IRL: Cheever team gains ground

IRL: Cheever team gains ground

The first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series contest of the 2005 17-race season occurred last weekend on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway. While every one of 22 drivers went into the 200- lap Toyota Indy 300 with the intent of being first to...

The first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series contest of the 2005 17-race season occurred last weekend on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway. While every one of 22 drivers went into the 200- lap Toyota Indy 300 with the intent of being first to the checkered flags, the hidden truth is there can be only one winner.

Alex Barron.
Photo by Tony Johns.
Red Bull Cheever Racing entered this season stronger in every way with second-year team driver Alex Barron complemented by the addition of Canadian Patrick Carpentier, a veteran of the Champ Car World Series.

Although this Red Bull duo didn't qualify as well as they might have wanted, they avoided the "big one" on the 158th lap and made it to the checkered flags in one piece, Carpentier, who qualified 19th leading 17th qualifier Barron in seventh at the flags while Barron took eighth.

Leading four laps en route to his P7 finish, Carpentier "enjoyed the race weekend but it sure was tougher than I thought it would be," the French- Canadian recounted. After having his gearbox stuck in fourth for time trials, Carpentier was a bit nervous before the race - more than he thought he'd be - but kept with the goal to "bring it home in one piece."

Assisted by spotter Davey Hamilton, Carpentier avoided incidents occurring around him throughout the race and was "very happy with this first experience. I'm getting more comfortable in the car and it's so nice to be with a team that really wants to win and is working toward that," Carpenter said.

Racing in the IRL's IndyCar Series is "much different from what I'm used to," Carpentier advised. "It's one of the most difficult things I've ever done, racing 200mph just inches apart from other cars. We were wide open all the time and it's a very different experience. I've got a lot to learn but, all told it was a good weekend."

Carpentier is looking forward to racing next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway in the XM Satellite Radio 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage, a track where he's competed before. "Phoenix is a very tough track. It's a place where hundredths and thousandths of a second make a big difference. I've always liked the mile ovals so I'm looking forward to the race there," he said.

In his first IRL experience, Carpentier had a birds-eye view of the big accident that occurred toward the end of the race. "I learned that you have to be extremely careful when you're running that close. I saw Kosuke [Matsuura] go sideways a little [on the restart] and his car went down and caught Tomas' [Scheckter].

"I know it was unintentional but his car got loose," Carpentier continued. "I know he didn't try to do dirty. A lot of guys behind him started spinning too and that's why eight cars were collected in this accident."

Carpentier said he stayed up until about 2AM Monday morning analyzing the race and his experience in it. "The adrenaline rush I got from the race and seeing passes from inside the car was really amazing. Once the nervousness wore off and I got into the rhythm of the race, it was really great."

After driving in the Champ Car World Series for the past several years, Carpentier came to the Indy Racing League because he has always loved oval racing and excelled at the discipline. The cars, he says are quite similar but "they are extremely different in the pack. You run very, very close to one another, much, much closer than I've experienced before.

Patrick Carpentier.
Photo by Steve Swope - IRL.
"We were all extremely close with the three-liter engines and similar chassis. You have to stay on the gearbox of the guy in front in order to move forward," Carpentier learned. "The top speed is higher with the IRL car but less than the Champ Car around the corners. It's a very different animal."

That edict is something Barron learned a long time ago as he's been with the League for quite a few seasons. In his second full stint with Red Bull Cheever Racing, Barron has been reconnected with the engine maker who brought him into major league open wheel racing: Toyota.

Barron secured his first major title in the Toyota Atlantic Championship and moved up to Champ cars with the engine maker. He won his second IndyCar Series race in a Toyota at Michigan International Speedway in July of 2003, when the Californian nipped Sam Hornish Jr. nearly at the checkered flags after setting him up for several laps.

He wasn't terribly pleased with his results last Sunday but Barron believes his team is heading in the right direction. "We ran mid-pack much of the race and made the car work good after the first stop. Our pit stops were just average and we need to work on things from that perspective. Quite frankly, I thought we'd be further up.

"Phoenix is a very different track next week. We were fourth there last year and had good balance in the heat," Barron recalled. "Frankly, I think we need to be more offensive in our attack this year than defensive, because then we can enjoy making our passes and moving up through the field."

After analyzing things that occurred during pit stops, "We were a bit slow and learning how to work with the new[single point] fueling rig. We've got to speed up the process, I think," Barron noted.

Although he wasn't in the middle of the Matsuura/Scheckter contretemps Barron did see that the Japanese driver was "moving around a lot. That causes turmoil when people get loose. This was the time to run clean and be careful, aggressive moves. I think the League should evaluate what happened and make it better.

Running the same package as Marlboro Team Penske's two drivers, who finished the race in second (Hornish) and fifth (Helio Castroneves), IRL veteran Barron believes "we couldn't keep up with them. We'll have to do things within the team to effect further gains. We just didn't have the speed.

"We were both fortunate to come up with points after this race. It's a long season," Red Bull team leader Barron admitted, "and we can't afford to fall behind. It's awfully hard to catch up in this series."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Davey Hamilton , Helio Castroneves , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Barron , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske