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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Patrick Carpentier
May 27, 1997


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to all of you and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We are pleased that you all took the time to join us this afternoon. We would like to express a special welcome to our guest driver Patrick Carpentier of the Bettenhausen Motorsports Team Alumax. Welcome, Patrick.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Patrick driver of the Alumax Reynard Mercedes is enjoying an outstanding rookie season in the PPG CART World Series highlighted by a runner-up finish in last Saturday's Inaugural Motorola 300 at the new Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois. He led from laps 210 through lap 234 of the 236 lap event. And, he was in a position to claim his first victory until being passed by Paul Tracy just two laps from the checkered flag while Patrick was attempting to conserve fuel. Even so, Patrick's second place effort represented the highest finish in the 12 year history of Bettenhausen Motorsports. His best qualifying effort to date has been a third at the Boesch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota on April 27, in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Patrick picked up 16 points for Saturday's second place finish and now owns a 16 point lead over Dario Franchitti in the PPG CART World Series Rookie-of-the-Year standings. He ranks 13th overall with 21 points first heading into Sunday's Miller 200 at the Milwaukee Mile. With that, we are going to open it up for questions.

Q. According to the press conference following the race you said that Tony kept telling you: "Slow down, slow down because you are going to run out of fuel." You did a very good job there. You were right up there with him.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I was trying to go -- it took a while before I decided to slow down. We actually were going -- are going pretty hard on the radio. Tony said, "You have got to slow down. You have got to use 6th gear," because I could run either 4th, 5th or 6th gear. And, I ran 5th because I could reach the limit and have more power exiting the corners. But, I was already very lean on fuel to try to make it to the end. On their calculation, they were not sure if I was going to make it to the end. Tony said, "You have got to use 6th gear. You have got to use 6th gear." I said, "No, we are going to win this thing. I am not using 6th." He said, "No, you are not going to win because you are not going to finish." So I went up to 6th gear and I could see the guys behind beginning two-time on me. And, he said, "All right, good job, big boy." And, as soon as he said that, I went back to 5th gear and we did that once or twice. And then at the end, the whole team was -- were yelling - they said, "You have really got to use 6th gear." So, I used 6th gear. When I used 6th gear we are still running pretty good. But he said, no, you are still not going to make it. And, I had to lift a little bit because I was taking 3 and 4 flat out. And, he said you have to do something, you are not going to make it. So, I had to lift to go three-quarters the way. And, then Paul just came back really quickly and he passed me. I tried to make it hard for him, but I couldn't resist. I just wanted to finish second to get the points.

Q. The question is: This is what got you hired by Tony Bettenhausen. He said down in Florida when you were testing down there that you could talk through a turn. Did you talk through that first and second turn?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I think I talked the whole way around the racetrack quite a bit. But, we are so often in those race cars and we test so many times that it ends up -- we end up being pretty comfortable and we can talk really good. Especially on ovals, because we don't have to change gears all the time. So, we have little bit of time and the push-button to speak is on the steering wheel, so we don't have to take our hands off the steering whole.

Q. You impressed me. Good luck.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you.

Q. Patrick, when you finished the race, was the concern over the fuel warranted? Did you have enough left in the tank at the end that you could have run harder for maybe two more laps or were you basically on fumes?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I was on fumes. There was nothing left in the fuel tank. Basically all that was left was half a liter, 3/10 of a gallon into the tube that goes up to the engine. So, that was it. We were really on fume. I think that if I would have kept going for the last 5 laps flat out and using fifth, I don't think I would have made the last lap.

Q. Patrick, watching the race on television, just before the race they had interviewed you and Franchitti and one of the other rookies. You made sort of an interesting comment. I think you said that, you know, even though you had such great success in Formula Atlantic, going up to IndyCar or the CART Series you said it was much more difficult than you imagined. I wondered if you sort of felt - now I don't know if this is the case- but I mean, are you now sort of firmly established at how difficult it really is and you know what sort of task you have ahead of you to do well in this Series? And, maybe earlier on, you were a little bit put off by the fact that you were expecting to do better earlier on and it is more difficult than perhaps you imagined?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah. It is a lot more difficult than what I imagined. A lot of guys, I think like 15, 20 guys can win races at any time. And, like we are going to make it to Milwaukee next week and I may be 15th or 20th and the next race I will be 1st and 2nd. It is really hard to be competitive all the time. And, it is so much more demanding on the physical training, mental preparation than the feedback you have to give. No, I still believe that it is harder than I thought it was. I know we ran really well this weekend. We had a good pit strategy and everything went well for us. We ran -- basically in the last three races we had good speed. But, it is so competitive with all the drivers: Unser, Tracy, Andretti, de Ferran, Zanardi, these guys are so quick that if the car is off just a little bit or you just lift a little bit in qualifying because you made a mistake, that is it, you start 15th instead of 5th or 3rd. So, it is really competitive.

Q. Because you had been so successful in that other division, you are used to leading races. You are used to just getting the pole, going right out from the beginning, watching everybody follow you around the track. And, basically, just, you know, lapping cars. Now, I mean, I guess this is a different type of driving than you have experienced over the last couple of years where you are back in the pack and you have to weave your way through and that is a bit of an adjustment for you I would imagine.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah. , it is. And, it is funny because the first few races, that is what I said to my engineer tomorrow Tom Brown I said it is funny because I am not used to looking in the mirrors like that anymore. And, I kind of had to get used to it again. And, it is really hard, because when you win so many times like I did last year in Atlantic, you end up thinking anywhere you are going to go, you are just going to win, whatever the car, whatever is around, you are just going to go in and win. And, it was pretty much a shock for me when I got into IndyCar and learned that I had to learn everything again. The difference that in Atlantic, when you go the next year, if you are one of the best, all the best are probably gone to IndyCars or Indy Lites or something else. And, in IndyCar, 90% of the best guys stays. When you are not that good, then you have to go, so, it is -- that is what makes it hard and these guys test 20, 30 days; plus all the races every year. So, they have so much experience to set a car up quickly, that -- it is really hard.

Q. Patrick, how did it feel to lead? I mean, I am sure you dreamed of leading your first race. Was it what you thought it was?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, it was -- it took, to be honest with you, it took a few laps to just feel good where I was up in first place and, to me, it was like an unbelievable thing, a little bit and it took a few laps for me to believe that and I actually kind have had to tell myself that it is okay, that is where we belong. And, it took a few laps for me to just go and be comfortable with it. I was just driving -- from then on I was just driving really, really hard and I wanted to win it so much. It was hard because right from the start, after the yellow flag, I was on fuel economy and exiting the corners, Alex Zanardi and Raul Boesel were pretty close behind me. And, after that the more I drove, the better I drove and the more aggressive I became. But, I had to lift because of the fuel problem. But, at the end it was good. And, I think it was great for me, for the team, and for the people around because it proved us that when things are right and we have good timing we can run with the best and run at the front and actually run probably No. 1. I know it is going to be hard to do it in the future as much as it was for that time. But, at least it proved the team and the people around that we are competitive. So, it was good for that.

Q. Did you learn something?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I have learned a lot because in Atlantic when you are going to run up front, you know if you start up front, you know you are going to stay because the cars don't change very much throughout the run. The run is too short and you don't have any pit spots or nothing. In CART, even if you are 15th and there is 50 laps to go, you still have a chance to end up 1st. It just depends on the pit strategy and all that. So, even if you are 15th or 17th, you always have to go hard because you can always win five laps from the end. So, that is what I have learned.

Q. What was it like having Paul Tracy coming up behind you? And, is he intimidating?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Intimidating, no, because I have raced against him in CART a little bit and Formula 2000. For sure that you watch him a little bit more when you see him in your mirrors because if there is a -- three feet space in between the wall and your car, he is probably going to try it and try to move in. So, if I would have had more fuel, I think I would have given Paul more of a challenge. But, for me, at this point, I am not battling for the Championship. But, I need the points for rookie, so it was important to finish. But, I didn't want to make it easy for him. But, when you see Paul behind you, you know that at one place or another, he is going to try something. So, maybe you look a little bit more in the mirrors for him. But, no, I don't give up more space because Paul is there. But, I knew he was going to try something.

Q. We are getting ready for the Detroit Grand Prix up here in Michigan in another week or some. I was wondering if you can look ahead to that race and if you had any thoughts about the Detroit course and if he has any experience with that road course over here in Detroit?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, actually, I don't. I don't have any experience with that road course. But, that is the race I am looking forward to the most because early in the season we haven't done well at all on the street circuits. And, we tested four days since Long Beach. And, last year, that was my strong point, race on street circuits. But, so far this season, I have done much better on the ovals and the team also. But, I think that we have gained a lot of times when we tested. And, I think that the car has improved by a lot. And, I'd like to be challenging for top-5, top-10 in Detroit. But, that is our main concern to go back to Detroit and that is where we want to perform. On ovals, we kind of know we have a good setup so far. But, on the road circuits, we need to improve a bit. But, I think we did. But, until we see with everyone else, it is going to be hard to know.

Q. Congratulations Patrick. Fantastic,?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you.

Q. Amazing how your web site's go up with a good podium finish.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: (laughs) Yeah, that is true.

Q. Going back to Nazareth when you were doing the Goodyear tire test and you were second fastest to Paul Tracy. Now, with both of you out there in IndyCars, how much did you pick up in the learning curve from watching Paul and following him?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I picked up a little bit. But, when we tested at Nazareth I've learned most from my engineer which was from the Penske Team in the years before. He helped me a lot. But, where I have learned the most was during the race at Nazareth, Michael Andretti was following a lit bit of a different line than from 90% of the other guys. And I had a lot of push in the car and I started to follow the line that Michael was following. And, it eliminated about 50% of the push I had in the car. So, for the race, I have learned a lot about the racing line just following Michael Andretti. But, I haven't had a chance to follow Paul very much because in the race we had Michael in between. Entering the testing, when we get close to one another, either he is going to lift or I am going to lift; not to battle for no reason in testing.

Q. For the upcoming race at the mile, is the strategy going to be about the same?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it is going to be the same. I think we should be good there because it is similar to Nazareth. I have raced there before. My engineer has a lot of experience there. And, the turn is very similar to 3 and 4 in St. Louis, and Corner 2 at Nazareth and we were very fast there. So, it should be all right. But, like I said, before you go, you don't know because it is so competitive.

Q. That is great, well, it is the 7th race and I know 7 is your lucky number, so, hopefully it will be the first for you.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, that would be good. Thank you. (Laughs).

Q. We said earlier that this was the highest finish for Tony Bettenhausen in his twelve years in involvement as a car owner. I was wondering what did you guys talk about after the race? I know you were probably a little disappointed, you didn't get the win, but he had to be, I would imagine, tremendously relieved. If you could explain what the emotion was after the race and what that was like between you and Tony?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it was a big relief for a lot of us from the team because there was a lot of people from Alumax in the stands. They were a co-sponsor there and there was -- the presidents were there and it was a very important weekend. I think it was one of the most important weekends of the 1997 season for Tony. And, Tony has been trying to battle up at the front since the last eight, nine years and nothing to -- about Stefan I think Stefan was a great driver. But, I am very lucky this year because of the engineers they have and the people they have on the team. I think a driver by himself cannot win. You need everything around you. And, I am pretty lucky to have that. And, to be honest, Tony was extremely, extremely relieved. It is like if you would have taken a 200 pound weight off his shoulder and it seemed like he was walking lighter and he was kind of in the sky. He was really happy. I think it was about time. We had good qualifying at Nazareth. But, like they say, it is the final result that counts most of the time. So, he was really relieved and it was about time because it takes a bit of the pressure off the team and it proved him and the team and a lot of people that we are making the right decisions so far. But, you never know. It changed really quickly. But, to have one like that, at that moment, was really important and it was really good.

Q. Patrick, can you tell me a little bit about the development program that you had both with Links and with Player's?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, actually, when I was racing from Atlantic, I raced a few races in 1994 and a couple of races in Indy Lites. But, I had no official ride and just before Christmas, I was shopping for a racing team and I called Cameron MacGee (ph), MotorSport and he said, yeah, we are talking to a big sponsor. And, actually, Peggy called me back two days after that and she said, "Do you have something for next year?" And I said, "No." She said, "Merry Christmas, we have ordered the car, just come here in January, we will make a seat and you can race for us this year." So, I was really happy. I have seen her many times in the pits, but I didn't know she owned Levi�s Jeans and I was just really happy that she picked me up. We never had a contract for the two years I was with her, 1995 and 1996. And, once I signed with Links racing, Player's decide to come along and help me on a personal sponsorship deal and help me through my personal training and stuff. So I went to a Human Performance International which where doctors that followed, and a lot of guys in the CART Series, and they just helped me with physical and mental preparation. And I still go there today because I am still affiliated with Player's. So, that was the implication.

Q. The other question - I followed you in the last few years, I noticed you have won everything there. How do you communicate with your engineer, your person that you are communicating with in the pits, do you communicate in English or French?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Always English. Everybody on the team is English. To be honest, I have never had a team where I could communicate in French since I was 15. When I was 15 I moved up in Ontario for three summers in between school and everybody spoke English there. And, after that I went on from team to team, and everybody spoke English. So, I had to learn English. But, I had the chance to learn it when I was young, so it was really good. But, we always speak in English and trying to give as much feedback as I can, but, I am still on a big learning curve, I think, at the moment, I still let my engineer make most of the decisions. And, I just explain him what I feel in the car and what the car does.

Q. You don't know how good it feels to hear you refer to St. Louis.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it is good. That was a great weekend. Great facility. Big facility. And, I think that this year the track was so brand new that it had a lot of powder to try to fill in the cracks and the stuff on the track and it was a really nice track. But, I think that our how exciting the race was this year, next year once the peoples going to go testing there and the NASCAR and all that, it is going to be an even more exciting race.

Q. They will blow the dust off of it.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, and they will be really good.

Q. I hate to ask this question, but do you -- are you glad you were where you were instead of at Indianapolis over the last weekend?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah. To be honest with you, I have never ever been to Indianapolis. I haven't seen the track or the facility inside. I just see it from outside because I drive outside of it. But, I have lived in Canada most of the time and for us, we never really watched it as much as the people in the U.S. Only the time I watched it was when Player's and Jacques Villeneuve got involved and Jacques won it. Then after that, they separated and that is it. I have never been there. So, it is really not something I can say that I miss. Maybe if I would have been there I would. But, at the moment, no, I am just looking forward to go to Michigan 500 because it is a little bit same kind of track where we run at 230 miles an hour and I just want to see what that feels like because I have never done it so far.

Q. You mentioned you have never run at Indianapolis before. But, after your Atlantic season, it wasn't like there was an immediate cry among a number of teams for your services. In fact, it was quite remarkable that after the season you have had and the seasons you have had in Formula Atlantic that there probably weren't more teams interested in you. In fact, didn't you have to have sort of drive off against three, four other drivers to get the seat with Bettenhausen. I was wondering if a ride in the CART Series had not opened up for you, would you have explored an opportunity in the IRL? Was that an option for you at that point?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I have to be honest once more again on that. I looked at both Series, but I was hoping to get a ride in the CART Series. But, in CART, it is really hard to enter because the Series has been established since many years. And, over the years, they kept the best drivers and let go the ones that were not that good. But most of the time, the seats are filled up and all the cars are there. So, it is really hard. They only get one or two new drivers every year and that is it. But, it is like Formula I, when you go to the most competitive series, that is the way it is. I was just hoping to make it. A lot of people said that you cannot make it in IndyCar if you don't have a rich family or a lot of money behind you. And, I was told many times that I should not even try to go. At the end of the season, I was really determined to go in the CART Series and I had offers to go in Indy Lites, had a couple of them, one came from Player's, and I kind of refused it. It was even before I tested for Arciero-Wells and Alumax. But, it was just a phone call and it happened that Tony was reading a magazine and I got to test. And, there were three or four drivers. And, I got the drive. But, I already had a drive offered by Arciero-Wells as a test driver for this season. So, yeah, I wanted to go to CART Series because I have always dreamed to race against and measure myself against Unser, Andretti and Zanardi and these guys. And, since Jacques has been through the CART Series, that is what I wanted to get involved in. But, yeah, we considered the IRL option too. But, my main goal was the CART Series.

Q. Because it is so competitive, did you almost feel pressure right away, you know, maybe not necessarily to win, but to get a good placing right away - like you can't really sort of grow into the Series? You almost felt from the very beginning you really had to produce. I wondered because of Tony has been in this business for a long time, but he hasn't really had a lot of success, whether that atmosphere was around the Bettenhausen Team. There was a lot of pressure on everybody and maybe that was one of the things that was keeping them from winning and doing well just because everybody is so uptight, wanting to do well and sometimes that sort of works against you. I just sort of wondered, when you came to the team, did you feel that sort of pressure and was that pressure obvious from the beginning?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, the pressure was there and they wanted to win. They are really hungry to win. But, Tony never pushed me for it. And, I even read the newspaper and he said that I was still green in the CART Series and I still had a lot to learn. And I still do, but I think that the best thing the team could have done, they made a lot of changes from last year, the attitude that they had. I think that the years before they were happy with a few runs up at the front and just running around and doing laps a lot more. And, they were not as aggressive as they are this year. And, I think that this season, from what I can hear and can see, is that they are a lot more organized than last year. And, Tom Brown and Bill Trowbridge, coming from the Penske Sport, they are really disciplined and they are really strict and they have hired some more guys, one was -- his name is Mick Austin. So, the people we have on the team now are people that have been winning before and cannot live without winning and they have it in their hearts. So I think that is one of the main reasons why the team is doing better and better and so well so far.

T.E. McHALE: I guess we will let Patrick go. Thanks for joining us today, Patrick. We wish you the best of luck in the upcoming Miller 200 at the Milwaukee Mile this Sunday. We want to thank you all again for joining us and we will talk to you all against next week.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you.

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