Mid-Ohio: Unbeatable Carpentier

Patrick Carpentier proved unbeatable in the state of Ohio in 2002. The French-Canadian, who will be 31 on Tuesday, celebrated his 100th CART start by taking a well-judged victory at Mid-Ohio. He fought off strong pressure from the two Newman-Haas cars before winning by 3.213 seconds over Christian Fittipaldi, with Michael Andretti third.

Mid-Ohio: Unbeatable Carpentier

Carpentier led from the start from pole position over Fittipaldi, but a slow pitstop left the Brazilian third behind his team-mate Cristiano da Matta after the first stint. The order remained the same after the leaders pitted under yellow on lap 48 of 92, and now the race began in earnest, with Carpentier and da Matta pulling out a small gap on Fittipaldi, leaving Tony Kanaan and the rest of the field trailing.

Carpentier turned the fastest lap so far in the race with a 1m08.463s on lap 62 to widen the gap to two seconds over da Matta. Cristiano responded with a 1m08.311s on lap 64, only for Carpentier to clock a 1m08.196s next time around.

Then da Matta really turned up the heat, running laps 66 and 67 in 1m08.066s and 1m07.966s. Carpentier's lead was down to 0.59s as they started the 70th lap, and Patrick went wide exiting the hairpin turn known as the Keyhole, allowing da Matta a run down the back straight into the Esses.

"I went in as deep as I could and I didn't even think I was going to make the corner," Carpentier related. "But he went in even deeper and he lost it."

Da Matta later said he wasn't attempting an overtaking manouevre, but in any case, he locked the rear wheels of his Lola-Toyota and ended up sliding backwards into a gravel trap. The CART Safety Team fished the dusty car out, but it cost the CART championship leader a lap and he finished 13th, just out of the points.

"I messed up a little," da Matta stated. "When I tried to put my nose alongside his car, he braked for the corner and turned in. I think that made me lose my air and I locked up the rear wheels and went off course. It cost us a chance to score a lot of points. Sixteen points went up in a cloud of dust."

Once da Matta was out, Carpentier still had his hands full with Fittipaldi. But Patrick had the situation well under control to earn his second win of the 2002 season. He also moved into second in the title chase, 27 points behind da Matta.

"The car was perfect and the team did a great job to keep me out front all day," Carpentier reported after leading 90 of 92 laps. "But man, that was one of the toughest races I've ever run. Thank God that it's over and that we won it.

"A lot of people wrote the Reynard chassis off at the beginning of the season," Carpentier added. "I don't think it's as consistent from week to week as the Lola, but we knew this would be a good track for us. We also think Elkhart Lake will suit the Reynard chassis very well."

Second place marked the NASCAR-bound Fittipaldi's best result of the 2002 season. A long first pit stop might have kept him from improving on that.

"The first stop didn't do me any good," Fittipaldi said. "I had a shot at going from second to first, and that might have cost me the race. Track position is just so important here. But I still have eight more chances to win another one of these races."

Andretti was the only Team Green driver to finish, as Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy were both eliminated by Honda engine failures. Kanaan was knocked out by the same thing late in the race while running a strong third.

The three Target Ganassi cars finished in tandem, with Junqueira leading Kenny Brack and Scott Dixon, who drove well to recover from a poor final qualifying session.

This was the first of four consecutive Champ Car races over the next four weeks, with the action moving to Road America in Elkhart lake, Wisconsin next weekend.

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Only three ovals on 2003 CART calendar

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