IRL: Making adjustments

"Welcome to the IRL," Bryan Herta greeted Patrick Carpentier in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series paddock at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval. The French Canadian, tired of being a second class citizen on Gerald Forsythe's...

"Welcome to the IRL," Bryan Herta greeted Patrick Carpentier in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series paddock at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval.

The French Canadian, tired of being a second class citizen on Gerald Forsythe's team - despite his third place finish in the Champ Car World Series 2004 point standings - flew the coop he occupied since Carpentier started racing cars in earnest.

Patrick alighted at a reconfigured Red Bull Cheever Racing, which bulked up its technical staff with the additions of Henri Durand, Iain Watt and Brian Welling amongst others. Team owner Eddie Cheever also changed engine suppliers - not an abnormal thing for the Phoenician who grew up in Italy - from Chevrolet to Toyota.

Cheever the restless former Formula One pilot and Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner helped convince Infiniti to enter IRL racing and the luxury arm of Nissan remains today, albeit as the power mill supplier for the sub- series Menards Infiniti Pro ranks.

Cheever recognized Carpentier's talent after years of observation and snapped him up. Patrick had an eventful first weekend in the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he learned what the Indy cars do in traffic and was part of the Survivors' cast once the dust of the "big one" blew away.

"That race, it was really something else," said Carpentier to Herta in the middle of the garage area at PIR as carts flew by on their rounds to tech and back. "I think I may have nicked you in practice last week and I apologize."

Herta shrugged it off but then launched into talk about the League and its safety measures. He was a victim of Kosuke Matsuura and Tomas Scheckter's shunt that collected a total of eight cars.

Herta could not say, officially the magnitude of his part of that crash but suffice to say the hit was way over 100gs. It's part of why Bryan is so bullish on the League and its commitment to keeping drivers alive and working.

"You know they really care about safety here," said the man who fronted the former CART safety campaign with NHTSA a few years back. "I heard that Tony George had a dummy built for something [over half a million] to test cars, walls and driver survival," Herta continued.

"Just about the only place that doesn't have the SAFER barrier is Motegi," the Californian advised his competitor. The two just shook their heads. And then agreed for a karaoke session upon arrival in Japan to the end of next month.

Of course Bryan Herta drives for the IRL equivalent of F1's Scuderia Ferrari, the Andretti Green Racing team that campaigns four IRL cars - for Herta, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and 2004 champion Tony Kanaan with the prevailing Honda engine.

Although not considered a rookie due to his previous experience in CART and Champ Car, Carpentier finds the competition in IndyCar Series racing "very different." Using his hands to approximate the pack of cars he ran in during his debut weekend in Florida, Carpentier approximates for Herta the closeness of the cars.

"You're gonna like this track," Herta smiles. "With the downforce we've got you can really hang it out here," he advises a wide-eyed Carpentier. "We're gonna have fun."

That fun begins tomorrow morning with an initial practice session at 10AM MST, a second practice beginning at the crack of noon and qualifying at 3:30PM.

Carpentier, having experienced his first full three-day IRL weekend in south Florida will now acclimate himself to the two-day compressed schedule the League has organized for this weekend's XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage. Like the veteran he is, no doubt Carpentier will adjust well.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Eddie Cheever , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Kosuke Matsuura , Tony George