Monday, August 12, 2002

Carpentier runs away with victory at Mid-Ohio

Associated Press Writer

        LEXINGTON, Ohio — The battle for the CART driver championship is a real race again.

        Points leader Cristiano da Matta had a 50-point lead after the Cleveland Grand Prix two races ago. But the margin is down to 27 points with eight events left, ending thoughts of a runaway.

        Da Matta, who hasn't finished any of the last three races, didn't score any points at Sunday's Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.

        Meanwhile, race winner Patrick Carpentier picked up all 23 points available — 20 for winning, one for leading the most laps and two for being the top qualifier both Friday and Saturday.

        That provided some hope not only for Carpentier, now second in the standings with 95 points, but also for drivers farther back on the list, including Christian Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti, who finished second and third respectively. Each has 74 points to share sixth place.

        “The same way it went well for him (da Matta) the first half of the season, when he won four straight races, maybe we can get someone that's going to win four races in the second half of the season, and the whole thing changes completely,” Fittipaldi said.

        “One of the nice things about this series is that the winner scores a lot of points and things can change very, very quick here.”

        “About three races ago, everybody said the championship was over and I said there is no way it's over,” Andretti said. “I think now you are seeing we're gaining, we're getting a little bit closer to them and they have been having a little bad luck, so anything can happen.”

        Carpentier won his second straight CART race in Ohio, averaging 106.680 mph to hold off Fittipaldi by 3.2 seconds at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

        After winning his first pole in four years Saturday, Carpentier said he might run around the racetrack naked if he won the race. He politely declined to back up the boast following the victory, but about three hours later, he stripped to his checkered-flag boxers and stood in the track to pose for pictures.

        “I never said when I was going to do it, or at what time,” he said.

        Carpentier led 89 of the 92 laps in his Ford Cosworth-Reynard, losing the lead only after three pit stops.

        He described it as the best performance of his career. He also won last month in Cleveland, the open-wheel series' other Ohio stop.

        His only serious threat came from da Matta, but the Brazilian dropped out of contention when he spun backward into a gravel trap on lap 70 as he tried to overtake Carpentier in the track's “keyhole” turn.

        Under special rules for this race and the one next week in Elkhart Lake, Wis., da Matta was allowed to continue, and he finished 13th — one spot out of the points.

        “I thought I had pulled away from Cristiano, but suddenly I saw him coming toward me,” Carpentier said. “I thought he was going to try to outbrake me, so I pushed the brake really, really far. I got around the corner, then saw his car going backward and said, 'That doesn't look good (for him).”'

        “I wasn't trying to pass Patrick. I was just trying to put pressure on him,” da Matta said. “When I tried to put my nose alongside his car, he braked for the corner and turned in. I think that made me lose my air and I locked up my rear tires and went off course. ... It cost us a lot of points, so I am really disappointed.”

        Conditions were hot and humid, with the temperature 91 degrees at race time.

        The race was nine laps longer than it's been for the last several years because more television time was available this year.


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