CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Race report

Patrick Carpentier claims Cleveland CART crown with 17-second win, da Matta streak ends at four in Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland. CLEVELAND (July 14, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Patrick Carpentier claims Cleveland CART crown with 17-second win, da Matta streak ends at four in Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland.

CLEVELAND (July 14, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) was the story as the green flag fell Sunday on the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank, but at the end of the day the man everyone was talking about was Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone).

Carpentier would benefit from a bit of race-day strategy to take the lead on Lap 49 of the 115-lap event at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport and would spend the rest of the day stretching it out as he rolled to his second career win in the CART FedEx Championship Series.

Da Matta led from the pole and paced the first 19 trips around the 2.106-mile course but would see his bid for a CART-record fifth consecutive win end on Lap 20 with a mechanical malfunction. The lead would then fall to defending race winner Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) who would lead until his Team KOOL Green squad called him in for fuel on the 49th lap. Carpentier and the Player's/Forsythe team decided to stretch its fuel load for some extra laps, giving the 2001 Michigan 500 winner a chance to turn some high-speed laps on a low fuel load.

The move paid off handsomely as Carpentier would come out of his subsequent pit stop in the lead by virtue of the strategy, although he and Franchitti both spent a similar amount of time on Pit Lane. Carpentier would come out with a 1.5-second lead and roll away virtually untouched from there.

Franchitti gave strong chase until the 69th lap when his Team Green machine expired, leaving his two teammates to pick up the scent. Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) would settle in to the second and third spots when Franchitti's day ended, but could not get close enough to put any pressure on the Canadian driver, who rolled to his first road-course win.

Andretti would score a second-place finish, his best since he took the win at Long Beach earlier in the season, putting him back in the points chase as he vaulted from 11th to a tie for eighth. Tracy would also score his first podium finish since claiming a win at the Milwaukee Mile in Round Four.

The finishes allowed all three drivers to climb back into the points race, but did not seriously threaten da Matta's 50-point advantage in the championship chase as five of the pre-race top-six in the points failed to finish the race and would go home scoreless. The rash of DNFs among those on the top of the heap left the leader with his advantage intact, but brought the 10 drivers from positions 2-11 to within 20 points of each other.

Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) rode the momentum of last weekend's runner-up finish at Toronto to a fourth-place Cleveland effort, marking the third time in his three Cleveland starts that he has placed in the top six in the final race rundown. Brack moved to within 10 points of the second spot in the points with his last two finishes and is just four behind third-placed Franchitti.

Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would round out the top five, giving the Player's/Forsythe a pair of cars in the top five for the second time in 2002, matching the team's effort from Motegi.

The always-calamitous first corner in Cleveland claimed its customary pound of carbon fiber, bringing the race to its only halt of the day when Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) got hit from the rear and became part of a four-car pile that would end the days of rookies Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Vasser would pit for new tires and rejoin the fray, using strong work from his Team Rahal crew to climb back through the field. He made several on-track passes to get back in the top 10, enroute to a sixth-place run - his second consecutive sixth-place run after a pair of early DNFs in Portland and Chicago.

Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) continued his climb up the points ladder, moving into 13th after his seventh-place effort on Sunday, while Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) finished eighth for the third time this season. Michel Jourdain (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) would round out the top 10.

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE FINISHER QUOTES

* PATRICK CARPENTIER (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone): "The team wants to win and Player's is putting a lot of money in this budget. We just haven't had the results up until now. But after struggling in Toronto last weekend the team came together and gave us great pit stops today. This was a great win for us. It means so much more to me personally to get a win on a road course rather than an oval. Of course, nothing can replace your first win, but this one means a lot more because of the timing."

* MICHAEL ANDRETTI (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): (On the bodywork that came apart late in the race) "It happened with 14 laps to go. I was pushing the car pretty hard and my lap times started to go off. Losing that piece probably cost us about 400 pounds of downforce. I think we have finally gotten a hold of the Lola chassis. We are almost to the point where the team has the car set up to suit me." (On da Matta's run this season) "This thing is not over yet. He could hit four in-a-row of these [DNF's] just as easily as he hit the other four. You can't get too confident in this game because it can get rough really fast."

* PAUL TRACY (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "We made some changes in the setup between qualifying and the race based on information from Michael's [Andretti] car and it seemed to work. We lost three positions in the pits early on when we were following Tony [Kanaan]. That put us almost 12 seconds behind. But it's a long race. I radioed in and ask how many laps were left in the second stint and they told me 40. So I knew at that point, being nine seconds behind Michael, it would be hard to catch him, let alone pass him. So we managed a third place, which is what we needed for the points."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Paul Tracy set a new Cleveland race-lap record with a circuit around the Burke Lakefront Airport in 58.473 seconds (129.660 mph), breaking the standard of 58.666 set by Alex Zanardi, which was established in 1997.

* Michel Jourdain Jr. placed ninth to extend his scoring streak to nine races. Jourdain is the only driver to have finished every race and is also the only driver to have scored in each event.

* Da Matta leaves Cleveland with a 50-point lead, the largest lead any CART driver has held after nine races under the current scoring system, which went into effect in 1983.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain