Patrick Carpentier has rebounded from a slow start to finish the last three races and score top-nine finishes in Detroit (9th) and Portland (5th). Now in his fifth season campaigning the CART FedEx Championship, Carpentier took some time before the race in Portland to talk about his 2001 season to this point, how fatherhood has changed him, what impact the offseason changes have had, and what he hopes to achieve over the final 13 races of the season.
PATRICK CARPENTIER - #32 Player's Forsythe Ford-Cosworth
WHAT KIND OF A YEAR HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU?
"Things have been up and down for us, but we seem to have some decent speed and I'm happy about that. I think we've got a great team and the Ford-Cosworth engine has been very powerful and very good for us. The car has been good and the team has been working really hard, but what we really need is a little bit of luck and we'll be there. At least we got some points in Detroit, but I wanted to finish second or even win that race and I'm a bit disappointed about that."
ALTHOUGH YOU'VE BEEN FAST FOR MOST OF THE SEASON, YOU AND THE TEAM REALLY STRUGGLED WITH YOUR RELIABILITY. NOW WITH THREE STRAIGHT FINISHES, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE STARTING TO HIT YOUR STRIDE?
"I think so. I think we're starting to be a little bit more lucky and a little bit better and now we're finishing races, which was our main goal. At Detroit we were really competitive, but I got shafted there at the end. I went into the marbles there at the end and it killed my rear tires and that was it. As much as I tried to block everybody, it didn't happen (laughing), so that was disappointing. I didn't need that last yellow flag and I thought I had second place locked in, but it was fun. We haven't been running at the front like that in a long time and the boys were jumping up and down in the pit lane and they carried my helmet and it was great. Hopefully we'll get a weekend like that again soon because they're a lot of fun."
YOU SEEM TO ALWAYS HAVE A PRETTY GOOD SET UP ON OVAL TRACKS, HOWEVER YOU'VE STRUGGLED IN THE PAST GETTING THE CAR DIALED IN ON ROAD AND STREET COURSES. DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING A BETTER JOB FINDING A SET-UP FOR THOSE TRACKS? "On the road courses we've never been good, even when Greg [Moore] was here driving for us. Greg was a really good driver and could make his way to the front when we could not, but right now we have a much better car on the road courses, and I think I am driving much better and much more aggressively. On the ovals we haven't done too well this year, but that's mainly due to the mechanical problems we've had and we'll improve that."
WHAT HAVE ALL THE OFFSEASON CHANGES MEANT FOR THE TEAM?
"A lot -- we changed everything. We changed most of the mechanics because some wanted to leave and some the team wanted them to leave, we changed some engineering and the guys are in good shape -- we had the fastest pit stop in Detroit by far. Ford and Cosworth did a lot of work on the engine over the winter and it has a lot of power. The car is good -- we did a lot to work with Reynard to improve the car, but engineering is the main thing in racing and that's been good for us so far. I think 60 to 70 percent of the speed comes with the car, so we added Bruce Ashmore, Tony Cicale and Dave Brzozowski, my chief mechanic, and these guys all together makes us a much better team."
WHAT HAVE THEY MEANT TO YOU PERSONALLY? HAVE THEY CHANGED THE WAY YOU APPROACH THE RACE? CHANGED THE WAY YOU DRIVE?
"Actually, they changed the way I debrief and give information about the car, and that's made a big difference. My driving has stayed the same and the car has improved over the winter. When you get a good car for a long time, your confidence goes up and you just go as hard as you can all the time. When you know you have to put a fast lap in you know you can do it on a more consistent basis and that's a very good feeling."
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH THIS YEAR, ESPECIALLY AFTER WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH LAST SEASON?
"Last year changed me a lot. When there was all that talk about my contract, it was very tough on me. Neil Micklewright wanted to make it tough on me, but it made me grow and realize that the opportunity I have is not always going to be there. If I'm not driving as hard as I can and up at the front, then I'm not going to stay here. I love this sport and I want to stay here, so it just made me realize that I needed to be more serious at this and stop doing all the risky things on the outside. I also became a father for the first time, and when you have a child the family changes and having a job becomes much more important because I want to keep it."
ARE YOU ENJOYING FATHERHOOD?
"Yeah, I love it. I think it's great. She's here this weekend and I just love it. I think it's a fantastic thing. I call her my 'sun.' When I get back home she brightens my day just like the sun does."
HOW MUCH HAS FATHERHOOD CHANGED YOU?
"It definitely forced my to grow up and become more mature. Usually I bought sports cars and this and that -- I had ordered a BMW M5 and a big Ford 4x4 diesel pickup truck that I wanted to put a huge turbo on, but I cancelled it. You know, you spend less and I realized that my job is more important because I've got to feed some people back home, so I don't know. It just changes you and makes things different. You've got to plan ahead more and you've got to decide what you want to do in advance. I was afraid because before I got back in the race car I didn't know if I was going to drive differently because you never really know until you actually get out on the track. I was a bit nervous before the first test, but as soon as I did a couple of laps I totally forgot. This morning I didn't even remember that they were here with me, so it's good."
DO YOU THINK FATHERHOOD HAS SOMEHOW MADE YOU A BETTER DRIVER?
"It does, but I don't know what it does to you. It's like -- I used to buy stuff, lots of stuff, and when I was tired of it I'd move onto something else or return it to the store. But when you have a baby, you've got it for life and you have to take care of it the best way you can, so it changes you. I think ahead a lot more than I used to, I think about putting more money aside, I think about my career and making sure that it continues to go well, so if anything, I'm so much more aggressive because I want to keep my job."
HAS IT BEEN HARD BEING AWAY FROM YOUR FAMILY WITH YOUR BUSY TRAVEL SCHEDULE?
"There's no in-season testing this year, so when I'm home I feel like I'm home a lot more often. When I'm home now I just spend time with my wife and daughter, so it's great. My wife knows that it's my job and that's the way it is. I'm away a lot, but I make a lot of money driving so it's fun."
WITH THIS BEING YOUR FIFTH YEAR IN CART, DO YOU FEEL ANY EXTRA PRESSURE TO PERFORM WELL?
"Gee, I'm getting old, huh? (laughing) There's always pressure, it's there every race of every year. I mean, look at Chip [Ganassi]. He didn't even give [Nicolas Minassian] the time to learn before yanking him out of that seat for somebody else. But that's racing. You live or you go -- either you are going to survive or you're going to have to leave. I understand that it's somewhat of an individual sport and sometimes you have to be really selfish in order to survive here. The pressure is always there, but for some reason I don't look at it that way. What I have to do is get in the car and drive it to the best possible lap that it can do. If I do that, I'm really happy, but if I get out of racing because they're not happy then I tried my best, but I know I'm going to stay here for quite some time."
AFTER BEGINNING THE SEASON WITH SO MANY MECHANICAL DIFFICULTIES, YOU FINISHED AT MILWAUKEE AND RAN EXTREMELY WELL IN DETROIT. WHAT CHANGED?
"It's fun now. But you know what? When you start at the back it seems like you have less stress for some reason. It's true (laughing)! If you start at the front it's a bit more stressful because you want to do well, you want to stay there, you want to fight with the guys and it's a different type of stress and nervousness."
IF YOU COULD WRITE A STORY ABOUT THE REST OF THIS SEASON, HOW WOULD IT END?
"The way I would want to be? For sure I have to be realistic, but if I could win one or two races I'd be really happy. For now the championship will be very difficult to win because we threw so many points away during the first third of the season, but I still think we have a chance. If the car is as fast as it's been lately for the rest of the season, then it should be a great ending."
YOU FINISHED FIFTH AT CLEVELAND LAST YEAR AFTER STRUGGLING MOST OF THE WEEKEND WITH AN ILL-HANDLING CAR.
"The guys did an amazing job there last year. We had a great car for the race and I finished fifth and Alex [Tagliani] finished sixth I think, so it was pretty good. Hopefully if we can start good -- you know what, there's nothing that compares to running at the front like we did in Detroit. There's nothing that compares. You run the car to the maximum, you're not stuck behind somebody and it's a different experience. Man, it's a lot of fun! If we can qualify at the front for Cleveland I'll be really happy."
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO RACING ON THE WIDE TRACK AT CLEVELAND?
"I love it. Detroit, Portland [and] Cleveland are all tracks that I really like. I love it."
IT DOESN'T SURPRISE ME THAT YOU LIKE CLEVELAND BECAUSE IT'S SO WIDE, BUT I WOULD THINK YOU WOULDN'T LIKE DETROIT AND PORTLAND BECAUSE IT'S SO NARROW AND TOUGH TO PASS.
"Cleveland is one of the best tracks to make passes, but I like it because it's pretty bumpy. For some reason I like tracks that are a bit bumpy, maybe because I did so much motorcross growing up and I'm used to being tossed around. Detroit was bumpy and you had to work at it -- the car was loose and it was fun and I really enjoyed it."
DO YOU THINK A BUMPY TRACK HELPS YOU TO GET INTO A RHYTHM SOONER THAN PERHAPS A SMOOTHER TRACK MIGHT?
"I like it. If I can get into a zone fast and try to catch the guy in front of me and have to work hard at it, it's very good. If I follow a guy that's not very fast but I cannot get pass, every driver has a tendency to just follow, so then you don't do the best that you can. That's also what's fun about running in front -- you can always get the best out of the car without worrying about too much traffic."
ALTHOUGH IT'S A WIDE TRACK, IS QUALIFYING STILL IMPORTANT AT CLEVELAND?
"Yeah, qualifying is always important. When you have a difference of one-tenth of a second per lap, it's very difficult to make a pass because the guy is the same speed as you are. No matter where we are it's always important to qualify well, especially in a series as competitive as this one."