The only type of car Paul Tracy has driven with a roof on top is one of his myriad street machines but that will change with the 2005 running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
Car owner Forest Barber, who co-drove the winning car last year will step aside once he's found a fourth pro driver to take his race car to victory lane a second time, he said. "I'm really, really excited for this rare chance to have a driver of Paul's caliber on our team," Barber indicated. "It was a mutual friend, powerboat champion John Tomlinson who put us together. Johnny and I share the same passion for fast boats" and so, apparently does the Canadian, currently living in the Las Vegas area.
"I've had my boat up to 164 with Johnny and I think Forest did another 20mph more with him. I think we're kindred spirits in sports," Tracy recalled. Tracy initially tested his new mount on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road/oval course for two days last week and came away from that test excited about this new venture.
"I think Paul brings his championship experience in Champ Car to the table," Barber noted of the driver with the highest victory total, 28, of any active driver. "We saw his enthusiasm at the test and after two laps he was already running competitive times. Paul was uniformly easy to work with and didn't put a wheel wrong all day. He's shown he's got the competitive edge and I hope it'll bring us victory."
This will be Tracy's first time in a closed racer, a scenario he "never thought about before. 2004 didn't end the way we wanted and left a sour taste in my mouth," Tracy noted of his fourth-place finish in the final Champ Car standings. "I'm as hungry as ever to drive. Other guys do other things: Sebastien [Bourdais], [Jimmy] Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr. just ran the Baja 1000.
"I didn't want to be idle for two-three months waiting for the new season to begin and I thought this race, with mileage that equals five or six Champ Car races would give me valuable experience," he said. Of course in his current discipline, Tracy is accustomed to going "as hard as I can, but with 4-5 stints of 2-3 hours apiece, I'm going to have to pace myself to win. It's going to be a lot of driving."
"I'm attracted to the Rolex 24 because you're always busy in the car. There are varied speeds of cars on the track and, in Champ Car there are lots of times when you're alone on the track. In the 24-hour the Daytona Prototypes will pass 2-3 cars per lap so I'll have to be on my toes all the time. It's a great tune-up for next season."
Tracy just signed for another couple of years with Forsythe Championship Racing so he's not using this one-off as a springboard to prototype racing. "My focus is still on open wheel racing and this is just a tune-up. I want to take back that [Vanderbilt] Cup on loan to Sebastien."
While other drivers like to go off and try other types of motor sports on a regular basis, Paul Tracy prefers to stay with his chosen discipline. "I haven't strayed like Robby Gordon, who seems to be doing ten things at once. I figure I'm trying to give 100 percent so I'm going to concentrate on what I'm doing."
Tracy is impressed with Barber and the entire Bell Motorsports team, just as he's taken with the Grand American Rolex Road Racing Series. "They've gone from 10 Daytona Prototypes to likely more than 30 this year!" he exclaimed.
Barber believes it is "stars like Paul who bring attention to our series so that people can see how extremely competitive it is. Here," Barber said, "there's always potential for excitement." As a relative newcomer to the series, Barber thought it was "unbelievable to win the second time out and I'm blessed and grateful. Everyone on this team made it happen."
Last year's Rolex 24 was fraught with poor weather and Paul Tracy thinks that won't be a real problem. "We'll be ready for weather and I expect it'll be less hectic with the windscreen and wipes. In open wheel cars it's very difficult to see." He's been doing his regular training regimen that saw the big-boned Tracy take off 30 pounds a couple of years ago. "I like to reinvent myself; that's what it takes to be competitive in a [now] 14-year career."
When you've been in this business as long as Paul Tracy, you realize "a race car is a race car. More grip, power and the ability to go through corners better is what you want in any racer. I want a clean, smart race and I'm not looking for situations (to use his 'chrome horn' for bunting people off).
"Last year this team was there when others fell by the wayside. I've won great races in great places and I'm hopeful," Tracy declared, that I can do a good job and win this one."