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CART MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 24, 2001
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Patrick Carpentier of Player's Forsythe Racing, who drove to the first victory of his five-year FedEx Championship Series career in last Sunday's Harrah's 500 presented by Toyota at Michigan International Speedway. Good afternoon, Pat. Congratulations on a spectacular victory and thanks for being with us today.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Patrick, the driver of the No. 32 Player's Forsythe Ford Reynard recorded his first career FedEx Series championship triumph in his 79th career start. He became the eighth different winner in ten completed FedEx Championship Series events this season, and the victory was his first since winning a 1996 Toyota Atlantic Championship event at Laguna Seca Raceway en route to that series championship. The race featured 60 official lead changes among 11 drivers and an unofficial 167 lead changes around the racetrack. Patrick led the final three laps of a riveting three-car run to the checkered flag with Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL/Green and Michel Jourdain of Herdez Bettenhausen who rounded out the podium. Patrick's victory from the 21st starting position established a CART record as the deepest point on the grid from which anyone has driven to victory on a Super Speedway. Al Unser had previously held that distinction from driving to 20th to victory at Indianapolis in 1987. With the victory, Patrick improved from 21st to 14th place in the FedEx Championship Series Championship with 35 points, heading into this weekend's Target Grand Prix presented by Energizer at Chicago Motor Speedway. Round 12 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ABC TV this Sunday, July 29th, beginning at 4:00 PM Eastern time.
Q. First of all, I know after Greg Moore died, you were kind of seen as the guy who is going to step in and take his place. First of all, were you comfortable with that pressure and did that maybe affect your performance a bit last year?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, it was okay. No, I don't think you can replace a guy like Greg Moore. You know, we were so happy to win at Michigan because Greg was kind of the king of that racetrack. We're really happy. But, yeah, I don't think you can replace him. I was just kind of the senior guy on the team, as Greg was, and Greg played that role very well. It was difficult for me at first. The car was not functioning as well as we wanted to, and I don't think we had all the resources that we do have now on the team, and we are hoping to get good results, but it did not happen last year. We had a couple of podiums, but we were looking for our first victory. Took a long time and Player's almost didn't sign me up last year for this season. So it was a really tough year last year, but this season coming in with the new guys: Tony Cicale and Bruce Ashmore, my engineer; Michael Cannon, who I think is a great engineer, I think had more experience. The cars were fast all winter, so we were definitely backed up by better cars and better team and better everything. And a lot of guys changed and a lot of guys stayed and I think it made for a better team, and finally came for the victory. So I'm really happy about it, but I still think you cannot replace a guy like Greg Moore.
Q. You know, 79 races, that's an all long time to wait for this first win. Could you talk a little bit about waiting that long and what goes through your mind in terms of, "Gee, will I ever win one of these things?" What goes through your mind as you are fighting that sort of thing?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: It took a long time, but I never quit hoping. I always thought I had the potential to win the race and I always thought the team could do it, also. Sometimes, you're right, I was wondering if it ever was going to happen. Like in Detroit this year, we're running second and I didn't finish as good as I wanted to. We ended up 9th, got passed side ways on the restart and lost position. So it was kind of the same situation at Michigan, where Dario Franchitti was behind me, and Dario is really good at the races to restart and to pass a few people. I didn't want it to happen again, but it was just tough. Something always seems to happen and get in the way of winning, and sometimes you do wonder if it is ever going to happen. I kept working really hard and I trained even harder this year than I have ever trained in the past, and I am trying to be as focused as I can. And the team is better than what it was in the past. One thing that kept me going is I understand -- like if you do cycling and you train really hard and you do all your homework and you want to be out there, the chances are good that you are going to be up at the front, unless you are competing against Lance Armstrong; but the chances are good you are going to be up there. Like in racing, there's a car that goes between the driver and the performances, and there's a lot of stuff. Like we had a little bit of luck in Michigan. We gained our lap back that we had lost earlier on in the race and sometimes nothing works for you, and I think that's one of the causes why we are not up there as soon as we should have been, I think.
Q. You said that you are asking more questions now. I don't know if it's that you want to know more about what's going on with the car, maybe have some content with they make changes in the car. Talk about that a little bit.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: One thing that I realized, in racing, if you don't try to make it happen or if you don't do anything to make it happen, it's not going to happen. I think if you don't demand, you will not get -- you will not get it. So what I do is I ask a lot of questions. And when my teammate has a really good car, I go on the other side and talk with Tony Cicale and ask them what they are doing, and vice versa, they are doing the same thing, too. So I think it is helping the team a lot, to run it like an open book, and I think it is one of the first years that it has been run like that. So it's very good, and I ask questions. I talk to Neil , I talk to Player's, I talk to everybody all the time and I try to get as much information as I can and try to improve my situation all the time and I think it's -- it's working out better.
Q. Is this something -- you didn't do this last year?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I did, but not as much. It seems like maybe I didn't have as much ability as I got this year on the team. Earlier on, like a couple years ago, I didn't really do that, and last year I started doing it a little bit. This winter when Bruce Ashmore came on board, Bruce kind of taught me to do that more, to demand more, to find more, to improve, and if we are good, to get even better and better and always try to find ways to become the best or to get better. Bruce has taught me that this year. Maybe that's what the difference is.
Q. Spenard, does he still work with you? Is he still involved?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Richard? Actually he was at the party last night; he was celebrating. He is a really good friend of mine. He has been with me since I was 15 years old and I started Formula 2000 in his racing school. Richard, he was my teacher. I think he will always be there. He's a good friend of mine, but he's not at the races anymore.
Q. I wanted to know, and this probably is looking a little too far ahead, but I want to know how much or how important is it to win at Michigan, and what are you going to bring to California Speedway at the end of the year, knowing that you have won at a track that is very similar to California Speedway?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: It is very good. The team had a fantastic strategy. Even though we lost a lap earlier in the race, the team had an amazing strategy. What I really think the most of this 500 is that the engine was as powerful or more at the end of the race than it was at the beginning of the race, the Ford engine. I think right now on speedways, it is stronger than any other manufacturer. I think that's why we ran well and at the end of the race it was me, Kenny Brack, Max Papis, and a few other guys, a lot of guys who have Ford engines at the front, and I think the Ford is strong right now. If it stays that way, I think it is going to be interesting in Fontana. Plus, the team did so much work in the wind tunnel and with suspension, to improve the cars that it finally paid off this weekend. I would love to win the Fontana 500, but it is such a long race and a tough race like Michigan that you cannot tell who is going to win until the last lap. It was great. I think for me to win this race was good, especially because I think it might be last time we go there; and to win the last one was fantastic. Also, because Greg Moore was the master of that place before, and Greg was unbeatable. To win there was a good memory for the players.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the team and how it has turned around in the past few races? The season got off to a really ugly start, and then starting with your run at Detroit, the past four or five races, has there been something which has changed and turned the team around in the right direction?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah , I think the biggest thing that's changed is luck. (Laughs) I think we seem to have more luck in the last two or three races than we have in the last two or three years. This winter, things stayed pretty much the same, but over the winter -- we never had any problems with the cars. They ran all winter. As soon as we started the season, for some reason, we couldn't finish races. The cars kept breaking down and it was not something the team, Bruce, Michael, my engineer and these guys, Tony, were expecting. I think we got caught by surprise and it took -- every race, we thought it was just something like at Milwaukee, my floor undertray kind of split in half and lost downforce, but it's something that's never happened since I've been in CART. If it never happens, there's never really a reason to fix it. And after that it kept going, other problems, other problems. So the team decided to totally take the cars apart, and every piece that they thought had a chance of failure, to resign it and redo it. They actually went through the whole race car before -- I think it was before Detroit. Finally, we started finishing races, and the cars have been really good since then. And by finishing races, your chance of being up there is much greater. In the last two races, Alex got a bit of a break at Toronto and a little bit of luck, and I got a bit of a break in Michigan and a little bit of luck. The car has been fast all year. When you've got a fast car, you just need a little bit of luck to be up there, and we've got that the last few races.
Q. Could you contrast your situation and your frame of mind today, compared with what it was, say, eight or nine months ago, with your uncertain future? You even talked vaguely about quitting. How do you feel about your situation now compared to where it was at just a short time ago?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it's extremely different. I don't think I ever would have quit the sport, but, man it was tough last year. Waited a long time before renewing the contract. After the opening for us at the end of the season, it was very difficult and it was very nerve-wracking, and I think that situation made me grow up. And at the end of the year, I decided to just enjoy the driving and focus on making the cars better with the engineers. I think I grew up. I matured a lot. That's why they signed me up again for this season, so I think it was a good lesson. This year, actually, the limit date I signed the contract was right after Toronto, and even though I didn't finish the race in Toronto and Alex finished second, I never talked to players about it and I never worried about it. I never -- I just wanted to go and race and do my thing, and this year they have signed me up much earlier than I ever have since I've been in the CART series. Coming into Michigan, usually I go to the race weekend and I hope to win, but coming into Michigan, for some reason, I thought I was going to win. I even told Mike, one of my mechanics Saturday night, I said, "You know what, I think we are going to win tomorrow. I really do." And we won the next day. So I was more decided and I'm so much more confident and relaxed than I've ever been in the past, so maybe that together also helped with a better team and a better car.
Q. What was your opinion of the Handford device -- (inaudible)?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: You know, I would keep it, because in some tracks, I think CART needs to rethink the length because we need to pass a little bit more. And the decision that was made with that Handford device coming into Michigan was fantastic. I think it is one of their best decisions they have ever made. It doesn't create a lot more turbulence when you are following a car in front of you, but what is happening it becomes like a video game where the car up front has to push through the wind at 200 miles an hour. So the maximum speed you can do is around 214, 215, 216 miles an hour in a race configuration; that when you get to be in the group of cars, like two, three, four, five race cars, then your speed moves up to 225 miles an hour or something like that. So it makes it for really interesting racing. And the guys just stayed together, and it just makes it -- the turbulence was not worse. I think it made it so the car was down a little bit. It was still plenty fast. The people won't see in the difference in the grandstands. I thought it made for much better racing. The only thing that was a little bit tougher; that was one of my toughest 500-mile races, because the Handford device is at the back of the car now so that it kind of stops the air. If you are in a group of five or six cars following each other, it's like the air stops circulating, and inside the cockpit, it became extremely hot. Because the racetrack I think was above 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was so hot that I had to push my throttle pedal with my heel because my foot was starting to burn, and I actually was struggling to breathe a little bit. That made it a little bit tougher because there was less air circulation.
Q. Do you think that this win and maybe, hopefully, some future wins will help the event in Montreal, as far as fan attendance and generating fan interest?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Oh, yeah. I'm pretty sure I could tell right now that Montreal is going to be sold out. It doesn't matter how many wins we get, but just to battle up at the front right like that, both races at the front, and Alex was second at Toronto. And with the win this weekend, if we can just keep being at the front and having a chance of winning every now and then, I think the place is going to be packed. The difference is that they do so much promotion around the race that I think they are going to sell the tickets, anyway.
Q. I assume you've driven the Montreal track. In the first configuration -- inaudible -- any modifications you might recommend?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I don't want to change it because I don't want to compare CART and Formula 1. I think it is suitable, but I think it is going to be extremely hard on brakes, as it always is. When I was in Atlantic and talking to the team, they said it was extremely difficult on the brakes for Formula 1 cars. I know it is going to be tough because our cars are actually heavier than Formula 1 cars and we still have steel breaks, so the brakes are probably going to be overheating a little bit. Beside that, I think it is going to be a great racetrack for the CART series.
Q. How far down have you felt over the last while and coming into this season, the problems you had last year, and whether the fact -- you mentioned Sunday that your wife was one of the few people that sort of stuck with you through it all; I wonder how far down you actually got, because on the surface you always appear so upbeat?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it was the toughest part actually last year, about a year to date from now, starting in Chicago and then Vancouver and all that. That's when we were not sure if I was going to be part of the Player's team, and a lot of the people -- so many people, actually, called and even suggest that I should not be part of the team anymore. So it is really difficult when you have to -- when it feels like you have to battle, not only to win races, but battle and prove to everybody on the team and everybody everywhere that you can drive the cars and win races. It was hard. It took so long. So many times, we have been close to winning. Even last year at Chicago, we were up to second place and catching Cristiano and the car broke, the left to rear suspension broke and I crashed. And sometimes, I crashed myself and lost the race. But it was just difficult. You know, sometimes, it's hard to believe that it is ever going to happen because you've got so much bad luck. It's tough. Everybody has to happen: The pit stop, the yellow flags and everything, but mentally the toughest part was definitely a year ago from last year now. But definitely it was good, if I look at it from now, I think it is the best thing that could ever happen to me. At the time I thought it was the worst, but now I think it is the best because it made me grow up and realize that there's other things, also. And we had the baby. And having a baby makes you think a lot more about the decisions you make and where you want to go in your future. Because when you are by yourself, even if you are not racing or whatever happens, it does not matter because you can always do something else. But when you have a family, you have more responsibility, and maybe that helped me to mature a lot. For some reason, since I have the baby, I have been so much more aggressive on the racetrack, and I just want to make sure that I'm going to be in CART for many years to come and I'm going to be winning races. So all that changed a lot. And I tried so hard over the winter --
Q. You're actually more aggressive on the racetrack?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Oh, yeah. More.
Q. It was a great race. You guys really put the word "team" into the game, and the slingshot was great. Going into Chicago, talk about that.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: To be honest, we had a lot of problems this year on the 1-mile ovals. We've been struggling a bit. We knew we were going to be fast in Michigan, and Texas, we qualified second. But Chicago, to be honest, I have no idea. We'll see when we get there. I think right now, the team is upbeat. We seem to have momentum. I think if the car is not that strong, when we are going to get into there, we are going to make it stronger as the weekend goes on. I think our chances of podium is really strong, but we have to wait and see what kind of improvements we've made on the setup compared to the other two 1-mile ovals.
Q. Looking towards the balance of the season, where do you see yourself and the team ending up?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I don't know yet. We'll see what it is right now. The objective on the team was to try to get a victory, and we got that this weekend. Now I want to get another one -- the pay is pretty good. (Laughs.) We try to get as many podiums as we can, and we're just being really aggressive to be on the podium as much as we can. More than trying to pick up points, we are just trying to run at the front all the time.
Q. Before the race, the drivers were talking about how they didn't like the Handford, but you talked about how you did like it. Can you contrast what you felt going into the race and what your turns were and how it played out?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Actually, I've always liked that track. I think it makes for some of the best racing that we see in CART. So many passes in the last race, and the last few years were great stuff, and really exciting. That's what I like about it. I think the way the track is designed is -- for a 500-mile or a 2-mile racetrack, Super Speedway, I think it is the perfect way to design it. It's not too banked, and it's banked enough so that we can run three or four going into the corners. With the Handford device, they lowered the boost for this end, also, from 37 to 36 inches and it made it much better. I think the cars were much safer . I don't think anybody in the grandstand could see the difference of speed, but I think it was much safer. That's why I really like that track. I think it is a shame that we are going back, but I like to -- I like to race in places where we fill up the grandstands, and I think the CART series deserves to have a full grandstand because I think it is a great spectacle.
Q. It looked like you were having fun out there. Were you actually having fun?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: To be honest, yeah, I was having a blast. I thought it was fun. I thought it was great. I was trying to go outside -- I was trying to see how far I could go and I was trying to find ways to keep the air clean in front of me, so I could follow cars closer and with traffic and stuff. Actually, the guy that was doing my watching for me at the top, I don't remember how you call that -- spotter, was really good, because I had a few close calls. But it's really the race that I enjoy the most in the year, and I think it was fun racing. If I could race like that all the time -- it was exciting from inside the car. I cannot imagine what it was outside.
Q. A couple of the people mentioned to me after the race it looked like either the sun was reflecting off your helmet or not your normal gold one, or you traded to a white one because of the heat?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, it stayed the same. It was probably the sun reflecting on it. But, man it, was hot. It was really hot inside the car. Actually, I had a bit of a headache at the end of race because the Handford device, being so big now creates more turbulence and less air going through the cars, and it was a little bit hotter. But, no, the helmet color stays the same.
Q. I'm curious how your wrist is doing and did the long race weekend bother it at all?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, really good. I didn't even think about that during the race. But for some reason, it's still pretty fragile. When Dario came and hit me in Cleveland, he hit my front wheels and almost broke it off again. It swelled up like crazy the next day. It's really sensitive, so I have to wear some sort of -- Nike made like some sort of a brace, and I have to put that on with a strap that I kind of put around it, just to make sure this if something happens, it stays in one piece. But, yeah I have to be really careful with that. This weekend, it was really fine.
Q. T.E. mentioned the last time you were in the victory lane was in the Atlantic series. What are your thoughts on being the first Lynx Racing graduate to finally score a CART victory?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: That's right. If it would not have been for Lynx Racing, I don't think I would be in the CART series today. They gave me one of the best cars I've ever drove when I was in Formula Atlantic. A great season, also. I'm really grateful. They still let me wear a Lynx Racing patch on my suit, just to say thank you to them. I promised them I would always wear one if they brought me to the top. I'm really happy. I'm excited. It was a lot of work and a lot of patience to get to there and we finally did it. So I'm really pleased.
Q. I understand there were some mechanical problems that the team discovered during warm-up. Were you concerned the car might not go the distance?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah because we used a different gear box. We used it a couple times on the weekend and it broke, and we almost went to the old one. We thought the old one would not last all the way. So we took a chance, the engineers, and we all decided that we should stick with it and go with the seven-speed. And they were exactly right, because the gear box lasted the whole race and I never used, actually, the seventh gear; I only used six. But for some reason, it was stronger. Also, we had problems early in the race with the turbo pressure. It kept falling down, and that's why we ended up losing a lap early on. But for some reason, the pressure came back before the end of the race and the engine was really strong.
Q. Now that you've won, are you more stressed out; now you're a proven winner and you've got to continue or is it a big relief off your shoulders?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think it is two things. It is a big relief, that's for sure. It's like 5,000 pounds off my shoulder. I think if you win once, after that, I think it's not easier, but you've done it once, so you know you can do it. You know how you did it and you know that it takes patience and to be aggressive and stuff like that. But I think I'm going to repeat it, for sure. As far as the pressure is, no, definitely I don't feel more pressure. I felt like we earned it and worked hard for that win this weekend. It was good team work and I was very happy. So, no, not more pressure. I'll just keep doing what I do, and I can only drive to the best that I know in the car, and the rest of it should come by itself.
Q. I watched the entire race, and it was very interesting toward the end. They were listening in to your radio broadcast with your crew and you said that you thought you had -- that you don't have the car to lead, but you had the car to win?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it's actually the one who said that -- I think it was brilliant what he said. It was my engineer. Everybody thinks I'm the one who told them that, but it is my engineer, Michael Cannon, who said, "You remember two things: You got a car -- you got a car that cannot lead, but you've got a car that's strong enough to win." It was just reminding me that if at all possible, on the last lap, I should be second behind the first guy and just get a slingshot for the finish line, because if I would be up front, these guys could crash me like crazy because I had a little bit more wings than these guys. That's what he was explaining. It's so difficult and so competitive, if you try to stay behind the guy in front of you, then you have six guys that just passed you going into the next corner. So it was very difficult to time, but we did it, so it was fun.
Q. If you could, could you describe the last couple of laps of the race and how important was your teammate, Alex Tagliani, to your win?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: It was important. But to be honest, I think that we could have won that race, anyway. I got a tow from Dario that was a really big tow when Alex went on the inside. But I think the thing that Alex did that was extremely nice and extremely good for us was that he created confusion between Dario and Michel Jourdain, and I think I that confusion , they were looking at Alex and I think Dario stopped looking for me. He didn't see me going on the outside because he could have easily blocked me going around that corner. And I think for that, Alex did a great job of doing that. I don't know if it was really planned or what it was, but what he did definitely helped me to secure that win.
Q. That definitely enabled you to sneak around the outside and take the win; it was exciting.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you very much. It was a fun race. I just enjoy racing like that. It was just competitive and passing and a lot of excitement for me, too.
Q. You said that you bought a racing bike or are thinking of buying one?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Actually, I'm reading a book about Lance Armstrong, and I think he's the best cyclist that's ever existed. I think most of it comes from his mental strength. By that, I'm a big fan of what he's riding, which is a Trek bike, and I like their triathlons special bike and I want to get one of those. But I'm going to wait until I get back to the U.S. and probably get one of these bikes to train for none.
Q. You're not going to try and compete in that stuff?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, I don't think so. I think these guys would lap me very quickly. I think I'm in good shape and I train a lot, but never something like these guys do.
Q. The training on that would be a little safer than training with your motorcross.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, that's what I did. I switched, actually. That's all do I right now is cycling. So I'm training only with that. Right now, I've got another bike at home that I use to train on the road, but anything that has to do with off-road right now is not part of my world, which is motorcross and mountain biking and stuff like that. I've had so many experiences like that and my racing career is too important to take that risk.
Q. Since Greg Moore's death, the team has had a lot of success. How happy was Gerry Forsythe on Sunday after the race? What did he say to you?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I got a picture here in front of me that shows these guys and Gerry jumping up across the finish line. He was so happy. I think it was such a relief for him, and especially Michigan, because Greg was the master of that track and was almost unbeatable there. He was so fast and so aggressive. But he was really happy. He just was relieved; that we struggled so much and he invested so much on that team, and it's finally playing off with Alex finishing second in Toronto and me winning at Michigan. So I think he was just relieved and really happy.
Q. Is there any cooperation between your team and the other Forsythe team?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No. Actually, there is cooperation between me and Alex, and I think there is a little bit between both teams, but if there is, it's very minimal. It's mostly between the two Player's cars.
T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for the afternoon. Thanks for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in the upcoming Target Grand Prix presented by Energizer and for the rest of the FedEx Championship Series.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon. We'll talk to you next week.
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