Carpentier's classy win
Patrick Carpentier scored a dominant and timely victory at Laguna Seca on
Sunday. The French-Canadian recently put himself back on the market for a drive in either the OWRS-run Champ Car series or the IRL, and his first win
of 2004 will have done his prospects no harm at all.
Carpentier shadowed Forsythe team-mate Paul Tracy through the opening stint,
then got ahead by stretching his fuel load a lap longer and making the extra
lap on hot tyres and low fuel count. While his rivals exited stage left,
right and centre, Carpentier cruised along in splendid isolation for the
rest of the day and won as he pleased.
He said, "When I was behind Paul, I tried to pass a couple of times but I
couldn't do it, so we decided to save some fuel. We were able to pit one lap
later and that's all it took. I pushed as hard as I could to run a very fast
lap and we just gained momentum from that point on. I had a great car, fast
pit stops and everything worked out at last!"
"I guess you have to flip over the fence [which he did at Turn 4 in 2000] to
do well here, because I have done really well since that incident!" jested
Carpentier after winning for the second year running at the scenic Monterey
After three enthralling races in a row in recent weeks, today's encounter
was far from satisfactory as a rash of unforced errors and clumsy passing
attempts prevented the race from developing a real rhythm and eliminated
many of the favourites from serious contention.
Tracy and points leader Sebastien Bourdais made contact at the first corner,
giving Bourdais a puncture and relegating him to 14th place. He was in the
course of a strong recovery drive (albeit not quite of his epic Denver
proportions) when impatience got the better of him and he hit Roberto
Gonzalez at the Corkscrew. Cue another unscheduled pit visit for a new front
wing and a frustrating afternoon spent embroiled in traffic around the
sinuous Monterey track.
"It was a very frustrating race; the result didn't equal the potential,"
said Bourdais. "Tracy rubbed against my left-rear tyre really hard with his
wing and it put a big hole in my tyre. After that we were trying to get back
to the front and were stuck behind Gonzalez, and the struggle continued."
Tracy, meanwhile, appeared to have survived the clash unscathed, keeping
Carpentier at bay for the first 28 laps - although it was nip and tuck
stuff, and on one occasion Tracy had to defend his position up the hill to
the Corkscrew after straying two wheels into the dirt at the preceding Turn
6. It was a perfectly legitimate move by normal racing standards, but by the
letter of the Champ Car regulations should have resulted in a penalty for
'blocking'. Anyhow, no penalty was forthcoming and Tracy maintained the lead
until Carpentier leapfrogged him at the pit stop exchange.
The defending champ's afternoon took a turn for the worse in the next stint,
however, when his front wing end-fence, damaged in the incident with
Bourdais, started to chafe his right-front tyre. After a long pit stop for
repairs Tracy soldiered on to a tenth-place finish.
For the second race in succession, Bourdais' closest rival in the
championship, Bruno Junqueira, kept out of trouble and gratefully profited
from others' mistakes. The Brazilian wasn't especially fast, but by
finishing second to Bourdais' eighth has cut his Newman/Haas team-mate's
points lead to 24. After looking like a shoe-in for the title two races ago,
Bourdais now has less than a race win in hand and may have to fight all the
way down to the wire at Mexico City.
Junqueira said, "We struggled throughout the weekend, which was very strange
because we were strong here last year. I didn't have the speed but I still
finished second after starting eighth, and it's a great result for the
Spaniard Oriol Servia had perhaps the widest smile in the paddock after
coming home third for Dale Coyne Racing, the best result for the
underfinanced outfit since Roberto Moreno finished in the same position at
the 1996 US 500.
"It was really a fantastic day," exclaimed Servia. "We started 12th, had a
good start, there were three guys that went off, but we also passed a lot of
people. The car was fantastic - [engineer] David Watson gave me one of the
best cars I've ever had. It was easy to drive. But we had some fuel
[pick-up] issues since lap ten at the top of the hill there before the
Corkscrew, so I kept talking to the car, saying 'no, please, keep going' and
thankfully it listened!
"We still need more speed, but it is great to show what we can do, a team
that does not have a huge budget, but a lot of dedication."
Michel Jourdain Jr recovered from a first-lap collision with Alex Tagliani,
which necessitated a pit stop to change a cut tyre, to cross the line in
fourth place. The RuSPORT team wisely moved Jourdain out of pit sequence and
the Mexican even led a few laps in the race's middle stages. For the
remainder of the afternoon he held off a queue of cars comprising Ryan
Hunter-Reay (Herdez Competition), Tagliani (Rocketsports), Mario Haberfeld
in the Walker Racing Reynard and Bourdais.
Jourdain's team-mate AJ Allmendinger was one of the stars of the show in the
early stages and looked in with a shout of victory at his home track,
keeping pace with the Forsythe duo throughout the opening stint. But he
slipped down the lap chart after stalling at his first pit stop, and then
broke his car's front suspension when he attempted a dive-bomb outbraking
move on Servia at half-distance.
"It was a bonehead mistake by me, it's as simple as that," admitted
Allmendinger with admirable candour. "I stalled on my first pit stop, which
I've never done before. Then I was pushing too hard to make up time and I
made a stupid mistake when I went to pass Oriol. I was just too eager to get
around him because I was quicker, and it was my fault. I'm glad it didn't
ruin his race, and I'm really sorry for my crew because they did a
phenomenal job all weekend and gave me an excellent car. I don't know if I
could've beaten Pat, but I certainly could have been right up there with
Guy Smith parlayed his most convincing Champ Car performance to date into
his best result by finishing ninth for Rocketsports. The Brit has been
re-learning the art of left-foot braking this weekend having not used the
technique since karting. As an indication of his progress, Smith set a
respectable 12th fastest lap, a mere half-second slower than team-mate
Tagliani's best, and will head into the next race at Las Vegas in a
confident frame of mind having tested impressively on the oval last month.
"I certainly felt more competitive in the car today," said Smith, who turned
30 (officially 29!) on Saturday. "Left-foot braking worked well for me and
it was very good working with my new engineer Harvey Spencer. The car was
handling well and I was able to keep on the race pace. I struggled with my
last set of tyres and had some understeer as a result, but was able to hang
on. The team is now at the point where we can start to focus on the finer
details that will give us more speed."
Justin Wilson's miserable weekend ended prematurely when he was assaulted by
Rodolfo Lavin at the Corkscrew on the opening lap, breaking the Conquest
Racing Lola's suspension.
"I am very frustrated," said Wilson. "It has been a difficult weekend for
our team, but I was looking forward to having a decent race. I managed to
pick my way through the initial carnage without getting involved. I then
passed Lavin, giving him plenty of room on the inside. He then spun me
around and proceeded to hit my car all the way down the hill. The spin
didn't hurt my car much, but the subsequent hitting on his part did
extensive damage to my front suspension and wing. The steering rack was too
badly damaged for me to safely return to the track, so our race was over."
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