CART FedEx Championship Patrick Carpentier, driver of the No. 32 Player's/Forsythe Ford, has scored four top-10 results in six races this season, including back-to-back fifth-place finishes at Laguna Seca and Portland. Now in his sixth CART ...
CART FedEx Championship
Patrick Carpentier, driver of the No. 32 Player's/Forsythe Ford, has scored four top-10 results in six races this season, including back-to-back fifth-place finishes at Laguna Seca and Portland. Now in his sixth CART season, the 30-year old French-Canadian is coming off a 2001 campaign that saw him capture his first Champ Car victory [Michigan] and finish a career-best 10th in the CART championship. Currently sixth in the CART FedEx Championship Series points standings, Carpentier will race in this weekend's CART Grand Prix of Chicago at Chicago Motor Speedway, where he'll look to improve on his runner-up finish from a year ago.
PATRICK CARPENTIER - #32 Player's/Forsythe Ford
ALTHOUGH WE'VE ONLY HAD SIX RACES SO FAR, TALK A LITTLE ABOUT HOW YOUR SEASON HAS GONE SO FAR.
"I'm pretty happy. I'm further ahead in the points than I was at this time last year, but I think we could've done a bit better. We've made a couple of mistakes that could've been avoided and we've had some mechanical problems, but I think we've had a pretty good car at most of the races. It hasn't been as good as I thought it would be, but it's been pretty good."
YOU CAME OFF YOUR FIRST CART VICTORY [MICHIGAN] TO RECORD A SECOND-PLACE FINISH AT CHICAGO LAST YEAR, AND YOU'VE BEEN VERY STRONG ON THE OVALS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING BACK TO CHICAGO MOTORSPEEDWAY THIS WEEKEND?
"For me, I'm disappointed that we don't go there with larger wings because I think it would've produced some fantastic racing. It's tough to race there because it's so difficult to pass around that track, but I know that CART Is going to look at that in the future so we can race and pass each other."
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO PASS THERE?
"Because it's a very short oval and the way it's laid out the corners are like triangles - you have to cut them off and enter kind of straight and exit kind of straight. It's a flat oval with no banking, which makes it even harder to go side by side. We need more downforce to be able to do that and that's why we need the bigger wings."
SO EVEN IF YOU GOT A GOOD RUN ON SOMEBODY IT'S DIFFICULT TO GET BY? "Yeah, because as soon as you get within 30 feet of the car in front you lose the minimum downforce you absolutely need to make the corner and that keeps you from exiting as fast as he does. So you just play catch 'em, lose 'em for the entire race."
SO UNLESS YOU QUALIFY IN THE FIRST TWO ROWS, DO YOU IMMEDIATELY START LOOKING AT ALTERNATIVE PIT STRATEGIES?
"Yeah, for sure. Last year we qualified in the top 10 [ninth], but for sure if we're not at the front we're going to use a different strategy. Hopefully, we'll start in the top four or six and we won't have to worry about that. This year, with the new rules that require you to get fuel and tires after a certain amount of laps, anybody can win the race."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW RULES?
"I think they're good. It's fun. We race hard and drive hard and drive the cars to the limit all the time so there's not as much fuel economy as there used to be before. It's very difficult to time the yellow flags with the laps and sometimes the guys at the front have a better chance at winning than the guys at theback, but it's more spectacular and that's why I like them."
WHAT WERE SOME GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS YOU HAD COMING INTO THIS SEASON?
"I wanted to be in the championship run for the whole season, and if we can do that I'll be very happy. We're getting closer - we've finished fifth in the last two races, but we need to pick it up a little bit to beat [Cristiano] da Matta and to run more at the front. But my expectation was to battle for the championship all season long."
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IN CART SAYS THAT IF YOU FINISH EVERY RACE IN FIFTH YOU'LL WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
"Yeah, but the problem is if you finish 10th then you've got to come back and win the next one to even it out!" [laughing]
COMING OFF LAST SEASON, WHERE YOU WON YOUR FIRST CART RACE AND FINISHED A CAREER-BEST 10TH IN THE CHAMPIONHIP, WHAT DID YOU WORK ON DURING THE OFFSEASON TO PREPARE FOR THE 2002 CAMPAIGN?
"I just focused on what I wanted to accomplish and got more involved with what the engineers were doing, but other than that I didn't do much differently. I worked hard to try and be really focused and put a lot of useless activities and things I was doing aside and just focus on racing."
HOW BIG OF A ROLE HAS YOUR WIFE AND DAUGHTER PLAYED IN YOUR LIFE, BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY?
"Oh, it's very good. It's fantastic and it's the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life. If I don't have a good weekend at the track I come back home and I forget about it very quickly and can recharge my batteries for the next event. Plus, they're starting to follow me around to more races, which is great."
HOW HAVE THEY INFLUENCED YOUR PERSONALITY AS A DRIVER?
"I think they've had a kind of calming effect on me. I think because of them I've matured even more and I take my career more seriously than before because I've got to put bread on the table, not only for me but for the family as well. They've had a very good effect on me."
WHEN YOU SAY YOU GOT MORE INVOLVED IN THE ENGINEERING DURING THE OFFSEASON, WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?
"Actually, I just wanted to learn more about the car and what it does and have a better grasp of the changes that they are making to it. I wanted to know where we were heading when they're making changes to the car during a race weekend so I can help as much as I can."
BEFORE THIS SEASON, WERE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE OR DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE A CONCERTED EFFORT TO IMPROVE THERE?
"I think had a good handle on it ... no that's not true. I don't think too many guys have a good handle on it at all! [laughing] They really don't, because some races they're right there at the front and then some races they're at the back, so I don't think too many drivers really know the exact science of setting a car up. And that's why I wanted to learn more about it because it's so complicated."
SOME DRIVERS CAN WORK WITH THEIR ENGINEERS TO DEVELOP A GOOD CAR DURING THE WEEKEND; SOME OTHERS START OUT WITH A BAD CAR AND CAN'T MAKE ANY IMPROVEMENTS. WHERE DO YOU FALL IN THAT SPECTRUM?
"I think I'm more the guy that's starting to understand the car more and more. Not as much as I would like to, but I'm starting to understand and know what I want. I'm closer to my engineers this year than I've ever been in the past. I never used to call them between races, but now I keep bugging them every other day. In the long run it's definitely going to pay off because it's helping us to find a good setup. For instance, in Milwaukee we arrived with a horrible car but we ended up towards the front and for us that was a victory. It doesn't happen every weekend, but it was really good."
THIS IS YOUR FIFTH YEAR WITH THE PLAYER'S/FORSYTHE TEAM AND ASIDE FROM THE GREG MOORE TRAGEDY, HOW MUCH HAS THAT TEAM CHANGED SINCE YOU JOINED THEM?
"It's changed a lot. They brought in Tony Cicale for [Alex]
"Tag" [Tagliani] and then they brought in Bruce Ashmore, who's more with me, plus my engineers and I have changed and the team has grown up over the years. I think there is a little ways for the team to go before we are a constant frontrunner - we're getting close to that, but there's still a little bit of work still to be done. Bruce Ashmore likened our efforts to a huge boat on the sea - it won't turn on a dime and it takes a long time to change directions, and that's the way I see it. For me there are people who have come and gone, but right now the team I have is REALLY good on pit stops - they're so fast, and that's a huge advantage for me."
HOW'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH "TAG?"
"It's pretty good, actually. For sure. on the track I want to win and he wants to win, but outside the track he's been a pretty good teammate."
HOW'S HE CHANGED FROM WHEN HE WAS A ROOKIE TWO YEARS AGO?
"He's changed a lot. He's much more mature and seems to be calmer this year than how he used to be in the past. He's changed in a good way. He's more focused and more calm, so I think for his guys it's much better."
WHAT KIND OF INTERACTION DO YOU AND
"TAG" HAVE DURING A RACE WEEKEND? DO YOU SHARE INFORMATION AND CAR SETUPS? ARE YOUR DRIVING STYLES THAT SIMILAR?
"We're very close but it depends on the track. You take Laguna Seca, for example. I tried my setup and didn't like it very much and couldn't get much speed out of it. So I took his setup, although he was still faster than I was with his setup. At some tracks we're pretty much the same and we'll always be within a few tenths of each other. If it's more than that you know that the cars are pretty different, but I think we have very similar styles."
DO YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO PERFORM THIS YEAR, EITHER FROM A PERSONAL STANDPOINT OR A SPONSOR STANDPOINT, PARTICULARLY WITH PLAYER'S AND WHAT EFFECT THE CANADIAN TOBACCO LEGISLATION WILL HAVE ON ITS FUTURE PARTICIPATION IN RACING?
"Oh yeah, there is more than ever this year. But I think that's part of racing, especially at this level. I know that I'm doing so much and everything I can that's under my control to bring the car to the front. I've done my homework, I've trained really hard and I'm ready mentally. I think I'm a lot more mentally tough than I used to be and the team is working hard, so hopefully it'll happen. Everybody is putting forth a great effort, but it's a competitive series. CART is not a series where you can win almost all the races as long as you have a decent car. You can go from first place to 18th place very quickly, and everybody has done that this year, including da Matta, who was off the pace in Motegi but is now the hottest guy out there. At one point or another everybody has been at both ends of the field this year and we've had only six races. I don't think you can expect to win every weekend, but for sure we should expect to accomplish more than we have so far."
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU RESPOND TO PRESSURE?
"I respond pretty well. Actually, if I don't have any pressure I tend to fall asleep. [laughing] But seriously, pressure is good for me and it seems to drive me."
IT SEEMS LIKE TEAMS AND DRIVERS ENJOY SUCCESS IN CYCLES. THEY'LL GET HOT FOR TWO OR THREE RACES AND THEN BE COMPLETELY OUT TO LUNCH FOR THE NEXT COUPLE OF RACES. WHY IS THAT?
"I think one reason is that we've got a lot less track time this year with the short qualifying on Friday and Saturday with only a little bit of running in the morning. Before, we had Friday completely open for practice and trying new things and the limited track time makes it tough. The guys who arrive at the track with a really good setup have the edge for the weekend to stay at the front because there's so little time to make up ground. That's why you see guys move back and forth between the front and the back from week to week."
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF CART'S ANNOUNCEMENT LAST WEEKEND THAT COSWORTH RACING WOULD BE THE SOLE ENGINE SUPPLIER FOR THE NEXT TWO SEASONS?
"I think it's great, I really do. I think it's going to make for an even more competitive series and for everybody to have the same powerplant is going to be fantastic. I think it's going to make it less expensive to run in this series, especially with CART giving some funds back to the teams, and I believe things are heading in the right direction. I think the time that we just passed was the most difficult time that the series will be in for quite a few years, so I think the worst is over. We only have 18 cars right now, but they're pretty much 18 solid cars for the most part and I think things are going to be okay. And for next year I think more teams will join the series because it's going to be cheaper to get an engine lease, so I think it's great."
AS A DRIVER, DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT THE QUALITY OF RACING DIMINISHING BECAUSE OF EVERYBODY HAVING THE SAME ENGINE?
"No, not at all. I think it's going to be better. People want to see the drivers and stuff like that, and nobody in the grandstands really notices anyway because they want to see some good racing. I think having one engine is fantastic."
WITH ALL THE NEWS AND RUMORS THAT HAVE BEEN FLOATING AROUND REGARDING THE FUTURE OF CART AND OPEN-WHEEL RACING IN GENERAL, HAVE YOU HAD ANY CONCERNS ABOUT WHERE YOU MIGHT BE OR WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING IN THE NEXT YEAR OR TWO?
"No, I'm not worried because I think I'll have a ride for the next few years. But at the moment it's more of an issue for the guys that are coming up through the ranks. It's almost impossible right now to get a ride because of the lack of testing time sponsorship. Teams are trying to get their sponsors visibility so they're going to go get a guy that's been around for quite a few years and that's already known by the fans. But I think we're going to be okay. It's a rough time because the economy is down and racing is usually the first sport that gets hurt because it's so expensive. Teams folded in NASCAR and teams weren't running at the IRL race in Pikes Peak last weekend because they were out of money. When you look at it, all three series are facing the same problems."
HOW MUCH LONGER ARE YOU GOING TO BE DOING THIS?
"I think I'm going to do it for six more years, five or six years."
HOW DOES MRS. CARPENTIER FEEL ABOUT THAT?
"She's fine with it. She knows I love it and has always been one to push me to drive harder and train harder. Anything I have to do with racing she doesn't mind, but it's when I waste time on the computer and useless things she's not happy."
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DRIVING CHAMP CARS FOR THE REST OF YOUR CAREER? DO YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST IN DRIVING SOMETHING ELSE?
"Yeah, for now. I LOVE those cars. As long as I can do it, I'll do it. One day maybe I would like to - I think I'm a pretty good test driver, so one day I'd like to be a test driver for a Formula One team."