Eventual winner Patrick Carpentier passes pole-sitter Cristiano da Matta early in the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland. Da Matta was forced out with mechanical problems on the 22nd lap.
CLEVELAND - Patrick Carpentier did donuts in his race car yesterday at Burke Lakefront Airport after winning the Marconi Grand Prix, possibly staving off a steady diet of donuts.
The Canadian from Ville Lasalle, Quebec is driving for a new contract with the Player's/ Forsythe Racing team. With one previous victory in his fifth year with the team and his current contract expiring in September, his hunger for a good result was insatiable.
Now it's negotiable.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Carpentier said in regard to his new bargaining leverage. “For sure, Team Player's has been like a family and I would love to come back. I want to come back if they want me to come back. I don't want to force my way in. I'm pretty much open to talk to everyone.”
Carpentier said he has a clause in his contract that presents a date when he can negotiate as if he were a free agent, even though he's still under contract with Players'/Forsythe. He said he has exceeded that date.
With the top three drivers in the CART point standings, including pole-sitter Cristiano da Matta, dropping out of the race with a myriad of mechanical problems, the door was left open for the others - the undecided, the uneasy, the unsigned.
Michael Andretti finished second, 17 seconds behind the winner. Paul Tracy was third, another 11 seconds back in this lackluster event that saw only 11 of an anemic field of 18 cars running at the end - only eight on the lead lap.
A sign such as, “We'll race for food” could have hung over the top three finishers.
Andretti said he has a lot of options available for next year, and that all the rumors stating he'll have his own team in the IRL next season remain mere scuttlebutt. “There is no plan at the moment,'' he emphasized.
Tracy, too, is past the option date in his contract that allows him to negotiate with other teams.
“I don't know anything yet,” he stated. “I had a conversation with Barry [Green, Team Kool Green owner] last night and he basically told me he doesn't know what's going on. I'm pretty much open right now to talk to everyone.
“I've pretty much put it off. I've been talking to Barry and giving him the opportunity to put a program together because my loyalty is to Kool Green. I'm waiting, but the clock is ticking. It's time to move in the next couple, three weeks. I want to be in CART. I've stated that all along. I would hope Team Kool Green is going to be back in CART. That I don't know. I'm waiting to find out.”
At that point, Carpentier looked at Tracy, smiled, and said, “Me and Paul are starting our own team.”
Da Matta just wanted his engine to start as he sought a CART-record fifth consecutive victory. He had the early lead, was pulling away from the field with ease, and then encountered a boost problem and slowed on lap 20 of the 115-lap event. He pitted two laps later, smoke billowing from the rear of his mount. Moments later he climbed out of the car, a possible record, a sixth victory in the first nine races this season, and a further points increase up in smoke.
“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,” da Matta explained. “I'm not disappointed about not setting a CART record. The streak doesn't mean anything to me. The championship is my goal.”
Dario Franchitti inherited the lead, held it for 28 laps, and then was forced out by a mysterious mechanical predicament on lap 69.
“It's been one of those weekends,” said Franchitti, who went through five different engines before yesterday's race. “Up until I went out I was running really well. It's very disappointing, especially with Cristiano having his problem early on. I was hoping we'd have a chance to start catching up in the points, but it just hasn't been Team Kool Green's weekend.”
Teammates Andretti and Tracy might dispute that point.
Carpentier took the lead on lap 54 and was never really challenged thereafter, leading Andretti by as many as 38 seconds on one occasion with Andretti and Tracy just fighting to finish.
That's the position CART finds itself in, too, and this race didn't do anything to diminish that situation.