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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Patrick Carpentier
Cristiano da Matta
September 28, 1999

T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us this afternoon. Last Saturday in Houston CART president and CEO Andrew Craig announced a CART-funded program which will assist Year 2000 champions in both the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights series and both the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic series in their ascent up the CART ladder system of driver development. The Indy Lights champion will be awarded a full test in a champ car, while the Toyota Atlantic champion will receive a test in an Indy Lights car, as well as a free Indy Lights engine lease worth $48,000, if the driver contests the Indy Lights Championship in the year following his title-winning Atlantic effort. Our guests today are both graduates of CART's ladder system. We are pleased to be joined by 1998 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Champion Cristiano da Matta of Arciero-Wells Racing and 1996 KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Champion, Patrick Carpentier of Player's Forsythe Racing. Welcome, gentleman, and thank you for being with us today. Both Patrick and Cristiano have experienced career moments in the FedEx Championship series this season. Patrick recently matched his career-best finish with a runner-up effort at Vancouver, the best performance of his career on a road or street courses. Cristiano, meanwhile, finished a career-best 4th at Nazareth, and like Patrick, enjoyed an outstanding performance at Vancouver where he came home 5th. He has scored PPG Cup points in 6 of 18 starts this season including three of the last five and stands 18th in the championship with 32 points. Patrick is enjoying the best season of his three-year FedEx Championship career, having scored in 10 of 17 starts, including 8 of the past 11. Heading into the October 17th Honda Indy 300 Surfer's Paradise Australia, he stands with the Honda Indy 300, Round 19 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live on ESPN on Saturday night, October 16th, beginning at midnight Eastern Time. Before we open it up to questions for Cristiano and Patrick, I want to get a comment from each of you gentleman on the new program that's been announced for the ladder system. Cristiano, we'll go with you.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think it's a pretty good thing that CART is doing because the first of everything, it's going -- one thing is that it's going to bring more drivers for the series because of opportunity like that, both for Atlantic and Indy Lights, just having opportunity to continue building for the driver that has success has in the previous year, is going to be a great opportunity.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Cristiano. Patrick, how about you?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's good motivational thing for the drivers. And I think it's excellent because today's racing is extremely expensive, and it's very hard to move up the ladder when it's from Atlantic to Indy Lights or Indy Lights to CART. And giving the chance to the driver that's going to win the championship and the driver that deserves to get a test in an Indy car or Indy Lights type thing is a great opportunity. And for him to feel what it's going to be like, and also to maybe have the chance to impress some people and get a try in the year coming after that. So I think it's a great decision.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Patrick. And with, that we will open it up to questions for either Cristiano or Patrick.

Q. Patrick, first of all, can you tell us your own situation as far as 2000 season is concerned, have you or are you about to sign a new contract with Player's Forsythe?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I've kind of stopped looking at any other team for the next coming year. I've been assured by Player's that I'll be driving for them. We're finalizing things with them; so hopefully things are going to go well. We'll just have to finalize the details of the contract and put the signature on it and it should be good.

Q. If I might follow up, Patrick, also, there's some concern or some suggestion that Player's may not continue with an Atlantic program next year. How devastating would that be for Canadian drivers trying to move up the ladder, as you did in 1996?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it would be. It would be a blow, for sure, for Canadian drivers. But I haven't heard of that and from what I heard, I heard they were continuing that program maybe; so, I was not aware that they might be stopping that program. But for sure, it would be a little bit of a blow because Player's gives racing drivers in Canada a great amount of exposure, and they brought a lot of drivers up to the ladder, such as Greg Moore and myself. They have done a lot of work in that sense, and they are going to bring another one up for the next coming season. So I think that it would be a shame, for sure, because it's the stepping stone for quite a few drivers.

Q. Patrick, I want to know a little bit what happened last weekend, to come back, about all the bad things that happened to you during the race on Sunday. You seemed to be very upset about the engine situation. What are the chances that you -- the team has a different engine for next year?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I don't know what the chances are. I was a little bit disappointed. Many times we have different sort of problems in the race, and this weekend was too much for me. We started the race. When I was shifting gears, the engine was cutting off. And then after that, the throttle was kind of sticking between 2 and 3. Then after that, I lost my brake, which I think has nothing to do with the engine. And then after that, we lost an engine in the race. So it was a little bit frustrating. We always want to move up to the front, and I think we had a good chassis. We're moving up to the front of the pack. We were, I think, up to 6th or 7th place, and it was going really good and we were hoping to finish up ahead. We were doing a one-stop deal there, but everything went wrong. It's just -- at the moment when you're racing, it's -- and you think you want to do well, I wanted to gather some points for the end of the season. I was hoping to maybe to be able to finish up in the Top-10. And we won't be able to do it. So on the moment, it's extremely frustrating. But they are going doing the best they can, and they are making a lot of work. What's hard to make as far as that decision is concerned is that our members from years -- Ford was really struggling. I remember one guy kicking up the engine cover because they didn't want to see that engine. But now, it's probably the strongest one for the series. Same thing when Honda came in. I remember a team switching engines because the Honda was so bad, and now it's also one of the leading engines. So we never know what's going to happen next year. I know this year for sure, we lacked a little bit of power and we're struggling a little bit. But the decision for next season is very tough because they can come back with a killer engine.

Q. But do you have a word to say now that you're going to be back with the team? Can you tell them, "Please, give me something different," or you're ready to go another year with the Mercedes engine?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I'm ready to go only if it is up to a championship or up to the same speed as the other manufacturer. And I think they can. I think Penske is testing the 2000 engine at the moment; so, we'll see. We'll wait to see what's happening on that and what's going to happen. For sure, I get some input, but I think that the team looks at it and they are going to make their own decision as to what -- what's going to happen with those.

Q. And about the 12th place to go to the big race in Hawaii, are you still confident, even if you got Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta in front of you for that 12th spot?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, this weekend, we could have made some points, but we did not; so it was very costly. There's only two races left, and it depends how it's going to happen. I'm not sure, for some reason, that Hawaii is going to happen. Sometimes -- sometimes usually when you get a race like that, the tickets are taken way in advance, and I haven't heard anything about it so far. So maybe it's going to happen, maybe not. I don't know. But I'd just like to finish the Top-10 or closer, Top-12 before the end of the season, not just because of Hawaii, but just to be in the Top-12.

Q. Maybe T.E. McHale could tell us about the latest developments, are you still on the line, T.E.?

T.E. McHALE: I sure am, and I'm still planning on going. I know there have been a lot of questions raised ever since we announced this thing, but as far as we're concerned at CART, the event is still on and we're still going. In fact, I'm planning on booking my reservations either today or tomorrow. So as far as we plan on it, it's still going on.

Q. Can you tell me how much Greg Moore's decision to go to Penske factored into your decision to go to Player's? Did you see an opportunity to be a No. 1 driver for Player's?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: For sure. For me, it was a great opportunity and I think Player's have decided to put a lot of effort next season in making sure this team is even a more prominent team on the CART seen. That was one decision, also. And also what is going to be involved, and since Greg is leaving, for sure it gives me the opportunity to prove what I can do. I think I'll be -- I'm ready for it. So for sure, it played a little bit. But whether Greg would have stayed there or not, my first plan was probably to stay with Jerry and Player's for the coming season because things are starting to come along for us, and we exchange quite a bit for information this year, and we always qualify one beside each other most of the time; so it's been much better than the previous.

Q. Do you consider this year somewhat of a breakthrough year for you, given your second place and a lot of Top-10 finishes? Do you see it's a year where you've played the most progress on the circuit?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it's a year where I came back pretty confident. I'm extremely confident now. For sure, I wish I would have had a little bit more podium finishes and stuff, but it didn't happen. But I'm pretty happy with the progress we've made, as much as on my side and the driving and aggressivity things like that. Since I've been in CART, I was lacking a little bit of aggressiveness, and you have to drive those cars really to the limit all the time, and you have -- every race, every lap is a qualifying lap. And it seems like it took me a bit of time to really push that car to the limit and try to pass somebody; nobody is going to open the door. You've just got to push yourself into it. And it was quite different from what I was used to in Atlantic. This year seems like I've made a step forward in that direction.

Q. Can you tell us anything about the other drivers that Player's is looking at to join the team next year? I think they are testing this week, but do you have any sort of inside information for us on those drivers?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: No. I know there's three guys, David Empringham, Alex Tagliani and Lee Bentham. I know it's going to be between those three guys, but until those tests are done -- I think they are testing in Sebring this week. I'm not going to be there. I'm going to take a couple days off before Australia. Whether it's one or the other, I kind of get along really well with those guys. But so far, nobody knows who, in those three, it's going to be. They are going to wait until after the test to make a decision.

Q. One more question about your back injury. Has that healed? Are you still suffering any ill effects from that?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's feeling pretty good. I don't feel it in the car. Sometimes after the race it feels a little bit stuff. But it's getting better and better. Now I pretty much don't feel it anymore. I'd say it's about five percent pain there; so, it's not a lot. It's going to away pretty good.

Q. Talk about your season. There have been glimpses of home, but it seems like little things keep stepping in the way. Has this been a frustrating year for you, or has it been a learning year for you?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's been a little bit of both. I think especially the beginning of the season was very good for me. Especially at the ovals, we've been able to do pretty good, you know, considering all the package and everything we have. I was pretty happy with the results until mid-season. Mid-season to the end, it was really when I was expecting to do a little bit better because it was like the road course part of the season and street courses, which is what I'm more used to, what I have more experience on. But we couldn't get our setup right for this kind of tracks. We had -- we had some not very good results, not bad results. We had a lot of breakdowns; so that was the frustrating part. But definitely, the first part of the season was pretty good for me. I was happy with my performance, the car's performance and everything. Everything was improving in a very good speed. On the second part of the season, we kind of stopped improving and the other cars kind of kept getting better and better. We moved a little closer to the back of the grid. Second part of the season was a little bit frustrating.

Q. I finds it interesting that you say that you felt as though you did so much better on the ovals. In the last couple of years, we've heard drivers who have come in with a lot of road racing background. All of the sudden, when they get the ovals real quick, and where everybody expects them to be strong on the street and road courses, they are not so strong. Why is that, do you think?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: In my case, I can tell you it was because -- it was my rookie year, and the team was really worried in giving me a lot of track time on ovals. So in the preseason testing and even after the season started, we've gotten lots and lots of ovals on the ovals. Every kind of ovals: Super speedway ovals, mile-and-a-half ovals. We've done lots of testing on these kinds of ovals. We've got our packaging right, but we forgot a little bit about the road courses and the street courses. So we went to these street courses and road courses and out setup wasn't as good at the oval setup was.

Q. And Patrick for you, the back injury that was talked about a moment ago, how big a setback was that on your plan to go to the front?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: You mean missing a race?

Q. And just having to get over that?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: It wasn't that fun. It's one of the first times I get an injury that's a little bit critical like that. But I was lucky it was not in the neck. It was in the T-3 in my lower back, just a fractured vertebrae. I had to miss a race. I couldn't go. It was too painful to go to Mid-Ohio. After that, I came back and went to Chicago. When you go back in the car, you've kind of got to push right away as hard as you can so that you forget what happened, and you go back into the racing mind more quickly. And it was going well for us in Chicago. But I was hoping to get back in the Top-12, and with the injury and missing a race, I lost a little bit of ground and a little bit of time. It was a little bit unfortunate, especially that Hawaii is going to happen. I wish I can go, but whether it happens or not, whether or not, I'll buy a ticket and bring my wife there.

Q. When that accident occurred, what was going through your mind in those split seconds that all of the sudden you look up and you've got something coming down on top of you?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah I've had many, many crashes in racing or motor cross, whatever I've been doing, and I've broken a few bones. But I've never been so worried and scared of what was going to happen because the car went on top of me, and it pushed me down and my head almost touched my knees. It went pretty far down. But we were still tied up with the seatbelts; so, my back couldn't come down, and that's why I fractured a vertebrae. And also it cracked the helmet, and it pushed my sternum so far back that it almost cracked that, too. It was extremely painful. But where I was most worried was about 15 minutes after it hit me on the back of my head, the wheel was still spinning; so it was kind of spinning my head at the same time. After it hit me, 15 minutes after they took me out of the car, I couldn't really feel my hands anymore, my fingers, and my hands were pretty numb. And the doctors were a bit worried, and I was quite a bit worried, to tell the truth, and it lasted for about half an hour. And they say when you have a big shock or whatever on the vertebrae, it tends to do that sometimes. But I was quite a bit worried after that.

Q. You mentioned that you had a lot of breakdowns with the engine. I know they are testing the new engine and whatnot. Could you just give me an assessment of the Toyota engine program at this point?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Right now they are still concentrating on the engineer that we were running this year which is the Phase V. We don't have a lot more to do. Most of the work we can do is for the Fontana engine for the last round. Our road course and street course program is basically over for this year. They are almost pretty much done with our Fontana engine. After that, they are just going to start concentrating on the Phase VI engine because it is going to be the engine we are going to be using on the year 2000 because the Phase V engine doesn't fit on the year 2000 car. So we're going to have to start working on this Phase VI engine, which is at the moment is not as quick as the Phase V. So we have a lot of work to do. The engine is now being developed in America and in Japan. The USA and Japan are working on the engine and we are going to have a very, very long winter testing this engine. They are working hard. That's all I can say.

Q. You mentioned, obviously, you're going to be doing a lot of testing and everything, and with the rumors that Scott is not going to be there next year, that pushes you in the No. 1 position with that team. Yet I'm hearing quite a lot of really great things in your ability to feedback exceeds, or is at least equal to, Scott's.

Q. And I was just wondering if you can talk about how it feels to make assume that No. 1 position and be the veteran you will of the sudden, just immediately after a rookie year?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think I have never been a situation where I was the second driver in the team. The team always, even though I was a rookie, the treatment inside the team and the equipment and everything was the same for me and Scott all year long, even in the beginning when I had just a few hours in the car. So I think my position inside the team is not going to change much. What might heard me a little bit because me and Scott exchange a lot of information, you know, on setups, and even the ways we are driving around the track; so I'll lose that, but hopefully, Scott is going to stay on the team next year. It is not for sure that he is leaving. He is a good teammate; so I wish that he would stay.

Q. Did you get any other offers, and if so, from whom and for what specific reason did you turn them down?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I didn't really get the specific offers. We were talking to Bobby for a while. We talked, and it never really got to the point where we sat on the table. They are pretty good friends with Jerry, and Jerry always told me that I'll stay there and I'll be there next season. And if Jerry wants to have me on the team, my first desire is to be with Player's and to stay there, because it's starting to work for me at that level and it's starting be coming together and changing a team again. I know I'd have to go through some learning curve with the team and everything, and I am just not interested in doing that. I want to go for the championship as much as I can, and I think my best chance, especially with the way Player's seems to be heading in the coming season is to stay with Player's and since they have assured me that I was going to be there and they were going to put the package that we think we need to be up at the front of the championship, I'd just like to stay there. And I didn't really go and sit down with any other teams.

Q. Will you keep working with pretty much the same staff as this year, the mechanics?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think so. We'll see what's going to happen on that. As much as the engine -- as anybody and stuff, I'd like to stick with the same people. I'm pretty happy with what I have. They have been doing a great job in the pits in the last races. We've always gained positions and stuff. I think it's looking pretty good. As for the rest of it, we'll let the team decide what it is. But that's what my input was.

Q. When you heard that Greg was moving to another team, what was your reaction? Didn't you feel that he was leaving because of something because he was not satisfied or because the engine wasn't there really as much as you expected?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I don't know if it has to do with the engine as much because where he's going, so far, I think they have the same kind of package that we had, Mercedes engine, and I think Roger has some shares in that Mercedes. I'm not sure. I don't think it has anything to do with the engine because like what I said earlier, for sure everybody knows that they have been struggling this season. And it hasn't been the best season for Mercedes Benz, but it happened a few years ago to Ford, and it happened to Honda and it happens to Toyota, also. It's just that you never know if the next season they are going to be coming up with a really strong package and be running up the front. And I don't know exactly what the details of Greg's agreement is, but I guess for him, it was time for a change, and he wanted to go to a different team. And I guess he was feeling that the Penske team for him was the way to go for the coming season. But for me, I want to stay where I am, and I think that's the way I want to go for next season.

Q. What about your next teammate, what are you expecting? A guy that will share information with you? A guy that will help you set up the car? Will you work on equal terms with him or you'll have the No. 1 status?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: No, I don't care, as long as I get as good equipment as he does, I'm going to be pretty happy. I don't need to have a little more this or little better that and stuff. If he's a little bit faster than me, I just have to wake up and drive a little bit faster and try to improve my driving, which I did a lot when Greg was there. So if the guy is very fast, it's just going to push me further to get the best and bring the best out of me. But hopefully, we're going to share as much as we can. It was funny this weekend, because if you look at the grid, a lot of teams seems to be sharing a lot of information. And when you go around in the ride like -- I think 5, 6 was a certain team; 7, 8 a certain team; 9, 10 another team. Me and Greg were 13, 14; Michael and Christian were 11 and 12; and then 9 and 10 was another team. So you can see that the teams are sharing more and more information, and the cars are getting to be closer together, and that's why you see teammates being side by side often on the grid.

Q. (Inaudible)?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's always tough because it seems like it demands a lot of energy when you come back from an injury. But for, me it doesn't hurt anymore. We have a guy on board with the team; his name is Anthony Young. He's really good. He does sports therapy massage and stuff like that and he helps me quite a bit. He's actually helping me with everything, you know, from mental to training to any kind of stuff. He's with the team. He works with Tony Kanaan. He works with Greg and me, and it's been pretty good. But you just need to get some time off a little bit towards the end of the season like that. Everybody seems to be a little bit more tired, the mechanics get sick a little bit more often. Everybody is tired when it's at this time, towards the end of the season. And between races like that when you get a chance to get a few weeks off, I think it's really important to take some time to rest and train, also. But very important to take some time to rest so we go to Australia because it takes something like from here like 30 hours total to make it there. So it's going to be a tough -- a tough journey, and just got to be relaxed before we leave.

Q. Cristiano, your boss has a full plate with what's going on in the other series. How is he trying to keep you and the team, cracking the whip, moving forward with the Toyota engine and juggle the same ball that he has going on in NASCAR?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: He has the team very well covered because he has two completely separate programs. The workshops are totally different places. The NASCAR shop is in North Carolina. We are based in California. There is nobody in the team but Cal that works on both teams. We have separate people to do everything. So I don't think it's going to hurt at all, our team, our champ car team. And I know Cal is going to be a little bit more busy on sponsor deals, but I don't think that's going to hurt the team.

Q. (Inaudible) Can you talk about us about the fact of Steve leaving the team? He was considered a very good engineer. I know that he didn't want to follow Greg because he had to move from Indianapolis, but can you explain to us how come he has left the Player's Forsythe team?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I don't know. And he left quite early, too. Still three races to go before the end of the season. I came to Houston and, whoops, there was an engineer missing. I don't know exactly what happened there or what it is and what came to that decision for him to leave before the end of the season. For sure, he's a very good engineer. He's been doing a great job for Greg, but I think that if they give a bit of time to Alex, the guy that's there now working with Steve, I think is going to come up with some good stuff. For sure, it takes a little bit of time when you change position and get to be the main engineer, you need a few races to adjust. But yeah, for sure, there is no doubt he's a good engineer. I don't know where he's going exactly next season, but I was quite surprised to see him in Houston, Texas.

Q. How about you as lead extra for next year?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think it's going to be the same as what we had for this season. I think in the last five, six races, I think we had a great chassis. I think that we had one of the best chassis on Friday at Houston. For sure, everybody knows we like a little bit of power. The first Mercedes qualified was 13 and 14. It was Greg and me. I think they have made a great effort on the chassis, and I think it is improving. For sure, when the track gets more gripping we need to follow it just a little bit more than what it's been doing. But I've been pretty happy with everything, the progress, my progress and the progress of the team and what they have been doing. The winter testing, I think that me and Lee are going to work pretty well together for the upcoming season.

Q. And briefly, how is the relationship between Lee and Steve in the team?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's always tough. It's like that between me and Greg. We're very competitive. Greg is extremely competitive and sometimes it gets very tough to exchange information. It was very tough between Lee and Steve to exchange information. They always wanted to be one in front of the other. I think, hopefully, next season, whatever it is and whoever is up there, as much as for the driver, the engineer and stuff, that we're going to share a lot of information because it seems to be paying off for quite a few -- quite a few teams.

Q. Cristiano, can you talk to us about how tough it was for you or how easy it was for you to step from Indy Lights 20 CART series, the champ cars?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's always a very tough step because a step that if you don't have the funds behind you, it's going to be very tough. You're going to depend a little bit even on your luck to have a place to go. For example, myself, at the end of 1998, I had the Indy Lights TITLE, but I had no money; so, basically, I had nowhere to go. Most of the teams are asking money to get into, and there WASN'T as much action as is happening this year between the teams last year. So it was a very tough deal for me. I was lucky that Max decided to leave the team and left the space open; so, the team decided to do a driver's test. So several drivers went through this test, and I went there, too; so I was lucky they picked me up. So it is very hard. I can see how actually just last weekend at Houston there were like many Indy Lights drivers there. They were watching the race and trying to find a job for next year the same way I was last year, and they are all thinking the same way I was: "It's so tough; I think I'm not going to get anything." And you just have to count on your luck a little bit at this time because it's very, very tough.

Q. Driver-wise, coming from Indy Lights champ cars, was there a big difference?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's not a huge difference. The biggest difference is the tires, because on champ cars, the tires are very soft because of the tire wear going on at Goodyear and Firestone. So they want to make the tires go as fast as they can, but to do that they have to build the tires very soft. Building the tires very soft, you're going to have a lot of tire wear. So the tires on the racing car situation is going to become very difficult to drive, and the bounce is not going to be very nice most of the times. So that's the biggest difference like on Indy Lights and Atlantics; it's like a single tire manufacturer. They are able to build the tire a little harder so the car doesn't change that much during the race. That's the biggest difference I felt.

Q. Coming back to your contract, what's left, there's no more negotiations, or it's only a matter of signing the contract?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, we're still negotiating. It's not like everything is done and we just need to put the signature at the bottom of it. There's still a ways to go for us. Hopefully, it's going to be done pretty soon. I want to be done with that before the season ends, and hopefully it's going to happen this week.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit why it's taking so long? Is it a matter of the salary or the length of the contract?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yes, more money, more fun. I don't know, it's not only that. We discuss -- it's not as much the salary as everything else, and there is a lot of things to discuss in it. I cannot explain exactly what we're talking about and what the clauses that we're negotiating is because I'm not allowed to.

Q. But you did say for sure you'll be back next year?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think so. You cannot never be sure until the signature is at the bottom of the white piece of paper. But I think it's looking fairly good.

Q. At the beginning of the press conference, you said you were not looking to deal with another team. That's a sign that you'll be back; it's no secret?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's looking pretty good. Let's say there's some other teams that haven't signed up their drivers yet, but I was told that I don't need to go look anywhere else.

T.E. McHALE: We'll wrap it up for today. We want to thank Cristiano da Matta and Patrick Carpentier. Best of luck in the Honda Indy 300 and the rest of the championship season.

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