Paul Tracy sets new Champ Car World Series standard as he starts season with third consecutive victory with win at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 13, 2003) -- The Racing Gods are usually a heartless bunch, often taking good things from deserving drivers and bestowing them upon those not as worthy.
The Gods played a starring role in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- Round 3 of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car Powered by Ford -- but although they gut-punched a worthy would-be winner at the last moment, they bestowed their gift to an equally-deserving driver as Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made Champ Car World Series history by taking his third consecutive win to start a season.
Tracy is the first driver in the 25-year history of CART to start a year with three straight wins, and is the first Champ Car driver to accomplish the feat since Al Unser Sr. in 1971. Tracy and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) battled hammer-and-tong all day long and were clearly the class of the field on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street course, Jourdain leading 48 laps and Tracy pacing 33, with the two drivers shadowing each other all day long.
It appeared that their dominance might go unrewarded as Tracy, Jourdain and Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) were caught out during a brief flurry of mid-race pit stops brought on by a pair of accidents. The pit cycles left those three drivers in front, but meant that after Lap 38, that they were the only drivers on the track that would need to make two more fuel stops, while everyone else would need just one.
Undaunted, the trio powered through the pack and built a 32-second lead by the time their last fuel stops cycled back to them at the end of the race. Junqueira went in first on Lap 79, while Tracy rolled down Pit Lane on Lap 82 of the 90-lap event. The gap they had built up was enough to keep everyone but Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) behind them as Fernandez had come up from his seventh spot on the grid to lead the rest of the field behind the frontrunners.
Tracy held on to second after his stop while Jourdain made his last stop of Lap 83 as the Team Rahal driver looked to seal his very first Champ Car win. His stop was a quick one but it did him no good as his machine refused to go into gear. The entire Gigante-sponsored crew tried in vain to push-start the car but it refused to give in as the transmission stayed locked as tight as a bank vault.
With the heartbroken Jourdain eliminated, Tracy had simply to fend off the charge of Fernandez, which he did over the final four trips around the circuit to claim the victory. It was the third Long Beach victory for Tracy, who moved into a tie with Emerson Fittipaldi for fifth on the all-time victory list with 22 career wins.
"I knew we had a 34-second gap to Adrian. We needed about a 32-second gap to get out in front of him, barring we didn't have any problems on the pit stop," Tracy said. "We put new tires on and fuel, and we got out just out of the pits maybe 50 or 60 yards in front of Adrian. I was able to hold him off. You know, it's always very important to get in and out of the pits very fast and do your first lap quickly and get the tires up to temperature. I think that's where we've really been able to make a lot of gains on everybody."
Jourdain would be left to deal with what might have been as he saw the best day of his Champ Car career inexplicably dashed against the rocks of misfortune.
"I don't know if this is the best or the worst day of my life," Jourdain lamented. "It is by far the best car I have ever had and it was just real easy to pull away from everybody. It is terrible when everything goes so perfect and you don't win."
Fernandez would hold on for a second-place finish, his best ever at Long Beach, and move into fourth place in the championship standings. Junqueira would get a boost into third place for his second podium of the season, moving him into second place in the title chase.
Last year's Long Beach polesitter Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) earned his best finish of the year and the best for his new American Spirit Team Johansson as he ended up fourth. He was promoted to fourth when Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ran out of fuel with three laps to go. The misfortune also bumped Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) up into the top five, the sophomore's best finish since winning at Surfers Paradise last season.
Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rolled home in sixth while rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) snared top rookie honors with his season-best seventh-place run. Darren Manning (#15 RAC/U.S. Air Force Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) scored points for the second straight race with an eighth-place run while Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top 10.
The Champ Cars will next do battle on the Indy Circuit of Brands Hatch in England from May 3-5, followed by a trip to EuroSpeedway Lausitz, where the two-mile superspeedway will host the series May 10-11.
Top Three Qualifiers Quotes:
Paul Tracy: I don't think I've ever driven a race that's had as high a pace as that for such a long period of time. I think my quickest lap in the race was a nine-one, so it was only three- or four-tenths off of what I qualified with. That was at the end of a stint with 25, 27 laps on the tires. So that goes to show you the kind of job that Bridgestone has done, you know, the job that the teams have done, that the guys can run on these cars this hard, and the engines, you know, it's 10-10ths the whole time.
Adrian Fernandez: The Bridgestone tires were very consistent. Unfortunately, I just overused them, and at the end my rear tires were just gone. Then I was not close enough to Paul when he came out of the pits. So once you give him the chance of at least a lap, I mean, it's over, because once he gets into the straights, you know, you get heat on the tires, and it is basically very difficult. So at the end, I was just trying to stay there, or else was very important to finish the race on the podium.
Bruno Junqueira: But after the last pit stop, I just get a bit behind Adrian. Just thought that third place was good for me and set back and am quite happy to finish third today. I think the PacifiCare team, they did a great job, especially because they didn't start with the best car, and at the end of the race I was very competitive.
* Michel Jourdain Jr. led 48 laps in Sunday's race, more than he had (35) in his entire Champ Car career to that point.
* Sebastien Bourdais led three laps Sunday, making him the first rookie since Nigel Mansell in 1993 to lead in each of his first three Champ Car starts.
* Paul Tracy became the 15th driver to win three consecutive races in the CART era (1979-Present), but is the first to do it at the start of a season. He will attempt to join Cristiano da Matta, Alex Zanardi and Al Unser Jr. as the only driver to win four straight races May 5 at Brands Hatch.
* Tracy joined Emerson Fittipaldi in the fifth spot on the all-time CART victory list with 22 wins. He moves into a tie for 14th on the all-time Champ Car win list with Fittipaldi and Tony Bettenhausen, with turn-of-the-century board track ace Tommy Milton next on the list with 23 wins.
* Today's average race speed of 91.590mph was the fastest Long Beach race since the track was reconfigured in 2000 and breaks Michael Andretti's official race record set a year ago.