Carpentier secures back-to-back Laguna wins
13 September 2004
Patrick Carpentier secured his first win of the 2004 Champ Car World Series as he followed up his start-to-finish win at Laguna Seca last season with a second straight win at the venue in the Grand Prix of Monterey.
The Forsythe Championship Racing pilot spent the first part of the day behind teammate Paul Tracy, but once he got to the front of the line after the first round of pit stops, the Canadian simply threatened to run away from the field.
At one point he established a 22-second lead over the field, but even a late caution period wasn't to deny him the victory as he came home 5.395 seconds ahead of Newman Haas driver Bruno Junqueira to take the fifth victory of his Champ Car career.
“I almost lost it towards the end because I just lost focus,” Carpentier said afterwards. “Since I was running by myself, I just drifted off and caught myself just in time as two of my tyres went off, I was lucky to be able to save it.
“The Indeck car was good, it got a little loose on the last 4-5 laps, but not complaints other than that. I really love this place. I guess you have to flip over the fence to do good here, because I have done real well here since that incident!”
The race was action-packed from the drop of the green flag as Tracy and polesitter Sebastien Bourdais roared into the first corner nose-to-tail, leaving Carpentier back to third. However Bourdais would not last through the first lap as contact with Tracy left the series points leader with a flat left rear tyre. With the Frenchman forced into the pits, Tracy found himself at the head of a three-car train that included Carpentier and rookie A.J. Allmendinger, who had started an impressive fourth on the grid.
The trio stayed within two seconds of each other through to the first set of pit stops, but as they took place, the whole field was jumbled up.
Alex Tagliani, out of sync with the rest of the field after an early stop, briefly assumed the lead as Carpentier leapfrogged ahead of Tracy as the Forsythe duo made their stops. However the defending series champion would drop out of the running just seven laps later, as he went off course in turn two on lap 38, suffering damage to his front wing assembly that would cause him to stop again for repairs.
Allmendinger followed suit soon after as he tried to make an inside move on Oriol Servia in the Corkscrew turn and came off worse when the two touched. He returned to the pits with suspension damage, and although the RuSPORT team got him back on track, albeit well down on the rest of the field, he was forced to call it a day. Servia, who had started 12th, continued unharmed to put himself firmly in contention for a podium finish.
But third was a long way behind Carpentier at that point as the defending race winner had built a 22-second lead by lap 53. However, a stall by Roberto Gonzalez brought out a full course yellow which bunched the field back up for a restart on lap 57. Junqueira was the beneficiary of the yellow, but took the restart with the lapped car of Rodolfo Lavin, teammate to Carpentier, between himself and the leader.
Junqueira would never get any closer than he was at that point and was forced to settle for second place. The podium finish for Junqueira was his seventh of the season, but more importantly, it allowed him to slice 11 more points from the points lead held by his teammate Bourdais - bringing the Brazilian driver to within 24 points of the series leader.
“I am real happy,” he said. “It was a good weekend for me and the PacifiCare car. We had great expectations coming here this year after running well last year. However, the car was not as good and we couldn't find the right balance. Then I crashed the morning before final qualifying and my team had to work hard to get the car ready.
“We started eighth, which wasn't really good, so we knew it would be hard. The Championship is still wide open and I am still fighting hard. This really gives us a boost for us to do well in Las Vegas and keep fighting.”
Carpentier ran away from the field again at the restart, Junqueira was safe in second while Servia had a five second advantage over his pursuers in third, helping Dale Coyne Racing to a first podium finish since 1996.
“This feels great!” the delighted Spaniard said afterwards. “We were so close in Cleveland and in so many races, it is great to finally get the result. We have all been working very hard and proving that we are capable together. It is a good feeling to finally do it, especially starting were we did. I did not have a great weekend because we were having problems with the car. It was a great race, three cars went off track in front of us, but otherwise, I passed a lot on track, our pit stops were good, and the car was good.
“We still need more speed, but it is great to show what we can do, a team that does not have a huge budget, but a lot of dedication.”
But behind the top three, a train of cars became embroiled in a frantic battle over the final 20 laps as Michel Jourdain Jr, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tagliani and Bourdais all fought fiercely for fourth through to seventh.
Jourdain was equal to the task and would come home in fourth while Hunter-Reay bagged his first top-five finish since Road America – an improvement on the non-finishes he had picked up in the last two races. Tagliani, who led seven laps on the day, finished sixth but the points leader Bourdais had one more brush with misfortune to suffer before taking the chequered flag.
Trying on his last lap to steal a position and two championship points from Tagliani, Bourdais slid off course in turn four, and rather than gain a place, he ended up losing seventh to Mario Haberfeld.
Bourdais ended up eighth while Guy Smith took a career best high for Rocketsports in ninth, with Tracy rounding out the top 10.
The series now takes the week off next week before heading to the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval for the Bridgestone 400 Presented by Corona.