Over the coming weeks, we'll be celebrating 50 years of racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with personal recollections from some of the racers who've made their mark at one of America's finest natural-terrain tracks.
We start with PATRICK CARPENTIER, whose 2002 CART victory at Mid-Ohio is remembered not only for the Quebec driver's dominant on-track performance, but also for an unusual post-race celebration.
Carpentier takes up the story…
Mid-Ohio is one of my absolute favorite racetracks, along with Laguna Seca. I think tracks with lots of elevation changes and high-speed turns – and Mid-Ohio certainly has plenty of both – are great and really suited my style. Throughout my career, I found the circuits with lots of slower turns were the ones I struggled on.
At Mid-Ohio, Turn 1 and then Turn 12 leading to the Carousel were really good for me and I could make up a lot of time. They were almost wide-open throttle, but not quite, and I don't know why they suited me so much – maybe it's because I liked a car's set up to be a little bit on the stiff side?
On a true natural road course, a track that had some grip on it, I could really push to the very edge and be comfortable there. And Mid-Ohio was really grippy, so the high-speed turns were just incredible. I remember it was so hot one year, the tires started lifting the asphalt, which then stuck to the rubber! That made it so hard on a driver's arms, I didn't know if I'd be able to finish the race. It shows you how much grip that track has. Turn 12, the left-hander leading to the Carousel, is just fantastic, one of my favorites in the whole championship. I love that corner.
OK, 2002… I was driving for Forsythe Racing in CART and, heading to Mid-Ohio, it had been a very inconsistent season for us; the Reynard 02I was a bit knife-edge in terms of balance. If the track rubbered in too much or the weather changed just a tiny little bit, you'd lose the balance of it and never get it back for a whole weekend.
Sometimes we could be way off, but when we had it right, we were almost untouchable. So, although Cristiano da Matta and Newman/Haas were pretty dominant that year, when we had a strong car we could battle with him. That particular race at Mid-Ohio, we had a big battle for pole position with the Newman/Haas guys – we kept going back and forth with Cristiano and finally we got the job done.
But even though I was on the pole, I didn't think we'd beat him in the race, and in the press conference after qualifying, I said – and I still regret it to this day! – “If I win the race tomorrow I'll run naked through the paddock.” But, of course, the race went totally to plan – I only lost the lead in the pit stops – and we won.
Sure enough, I stripped and wrapped the checkered flag around my waist and ran through the paddock. People still talk about that…
The following year, the team switched to Lola and I had driven Reynards throughout my career. My new teammate, Paul Tracy, was just that little bit more comfortable in a Lola, and that made the difference. I've always gotten along well with him and I remember us doing a lot of testing together. But I wouldn't take anything away from Paul: he could be so fast on a weekend, sometimes untouchable, especially on race day. When he was on it, I'd say he was one of the fastest guys I have ever seen. When he wasn't fast, he'd make mistakes, but there weren't many days like that in 2003, that's for sure! So he ended up winning the championship.
That year at Mid-Ohio, Paul qualified on pole, and I started fifth, I think, and he led from the start. I had a long battle with Sebastien Bourdais and got past him into fourth and then, at the pit stops, my crew got me out ahead of two other cars and I found myself in second, behind Paul. I followed him for a long time, but it's a track where it's tough to pass without taking a big risk – especially when it's your teammate. Toward the end, my car was really, really fast but I respected Jerry Forsythe and the team; we were running 1-2 and I didn't want to put that result in jeopardy by doing something stupid. One of the best places to pass at Mid-Ohio is Turn 1, the left-hander leading up to the hairpin, but Paul was going in way too deep for me to try and brake later than him.
So we ended up scoring Forsythe's first ever 1-2 finish. That's when Paul decided we should both run naked through the paddock. But as you know, I don't approve of that kind of thing...
Next week: Mario Andretti.
For more on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and its 50th season of racing, visit the official website at MidOhio.com.
Coming up Aug. 5-7 in an action-packed 2011 schedule is a double-header starring the IZOD IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series. To purchase weekend or single-day tickets for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge/Honda Indy 200, CLICK HERE.
Sept. 16-18, the Grand-Am Rolex Series takes center stage with the EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank. For tickets, CLICK HERE.