It is rather apropos that Indy Racing League IndyCar Series team owner Eddie Cheever announced the hiring of Patrick Carpentier to partner Alex Barron on Veteran's Day in the United States.
Cheever realized he needed to move his team forward after the 2004 campaign, in which he paired the likable Barron with newcomer Ed Carpenter. While the duo worked well together, it was apparent there was a chasm between their abilities and, to push Barron closer to the top of the finishing order, the Red Bull team needed another proven winner.
Carpentier appears to be an excellent choice. Since winning the Toyota Atlantic Championship in his sole fulltime campaign in that series with Lynx Racing in 1996, Carpentier has learned much about open wheel racing in CART/Champ Car. Interestingly, Barron, who succeeded him in 1997 at Lynx Racing, won the Atlantic title in his first and only year in that ladder series.
Barron and Carpentier have not had meteoric climbs through the open wheel ranks, though. Barron teamed in CART with legend Dan Gurney's All American Racers for 1998, where he was charged with developing an emerging Toyota engine and, later the Eagle chassis; Carpentier's 1997 Rookie of the Year CART entry came with Bettenhausen Racing, another legendary name in Indy style competition.
"We've been working very hard to put the pieces together," Cheever explained of the engine change. "This ends a long relationship with General Motors and begins a new one with Toyota Racing Development for our team and I think our new relationship with Toyota will place us back up front."
Confirming his team will stay with the Dallara chassis as it makes the change to Toyota engines, Cheever noted the entire program came together at a later time than he would have liked. "This is a difficult time with General Motors and in our discussions we realized GM would not be able to give us the support we needed in 2005 and beyond."
GM Racing announced last week that it was ending its supplier relationship with the Indy Racing League at the close of the League's tenth season in 2005.
While Carpentier's career has focused primarily on the circuit of street, road and oval races that have been endemic to the CART/Champ Car series, he had his start running in circles as a child. "I've been a speed skater since I was four years old and I went to Lake Placid to train. I always liked ovals and, in fact my father raced snowmobiles on ovals so that [propensity] has been in the family since I was a child.
"When I got to Atlantics and got on an oval, it was like coming home," he expressed. "It was like the indoor speed skating I did as a kid," only on a larger venue and with motive power.
Carpentier also expressed his long desire to race in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. "I came in when the two series went their separate ways and never got the chance to race at Indy. That was a big part of my decision because it's always been a great race. I love ovals and I like to race in front of a great crowd" like the 300,000+ who congregate at 16th and Georgetown Roads in Speedway each May.
"An experienced teammate will give more strength to our team," noted Barron. "I have a lot of confidence that Pat will bring the car back to the trailer in one piece and that we can work well together." While the duo don't know each other extremely well, their parallel universes have brought them to the same tracks and they haven't had difficulties in competition, both reveal.
Patrick Carpentier's first CART victory came on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval in that series' final race in the Irish Hills. The year after his 2001 win the circuit went to the IRL where it has offered outstanding competition since 2002.
"I've been wanting to do this for a few years and to come here with Red Bull Cheever Racing is fantastic," Carpentier acknowledged. "This is a personal choice for me because I've always wanted to race Indy and always liked the ovals. I've been a fan of the IRL's close racing for quite a few years."
Recognizing that this is "a perfect time in Patrick's career to come to the Indy Racing League," Cheever did note that he has not yet spent a lot of time with his new driver. "He's extremely motivated and in incredibly good shape," a trait vitally important to the former Formula One pilot. "Patrick has done very well in his career, he's very professional and I think I can expect good results from him.
"Patrick and Alex will be equal" on the team according to its owner. "I think they'll do a good job together and push each other. I'm impressed with Pat's dedication."
Partnered with fellow Canadian Paul Tracy over the past two seasons at Forsythe Championship Racing, Carpentier believes he has truly come of age. "In CART it was a learning process and I've been hit over the head more than once both inside and out of the car," the likable Canadian laughed. "Paul taught me a lot about racing; he fights for every corner every lap.
"2004 was the first year I really felt like a championship contender and my attitude change this year has led to my success," he contends. Carpentier finished third in the final 2004 Champ Car point standings; had he not had a wing malfunction in the penultimate race at Surfers Paradise, Australia Carpentier believes he might have been able to challenge Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais for the title.
With Patrick Carpentier's hiring to partner the returning Alex Barron, Eddie Cheever now has two extremely experienced and professional drivers on his staff to drive and hopes that Toyota Racing Development is keen to improve its power mill for the 2005 campaign. The team's first test will come in mid-December on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course, but Carpentier admits he is "really, really looking forward to testing the new car on ovals."
Barron will retain occupancy of the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone entry while Carpentier will drive a #83 machine. Why that particular number? Red Bull cans hold 8.3 ounces of energy drink, an excellent marketing ploy.
The 17-race Indy Racing League IndyCar Series schedule begins on March 6th at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida. 2005 will be the tenth year of IRL competition and the first season encompassing road course action at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International, together with a single street circuit contest at St. Petersburg, FL.