Race: Carpentier wins thrilling finale

Patrick Carpentier scored his first Champ Car race win in dramatic style at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. The French-Canadian driver, who is in his fifth year in the CART series, took advantage of a draft from Forsythe Racing team mate Alex Tagliani on the very last lap to beat both Dario Franchitti and Michel Jourdain Jr. the victory

Race: Carpentier wins thrilling finale

Carpentier took the lead for the first time all day on lap 248, just two tours before the end. Then on the final lap, Franchitti went high and moved to the front as the pack exited Turn 2. Tagliani, who was running a lap down battling for sixth place with Franchitti's team mate Paul Tracy for sixth place, made a banzai move past all three leading cars into Turn 3, blasting through on the inside before drifting up the track. That baulked Franchitti and Jourdain, who were lucky not to crash.

Meanwhile, Carpentier saw his opening and took the high line through Turns 3 and 4 to take the chequered flag 0.243s ahead of Franchitti and Jourdain, who crossed the line side by side separated by just two inches according to a photo finish.

"I'm really happy," said Carpentier, whose last race win came in the Toyota/Atlantic series in 1996. "We were struggling early, and we fell a lap down. I didn't think I had a chance to win this one. You need everything to work for you - you need yellow flags at the right times, good stops, and a fast car. That happened for us today, and I got back into the race.

"It's a relief. I signed a contract for next year last week, but I think to win this race is worth more."

The final shootout over the last 10 laps was set up when the Team Rahal cars of Kenny Brack and Max Papis collided and took each other out in Turn 4 on Lap 233. The Rahal duo had dominated the race to that point, leading 138 of the 232 laps.

Papis was on the inside, and his car appeared to drift up into Brack's. However, in-car cameras showed Brack coming down the track slightly at the same time. Either way, the net result was that the cars touched wheels, sending Brack into a half spin and a hard left-side impact with the wall. Papis pounded the outside wall with the rear of his car before it spun into the infield and clouted another wall with considerable force. Neither driver was injured.

"We were racing hard for the lead and both believed we had cars to win today," stated Brack. "I was high and Max was low on the track and we just got too close. We were racing for it and things like that can happen."

The Italian, who lost the 1999 race at Michigan when he ran out of fuel on the last lap, led a race-high 83 laps and was a little more circumspect on who was to blame.

"I'm okay, just hurt inside," Papis added. "As a driver, you don't get too many chances to win a 500-mile race and we had the car today. I want to watch the video of what happened."

Memo Gidley also raced strongly, leading the field for 67 laps in his fourth race for Ganassi Racing. But his challenge got derailed when he was docked a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits on Lap 147. A subsequent stop for oil relegated him to a 14th place finish.

The first half of the race was held at a blistering pace. There were no yellows until Lap 100, which contributed to a race average of 212.57 mph to that point. By that time, the fast pace meant that only seven cars remained on the lead lap, with Gidley leading Papis, Brack, Jourdain, Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Franchitti.

Carpentier was 15th, a lap down to the leaders. "My car was good at first, and I went from 21st on the grid to seventh after the first round of stops," he said. "Then on the second set of tyres, I lost a lot of ground."

Indeed, he was lapped by Brack on Lap 77 while running 11th, and it took him until a yellow on Lap 214 for Christian Fittipaldi's crash for him to get back on the lead lap for good. By that time, Andretti and Kanaan had dropped out with engine troubles.

The race went green again on Lap 225, with 25 to go. Now Jourdain moved up to dice with Brack and Papis for the lead. The Mexican, whose best finish prior to today was a pair of sevenths, looked particularly strong in his Bettenhausen Motorsports Lola-Ford.

Brack, Jourdain and Papis traded the lead several times a lap between Laps 225 and 232. Then on Lap 233, Herta joined the fight. He blasted past both Rahal cars on the inside entering Turn 3 to take the lead. Brack tried to follow suit on the outside, and that's when he and Papis came together.

After a 7-lap yellow to clean up the mess, Herta led from Carpentier, Franchitti, Jourdain and Cristiano da Matta. Herta got a big jump on the Lap 240 restart, but within two laps, Franchitti and Carpentier had caught up and passed the American. For the next few laps, Franchitti and Jourdain exchanged the lead twice a lap, with Franchitti pulling ahead in Turns 1 and 2, only for Jourdain to seize the advantage in Turn 3. But Franchitti was always able to regain the advantage by the time they crossed the line.

All was going to plan for the Scot until the Forsythe team mates entered the picture. Carpentier took the lead in Turn 1 on Lap 248, with Franchitti and Jourdain disputing second. But no one wanted to lead into the final lap.

That's when Tagliani and Tracy, running a lap down in sixth and seventh, suddenly started mixing it up with the leaders.

"Tag came in as the spolier," Franchitti said. "Unfortunately, he was a lap down and his move was designed for one thing. The move was very dangerous and I'm going to have a word with him about that. But I'm happy for Pat. We started in this series at the same time, and we both had a chance to win at St. Louis in 1997 in our rookie year, but we both broke. He's been knocking on the door a long time and he deserves it."

Jourdain echoed Franchitti's words, by saying he believed Tagliani's move could have caused a serious accident.

"It was pretty dangerous," he remarked. "I couldn't believe I didn't hit Dario like Max hit Kenny. I don't know why it didn't happen, because our wheels were locked together and I was sure we were gone. I was really scared at one point. It was probably an 8 or a 9 on a scale of ten."

Race winner Carpentier also admitted to being a bit shocked at team mate Tagliani's move, but was happy to have the help.

"The last four laps we were battling really hard," said Carpentier. "It took a little luck and some timing to get there. Then all of a sudden Tag came along. At first I thought, 'what is he doing?' Then I saw he could help, and I guess that's what teams are for. When he came, it changed everything."

Jourdain was pleased to earn his first trip to the podium after posting the best result for the Bettenhausen team since 1998.

"What an unbelievable race," he said. "My team did a great job, and we gained positions in the pits. On the last lap, I was sure it was going to be Dario and I. Pat was there the whole time, but then Alex appeared from nowhere. I think Dario and I should both get points for second."

Herta finished fifth and after leading for the final restart, he was a bit
disappointed.

"The last 20 laps were crazy - I've never experienced anything like it," he said. "Today was probably the only time I have ever wished to not lead a race on a restart with 10 laps to go."

Franchitti's consolation for finishing second was that he moved up to second place in the championship standings, just three points behind Brack. Helio Castroneves, who finished eighth on Sunday, now lies third in the standings ahead of Andretti and da Matta, who quietly finished fourth in Sunday's race just 0.445s behind Carpentier.

With such dramatic racing, the drivers will do well to put on a repeat performance in Chicago next weekend as the CART calendar pushes relentlessly on with its third race in as many weekends.

Patrick Carpentier, Player's/Forsythe, Reynard-Ford, 250 laps
Dario Franchitti, Team Kool Green, Reynard-Honda, +0.042s
Michel Jourdain Jr, Bettenhausen, Lola-Ford, +0.049s
Bryan Herta, Zakspeed/Forsythe, Reynard-Ford, +0.574s
Cristiano da Matta, Newman/Haas, Lola-Toyota, +1.099s
Alex Tagliani, Player's/Forsythe, Reynard-Ford, +1 lap
Paul Tracy, Team Kool Green, Reynard-Honda, +1 lap
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske, Reynard-Honda, +1 lap
Bruno Junqueira, Chip Ganassi Racing, Lola-Toyota, +1 lap
Scott Dixon, PacWest, Reynard-Toyota, +2 laps

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