Tracy committed to Champ Car

Tracy's mediocre season does not affect his confidence or plans for the future in Champ Car.

updated: October 26, 2007 09:59 IST
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Surfers Paradise, Australia:

Paul Tracy glanced across the pit garage at mechanics working on his car, yet again. Different continent, different race, and now, just for something not so different, a new gearbox.

It was the first practice session at last week's Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise - a race he won in 1995 - and the situation was all too familiar in the Canadian's 2007 season of woe.

"Today, everything was going fine, we were just about to put new tires on and the gearbox broke," Tracy said. "It's just been that kind of year - very, very frustrating."

Tracy has managed a win this year - at Cleveland, the 31st of his career - coming from seventh on the grid. He didn't win a race in 2006, the first time in five seasons he failed to win one.

But Tracy sits in 11th place with just one race left this season - November 11 in Mexico City.

At Surfers, he qualified third fastest but spun out on the first lap. After working his way back to third place - and leading the race twice during staggered pit stops - with two minutes to go in the timed race, the hard-luck Tracy had to pit for fuel and finished ninth.

"It's disappointing, but we were up there, we made something happen," Tracy said. "We made good out of a bad start. The team is working really hard and we were getting back to where we should be finishing up on podiums. We just need some good luck."

That's been in short supply this year, despite a promising start to the season.

"We started out well enough - qualified in the front row in Las Vegas, had a podium," the Toronto native said of the third-place finish in his adopted hometown.

"Then we went to Long Beach and I had an accident in practice - fractured a vertebrae in my back. That put me out of the car for 11 weeks, I missed a few races, and that kind of put us out of the championship."

Since then, Tracy's season hasn't been pretty: Montreal 15th, Toronto 14th, San Jose 11th, Elkhart Lake 12th, Zolder 10th, Assen 17th and now Surfers Paradise ninth. Reasons varied from running out of fuel (twice), contact and mechanical problems.

His best performance in the last half of the season came at Edmonton, where he started 14th and finished fifth, collecting a bonus point for most positions gained.

Still, it's mostly a season to forget. "It was just too much for us to make up," Tracy said. "We haven't gotten the car where we've been comfortable. It's just kind of been one thing after another. As soon as we start to gain some speed, we have a problem."

Tracy hasn't let his mediocre season affect his confidence or plans for the future in Champ Car, a circuit that has had its share of problems this season with canceled races and doubts, yet again, over its long-term viability.

Tracy considers himself a Champ Car survivor, and plans to do everything he can as a veteran of the circuit to keep it afloat.

"This is what I do," Tracy said. "I've tried all the other forms of racing. I've driven a Formula One car earlier in my career, I've driven some NASCAR, and endurance cars.

"The Champ Car venues I love, the races in Canada, this is the only series I can do that - race in my home country three times a year."

He'll stick around as other drivers leave the series, including four-time Champ Car series winner Sebastien Bourdais for Formula One.

"I'm in this for the long haul," Tracy said. "It's like being married - it's great when everything is going great. But we're going through a rough patch right now with the series. Uncertainty. But instead of running, turning and bailing, you've got to dig in and keep working."

Tracy believes Champ Car needs to continue its international focus - "rumors are we've got a new race lined up in Bahrain" - but maintain a strong presence in the United States, perhaps even through a merger, finally and after years of negotiations, with the Indy Racing League.

"I think we need to have as many American races as we can ... we can't abandon races in the States because we're struggling for sponsorship there," he said. "We've got to keep our core fan base."

At 38 and with a four-year contract with the Forsythe team, the 2003 series champion has no plans to stop driving. But Tracy realizes his best years are likely behind him, and to illustrate the point, the Canuck uses a hockey analogy.

"I'm under no illusions that as you get older, winning is harder to do - I don't think that I'm going to win four, five or six races a year like I have in the past," he said. "That's a part of getting older.

"Wayne Gretzky wasn't scoring 60 or 70 goals a year when he was 38 years old. You slow down and your priorities change, but my drive and focus hasn't. "

Tracy has been criticized by other drivers for what they consider his hot-tempered driving manner, but hopes to be an elder statesman for Champ Car.

"Now is just not the time for me to retire," Tracy said. "I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I'm the main guy here, the guy who's been here the longest. I'll continue to do this until there is some stability, or some kind of compromise with the IRL. I want to see this through."

The departing Bourdais, who has tangled with Tracy several times on the track, agreed the Canadian has been one of the key drivers for Champ Car, and "always shows his loyalty."

Bourdais said that Tracy has been great for the series and entertaining. He feels that it is most important that the fans have enjoyed him.