Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, August 16, 2001 With a consecutive-podium streak on the line, Team Player's is on a "drive for five" as it takes to the Road America circuit, the lengthy and venerable course that is playing host to the Motorola 220,...
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, August 16, 2001 With a consecutive-podium streak on the line, Team Player's is on a "drive for five" as it takes to the Road America circuit, the lengthy and venerable course that is playing host to the Motorola 220, Round 14 of the 21-race FedEx CART Championship, on Sunday.
Team Player's is heading to the tradition-steeped track at Elkhart Lake seeking to reach the podium for a fifth straight race. Patrick Carpentier has climbed the steps in each of the last three races, producing a first-, second- and third-place finish respectively during this stretch, while his teammate Alex Tagliani started the streak with a second-place effort in Toronto. While Carpentier has a string of podiums, Tagliani has an impressive streak of his own he has compiled points in six straight races, the longest active point-getting run.
Commenting on the team's remarkable performance in the second half of the CART schedule, Carpentier remarked: "One of the most impressive things about Team Player's four straight podiums is that they have come on every sort of track street course, super speedway, 1-mile oval and permanent road course. That's a credit to the crew and its ability to adapt and get the car ready to be extremely competitive for every race. Something like that gives you plenty of confidence going into a long and demanding race such as Road America. I know that, personally, it's going to be a big test because I've struggled in qualifying and in the race whenever I've competed at Road America. But the way things have been working out for us lately, I just want to get out there and try to keep our streak of success going."
From past experience, Carpentier knows that running 55 laps around the 4.048-mile road course the longest in distance in the CART series isn't a routine Sunday drive, even though the race setting, in the lush Wisconsin countryside, is what Tagliani describes as "picture perfect".
"Racing at Road America is somewhat like running a marathon," said Carpentier, who will be out to shatter the Team Player's record for consecutive podiums by a driver that he currently shares with Jacques Villeneuve and Greg Moore. "You've got to pace yourself, conserve fuel, stay out of trouble and hope the mechanics hold up over such a demanding course. If you look at last year, there were about 15 cars that didn't finish the race and in all but one or two cases the retirements were because of mechanical problems, especially gearboxes. It's also important not to get too aggressive because, as I discovered last year, you can go off track quite easily when you're going too fast in the corners. It helps if you can qualify in the top 10 because then you don't have to be as aggressive trying to catch up to the pack."
Tagliani lists Road America as his favourite track on the CART circuit. He will be racing at Road America for the sixth time on Sunday, although four of those occasions were as a driver in the Atlantic series, where he won the Road America pole in 1999 before finishing third in the race. The Elkhart Lake race that is freshest in his mind, however, was his first Road America appearance as a CART driver, last year.
"Coming within nine hundredths of a second of winning the pole and then leading the race three times for 23 of the 55 laps was quite an experience," recalled Tagliani, who had to retire when the drive shaft gave out while he was in the lead on lap 37. "As we saw last year, a lot can happen during these four-mile laps around Road America. It's rough from a mechanical standpoint, and like a lot of others, that's what finally ended our hopes for a race victory. But Team Player's has consistently prepared a terrific car for the Road America track and I'm sure that will continue this year. Having to qualify in the first group, before a lot of rubber is laid down on the track, is going to add to the challenge, but I was in that position for qualifying last year and I almost won the pole, so anything's possible."
Racing fans can follow the progress of Team Player's throughout the weekend by logging on to the team's web site at www.teamplayers.ca. They can also watch the 55-lap race on tape delay on The Sports Network starting at 8:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. ^Å/2 -Player's