Champ Car and Formula 1 veteran Cristiano da Matta has made a comeback to North American motorsports this season, driving for the JaguarRSR GT team in the American Le Mans Series.
How did your first 12 Hours of Sebring compare to your expectations?
“I just wanted to have a good opportunity to get more time behind the wheel of the No. 99 JaguarRSR XKR GT. It was actually only my second outing in the car, and a GT car at that, so to get more practice and more experience under my belt was critical. And also to run an endurance race and experience that, but, unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of driving time during the race because of a failed alternator that took us out for a majority of the event. However, I was impressed on how hard the crew worked to fix the issue and get the car back out there for us to run a little more.
“I just took advantage of the entire week at Sebring to watch, learn, and just experience how everything works with not only the car but the series. I wish I could have had the chance to drive more, but we have an entire season to do that and I am looking forward to getting back behind the wheel this weekend in Long Beach.”
Bruno Junqueira was formerly one of your toughest competitors in Champ Car. What's it like having him as a teammate now?
“Bruno (with Cristiano, on the left, AT RIGHT) and I have a long history together. Ever since our karting days, we have been fierce competitors, but also he has been a very good friend of mine. To have a competitive, quick guy and also a friend as a teammate – you can't complain. It is very good.”
What's the transition been like from open-wheel to GT cars? How do you anticipate your first street race in a GT car to be different from your Champ Car/F1 experience?
“As of right now I don't think I could get a 100 percent read of exactly how different it is because I still haven't done that many miles. But my initial impression is that, of course, there are many, many different things, and I don't think I will have a problem getting accustomed to it. It looks like it is going to be quite clear; it is just that I need more mileage.
“The biggest thing in my mind driving on the streets in a GT car is going to be the view from inside the cockpit. I will be in a much larger/wider car, higher up from the ground, seated on the left side of the car… I believe that might put things in a different perspective, but I could be wrong. I will have to get a solid knowledge of where the wheels are, how close I can get to the walls, etc.”
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Long Beach Grand Prix?”
“I think it is very difficult to say one thing, but it is definitely a very nice race to go to because the whole event is a big street race, with many different series. It is a very nice track; very cool track to drive on. Overall, a very pleasant weekend. I've had success many times in Long Beach before so I have got good memories of it. If I have to say only one thing, it would be that it is a very, very positive experience in all.”
How are you feeling about heading back to Long Beach where you'll no doubt be seeing a lot of familiar faces?
“On the social part of racing, it is like a big family environment. You get to meet and work with so many wonderful people. It is going to be really nice for me to have the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of old friends in the IndyCar paddock and in the other race series that are going to be there, too. I am really looking forward to it.”
What's been the biggest surprise or revelation for you about sports car racing?
“The one thing that I had known from before – but when you are actually there for the race you see it first hand – is that the ALMS is a very competitive motor racing series. There are a lot of good drivers and strong teams; it is something that makes it more and more difficult, but that is part of the sport and that is what makes it very exciting and intense.”
• Saturday's ALMS race at Long Beach airs live on ESPN3 at 7:15 p.m. ET, and on ESPN2 on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.