Laguna Seca: Carpentier beats Junqueira

Patrick Carpentier took a hard fought Champ Car victory Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway in a race that was flat-out from start to finish. The French-Canadian driver withstood tremendous pressure from his Forsythe Racing teammate Paul Tracy throughout the first half of the race, and from eventual runner-up Bruno Junqueira in the second half.

Laguna Seca: Carpentier beats Junqueira

The race was run without any Pace Car interruptions, and Carpentier led all 87 laps before crossing the line 0.844-seconds ahead of Junqueira. Tracy was a distant 28 seconds behind after being slowed by a flat-spotted tyre. Carpentier ran the fastest lap of the race on Lap 81 of 87, while Junqueira set his personal best on the 86th tour, but it wasn't quite enough.

Carpentier inherited pole position when Michel Jourdain's pole-winning Team Rahal Lola was found to be six pounds under the 1,550-pound weight limit after qualifying. The Mexican driver had to forfeit his pole time and his provisional qualifying lap left him 13th on the grid on a track where it is notoriously difficult to pass.

Carpentier maintained the lead at the start and pulled out a 3-second margin. However, Tracy was faster in the second half of the first 24-lap stint and the two Forsythe cars were together when they pitted for the first time. Junqueira had dropped 12 seconds behind at that stage.

Despite a slightly quicker pit entry by Tracy, Carpentier held the lead through the first round of stops. Junqueira was happier with the balance of his car during the second stint and cut the cap to the leader down to seven seconds when they again all pitted on the 48th lap.

Tracy's crew was unable to get their man out of the pits in front of Carpentier, then Paul flat-spotted a front tyre on his out-lap trying to get past. He was soon caught by Junqueira, and when Tracy had a big sideways moment in the dirt exiting Turn 6 on Lap 57, the Brazilian nipped past into second, 6.5 seconds behind Carpentier.

Three laps later, fourth-placed Sebastien Bourdais lost turbo boost due to a faulty turbo popoff valve and slowed on the course before retiring after 70 laps. By then, Junqueira had moved to within a second of Carpentier heading into the third and final round of pit stops on Lap 72.

Again, Carpentier messed up his pit entry, this time nearly crashing his Lola. But he held on, and once again, he exited the pits in the lead. Junqueira was still second, with Tracy 20 seconds back in third. Meanwhile Jourdain had worked through the field and he passed Mario Habefeld for fourth place on the 73rd tour.

From there, Carpentier held on to the finish. "I was glad there weren't any more pit stops because I was hating that entry," he said. "I felt like I had stolen a car and had my mirrors filled with policemen all day long.

"Halfway through the stints the other guys were faster than me," he added. "Paul was more of a threat than Bruno, but he had some problems. At the end, I knew that catching up was one thing, but passing was another. But I didn't celebrate until I went up through second and third gear on the last straight, because it was very close."

Junqueira was pleased with second place because it keeps him solidly in the championship hunt. Jourdain leads the CART standings with 89 points, while Junqueira has 83, followed by Tracy with 81 and Carpentier with 70.

"Patrick was driving very well," Junqueira said. "He didn't make any mistakes, except for coming into the pits the last time when he almost crashed. I was maybe a little bit faster but not enough to challenge him."

Tracy was also relieved to finish on the podium after three fruitless races. "Our goal this weekend was to kind of stop the bleeding," he said. "We needed a good finish. We were hoping for a top-five, and we ended up with an opportunity for the win. I'm a little disappointed, but we got exactly what we needed in terms of points."

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