's very important. That's why they keep the most old and well-known and talented drivers like Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy, they must remain on the series, because people know them. But it's very good to have always two or three fresh, good drivers coming to the series every year.
ERIC MAUK: Sebastien?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, well, I think as Bruno said, it's pretty good. It helps also the drivers who are in place to stay in shape and to stay at the top because you know that you will always have new drivers coming, and that can possibly threaten your position in the team. So you have to keep it up and make sure you're always competitive. So that's what the series needs, and that's why it brings such a good show. But I was, to be very honest, very surprised with the performance of Mi-Jack Conquest and Justin, because neither of them had a very big experience in the series and with the Lola. So I think they did a great job at the beginning. I think now they're kind of struggling a bit along the way because everything is still new. At the end of the season, everybody is kind of worn out. It's probably more difficult. But RuSPORT is definitely climbing up, and AJ with them. So I think it's going to be a great season next year, for sure.
Q. For both drivers. It's kind of early in looking at the NASCAR playoff system they implemented this year, I guess it's still yet to be seen whether it's successful or not. How do you see a playoff system in Champ Car? Is the series long enough? Are there enough races to do that? Do you think that would be a good thing? Most sports in this world have a playoff system. That's why NASCAR did it. What do you think about it for Champ Car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: As you said, I'm not quite sure we have enough races in order to do that. The way our sport is, it's probably more fair. It probably brings the best driver up front and winning the championship if you have a contest between 15 and 20 races. So this year we have 14 races, and I think it allows people to have some bad results, whereas if you do a playoff at the end, it would be like five races, and then if you fall down only once you're out of the contention. So I don't really think it would be a great system for us.
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I think we don't have enough races. I think the playoff system for sure is not the most (inaudible) thing in the world. But I think once you build up a good TV package and a good marketing package, can be a good idea to have like two oval races, two street course races and two road course races making a six playoff races until the end of the year. I think this is a valid idea. But I think right now, I think the series needs to concentrate on other things for the next two years, and then after start to go to this kind of playoff. But as Sebastien said, I think for sure the drivers always want to see a long championship that's going to pay the best driver/team combination to win. The playoff going to make it like five races is going to be more about lucky than anything, but going to be more exciting for the fans. But I don't think we're on the point to do it. Maybe on the future.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to our media teleconference for the day. I'd like to thank Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira for coming on and spending time with us. Gentlemen, best of luck as we go down to Australia in two weeks.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: See you down under.
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