Marcos Ambrose underlined the point that he is NASCAR’s top road racer these days as he came from the back of the grid to win Saturday’s second-division Nationwide race at Le Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal. It was Ambrose’s second road course win in six days coming hard on the heels of his first Sprint Cup victory at Watkins Glen.
But the story of the day was Patrick Carpentier’s retirement. The French-Canadian ran the last race of his career in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota sponsored by race backer NAPA Auto Parts. He qualified eighth and ran with the leaders until getting involved in a couple of fender-banging incidents, eventually crawling to a stop on the track.
Carpentier is one of a number of drivers whose careers were overshadowed, if not diminished, by the CART/IRL war. A native of Ville la Salle, outside Montréal, Patrick won the Canadian Formula Atlantic championship in 1992 and the Toyota Atlantic championship in ‘96 with a record nine wins. He broke into CART’s Indy Car World Series in ‘97 with the late Tony Bettenhausen’s team and took rookie of the year honours before joining the top-ranked Player’s/Forsythe team in ‘98.
Carpentier drove for Forsythe (below) for six years and established himself as one of CART’s top drivers. He scored his first win in the 2001 Michigan 500, beating Dario Franchitti by a car length, and enjoyed his best year in ’02, winning at Cleveland and Mid-Ohio and finishing third in the championship. In 2003 he won from pole at Laguna Seca and won there again in ’04 when he finished third in the points.
But by then CART had been driven into bankruptcy as top teams like Penske, Ganassi, Andretti-Green and Rahal defected to the IRL. Champ Car replaced CART for three years, while Carpentier also switched to the IRL in 2005 with a less than stellar team for what was his last year racing Indycars. He made his NASCAR debut at the end of 2007 and ran most of the Sprint Cup season in ‘08, taking one pole. In ‘09 he ran a handful of races but it was clear his career was coming to an end.
Patrick has run a few more NASCAR races over the past 18 months and went to this year’s Indy 500 in an uncompetitive car only to crash while trying to make the field. He celebrated his 40th birthday on August 13 and decided a few months ago to conclude his career in the Nationwide race in Montréal, where he was enthusiastically applauded as a national hero.
Carpentier is a fast, clean driver and a gentleman at all times, on and off the track. He is an amiable, good-humoured man who honoured a bet after winning at Mid-Ohio in 2002 by running a lap of the track on foot in the nude, save for a small chequered flag wrapped around his loins. But he is much more than that – an intelligent, softly spoken man who splits his time between Las Vegas and Quebec. Married in 1998 to the equally low-key but charming Anick, the Carpentiers have a daughter Anais and son Loic. We wish them the best in their new life after racing.