CHAMPCAR/CART: Carpentier breaks da Matta's winning streak

CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Standing in the pits following the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, Mo Nunn Racing driver Tony Kanaan proudly showed off his "lucky" shark socks, which he had swiped, from Cristiano da Matta the week before. Kanaan had stayed at...

CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Standing in the pits following the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, Mo Nunn Racing driver Tony Kanaan proudly showed off his "lucky" shark socks, which he had swiped, from Cristiano da Matta the week before. Kanaan had stayed at da Matta's home in the week between CART's visit to Toronto and the race in Cleveland, and was determined to follow the Brazilian around in hopes of finding the secret to his current success. Drivers being a sometimes-superstitious lot, naturally da Matta had one thing he always wears when he races. In this case a lucky pair of socks. Did Kanaan pick the right pair? Well, Kanaan finished eighth, and da Matta didn't finish at all. So Kanaan isn't stopping, saying he plans to stay with da Matta again and keep stealing socks 'till he gets the right pair. And da Matta, he may have to find another way to get some luck.

da Matta's hopes of taking a record setting fifth consecutive win in the CART Champ Car racing series went up in a puff of light-blue oil smoke on the 21st lap of the race.

The Brazilian Newman/Haas Racing driver had pitted a lap prior, the team telling him to turn his electronic traction control off, but came in a lap later with terminal engine failure. His departure handed the lead to Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green, the winner of last year's event at Burke Lake Front Airport, but the Scotsman too suffered engine failure, leaving Canadian Patrick Carpentier of Player's/Forsythe Racing to take his second career victory.

"The car started losing power so I came in and the team changed some electronics and I went back out but heard the same noise so we had to come back in and retire," said da Matta. "It's a shame any time you have to stop racing for any reason. Of course I wish I could have finished the race, but our car has been strong everywhere so we will come back at the next race and try to continue running strong.

"I'm not disappointed about not setting a new CART record with five straight wins. The streak doesn't mean anything to me -- the championship is my goal. I'm disappointed that we didn't score any points today and get closer to our goal."

Carpentier's win comes two weeks before the Molson Indy Vancouver in British Columbia. "I'll try to do it again," he told his fellow Canadians. "But (the win) was fantastic. It takes a bit of the pressure off."

Following Carpentier home was Michael Andretti of Team Motorola and Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy.

"The middle of the race I was really fast and turning very fast laps and catching Michael and at that two-thirds point was equal to him but he pulled out again," said Tracy.

The race was not without drama for Carpentier. He lost a front wheel speed sensor, affecting how his electronic traction-control worked, but was still able to keep up with Franchitti and assumed the lead when the Scotsman made his first pit stop. Carpentier said the team had been working during the weekend with Ford-Cosworth on the electronic traction-control system. "We worked well all weekend," said Carpentier. "These guys gave me a perfect car, absolutely no problems throughout the whole race and it ran so well. It was just so fast and fun."

Carpentier's victory was the first for the Reynard chassis since Andretti won at Long Beach in April and the first for the Ford-Cosworth engine since Max Papis won at Laguna Seca last year. The Canadian's record has never been that great at Cleveland, making his win on Sunday impressive. His worst finish was 26th last year and his previous best was a fifth-place in 2000. Carpentier, who led 66 of the 115 race laps, enjoyed a comfortable cushion thanks to some good pit strategy and fast stops. With a 40-second advantage over Andretti, Carpentier came into the pits on lap 102 and was stationary for only seven seconds, losing only half of his lead in the process. "They're fast," Carpentier said, referring to his pit crew. "They've been really fast the last few races, (we) just couldn't put it together and this weekend had no problems. Every session we went pretty well. "We changed the engine just before the race to have the best one and the fresh one and it work out. It was good."

Andretti tried to close the gap in the final 13 laps, at one stage closing to within 10 seconds of the leader, but finished 17 seconds back. Tracy finished 28 seconds behind Carpentier. The top six was rounded out by Kenny Brack of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Carpentier's teammate Alex Tagliani and Jimmy Vasser of Team Rahal.

After the race, Andretti told his team they were lucky to have made it to the end. "The engine was going sour for the last couple of laps and Honda just hung in there long enough," he said. Andretti also commented on the difficulty of racing at this demanding circuit, which was made harder this year by the decision to lengthen the race to 115 laps.

"This is a really physical track, one of the more physical tracks on the schedule and they lengthened it another 15 laps, so the last 15 laps were long," he said.

The CART series annual visit to Burke Lakefront Airport for the Grand Prix allows the drivers plenty of room to race over the wide expanse of tarmac and concrete that makes up the runways around the facility, yet turn one on lap one always provides for drama, and this year was no exception. After the first start was waved off, lap two began under green flag conditions with a four-car pileup involving Vasser, Walker Racing's Tora Takagi, rookie Mario Dominguez of Herdez Competition and Visteon/Patrick Racing's rookie Townsend Bell.

The crash began when Vasser was tagged by Takagi, the collision spinning Vasser around. As Takagi braked hard, Dominguez collected him from behind. Bell, already on probation for a race-incident in Toronto a week ago, had nowhere to go and ended up in the back of Dominguez. "Takagi just hit me in the back," said Vasser. "I don't know if he got his first from behind and got pushed into me. I don't know -- just the way it goes.

"The car was running good, it was just one of those days." Vasser was able to continue, though he would stop twice under the yellow to change tires. Takagi also continued, though his visit to the pits was not without drama.

The Walker Racing pit team spent a long time just trying to remove the broken front wing assembly from Takagi's Reynard chassis, ultimately sending him back out without the assembly while a new one was readied. He was able to come back in, get a replacement, and return to the race. Takagi would finish seventh while Dominguez and Bell were out on the spot.

"We were just trying to stay out of trouble," said Bell. "We really didn't need this. We were just cruising down into the first corner, waiting for everything to unfold. I was down into the first gear: I was probably going less than 20 miles an hour and everything just stopped. "I was practically stopped trying to stay out of trouble and there was nowhere to go."

The race restarted on lap six, with da Matta opening up a gap while behind Vasser was on a tear, moving through the back of the field and overtaking Adrian Fernandez for 13th on lap 10. At the front, da Matta had opened a 2-second lead over Franchitti until his car developed engine-management trouble. His exit from the race was his first non-finish since Laguna Seca last year.

Lap 27 brought the first round of pit stops, with Franchitti and Carpentier entering and leaving together, Franchitti keeping the lead. Andretti lost one position on his first stop, dropping from third to fourth, while Tracy slipped nine positions from fifth to 14th.

"We didn't have a very good stop on the first one and we lost, like, three positions in the pits so I had to fight and lost a lot of ground to Michael and obviously Patrick was very quick," said Tracy. "I was pretty mad on the radio so I think they knew what they had to do some good pit stops. It's so important, you can lose so many places that you've got to be as good in the pits as on the track."

Two laps later brought the first of several trouble spots for Franchitti as the roll hoop-mounted in-car camera came loose and flew off on the front straight and nearly into the path of Vasser's car. Franchitti's team had also chosen to "short-fill" his car during the first stop, but any advantage this may have gained him evaporated when Franchitti made two errors, locking a wheel in turn one on lap 46 and putting two wheels on the grass on lap 47. He made his second stop a lap later, but was soon out with engine trouble. "It's been one of those weekends," said Franchitti. "We've really had a lot of problems with (the Honda engine). Up until that point it was running really well."

Carpentier took the lead, only the second time this season he has lead an event, when Franchitti stopped on lap 48, and on laps 50 and 51 promptly set the then-fastest laps of the race at 58.860 seconds and 58.797 seconds respectively. The Canadian made his second stop on lap 53, keeping the lead with Franchitti and Andretti in tow.

With Franchitti out, it was up to Andretti and Tracy to catch Carpentier. Andretti set the fastest track time on lap 70, a 58.684 second lap, and, after making a pit stop, Tracy reset the fastest time with a 58.473 second lap. Carpentier stopped on lap 74, giving Andretti the lead temporarily, as the American would stop a lap later, resuming in second place.

In the fight for a spot in the top six Kanaan was struggling, losing sixth to Kenny Brack of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Brack's teammate, Bruno Junqueira, and Carpentier's teammate, Alex Tagliani, also passed him. Kanaan's difficult day continued as Brack made another daring move on him for sixth position after the final round of pit stops. He would later also be passed by Takagi before eventually finishing eighth.

The late stages of the race saw Vasser and Kanaan running side-by-side on the back straight, Vasser taking a position from Kanaan, who would miss a braking point while trying to catch up, costing him nearly four seconds. Andretti also had a moment when trying to lap Shinji Nakano of Fernandez Racing going into turn one, the Japanese driver nearly taking Andretti out before giving way. Late in the race Andretti also had to contend with a broken kicker plate on his left side pod, which didn't cause any significant problems. Neither difficulty helped Carpentier any advantage for he had enough of an advantage to retain his lead through the final round of pit stops.

After the race, Carpentier celebrated with Alex Zanardi-like donuts, a fitting way to end a great drive.

"I lift my hat to these guys this weekend," he said as he talked about his pit crew. "Coming into this weekend, it was so tough last weekend in Toronto -- (the guys) did a good job."

The top 10 finishers included, Takagi in seventh, Kanaan eighth, Jourdain ninth and Fernandez Racing's Shinji Nakano in 10th. The last driver running on the track at the finish was Fernandez.

da Matta's departure may have denied the Brazilian a shot at the record books, but with five wins from nine starts this season, and a 50-point lead in the championship, he still has firm control over the championship in what has been in recent year's usually been a close fight between evenly-matched drivers. The race also had little effect on the championship, with Junqueira trailing da Matta 70 points to 120. Franchitti remains in third with 64 points.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Mario Dominguez , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing