Patrick Carpentier dominated the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio today, wrapping up a clean sweep of the weekend's available points by winning from the pole and leading 90 of the race's 92 laps. Christian Fittipaldi was second and Michael Andretti was third after a rare mistake by points leader Cristiano da Matta sent him a lap down and out of the points.
On the start, Kenny Brack fell back a few positions as his teammate, Bruno Junqueira, and Andretti got good starts to slot into fifth and sixth positions. Tony Kanaan also moved up, getting fourth place in the field's first trip through the Esses. Paul Tracy was fast off the start and took seventh spot from Brack on lap 4.
Several teams tried to stagger their pit stops, coming in before the mandatory first stops were due on lap 26. Oriol Servia was the first to come in, on lap 14, followed two laps later by Michel Jourdain Jr. Scott Dixon was in on lap 20 and Alexandre Tagliani came in one lap later. Tracy's stop on lap 23 was much more serious, as his car was suffering from engine trouble that would put him out of the race.
After the first round of stops, Carpentier kept the lead, but da Matta was able to get out ahead of teammate Fittipaldi with a better stop. Similarly, Andretti made a pass of Junqueira on the stops. Dario Franchitti and Dixon also moved up on the service break at the expense of Tagliani and Jimmy Vasser, respectively. Takagi, who had run as high as 11th place before the stops, fell to the end of the field after serving a stop-and-go penalty for excessive pit speed.
Just before the second round of stops began with Servia's pit visit on lap 40, Franchitti pulled into the pits without power, like his teammate Tracy, a victim of an engine failure. As the rest of the field approached their second stop, da Matta started to challenge Carpentier for the lead. The majority of the field got to make those stops under the yellow flag though, as Mario Dominguez backed his Lola into the tire wall outside of turn 9 (the turn leading into Thunder Valley.)
Two cars were having trouble as the field got the green again to start lap 53. Max Papis, subbing for injured driver/owner Adrian Fernandez was sitting in the pits as the Fernandez Racing crew tried to get his car re-fired and Junqueira's car was emitting large amount of smoke from the exhaust. Papis' race was over, but the smoke mysteriously disappeared from Junqueira's exhaust when the green waved.
A strange thing happened before the flag waved, though. The pace car pulled away from the field on the back side of the course in anticipation of a lap 52 green flag. Leader Carpentier accelerated then hit the brakes hard, nearly causing a multi-car pileup. Several near-collisions occurred behind him, and the yellow flag was left up for an extra lap. When asked about it after the race, Carpentier said: "I was wrong there. What happened is that I kinda panicked because I didn't think I had cleaned off my tires enough to go through the start. After the cone I kept accelerating and slowing down to try to clean the rear tires and the guys behind me almost crashed. They always give you one chance and the next time after that I was really careful to focus a little bit more and make sure that I got the tires ready before that."
In the next race segment, Carpentier was able to maintain a two-second lead over the similarly spaced cars of da Matta and Fittipaldi. The only position change in this segment was Dixon's pass of Tagliani under braking for Mid-Ohio's Keyhole turn on lap 59 to take away the eighth position.
On lap 69, the race's complexion changed as da Matta attempted to pass Carpentier for the lead at the end of the back straight, locked up the brakes and spun into the gravel trap. Although da Matta was towed out and restarted, he lost a lap to the field and would try to finish in an attempt to salvage a few points. The win was sealed for Carpentier on the ensuing pace car session when his team got him out of the pits ahead of Fittipaldi.
Kanaan was in line for his first podium finish of the season, running strongly in third position, but he drove slowly into the pits on lap 78, a victim of the fourth failed Honda engine in the race.
Junqueira finished fourth, with his Ganassi Racing teammates Dixon and Brack just behind in fifth and sixth. Tagliani, Vasser, Shinji Nakano, Servia, Jourdain and Toranosuke Takagi were all in the points in 7th through 12th positions and were all on the lead lap. Da Matta had the only other car still running at the finish, but was still one lap down in 13th place, out of the points.
The CART FedEx Championship Series point battle tightened up substantially, with da Matta's lead shrinking to only 27 points over Carpentier, with Junqueira in third nine points further back, and Franchitti in fourth just two points behind Junqueira.