David Reininger - motorsport.com Long Beach, Calif. (April 16, 2000) - Paul Tracy charged from a 17th place starting position to win Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. After 82 laps around the 1.968 mile street circuit Tracy's margin...
David Reininger - motorsport.com
Long Beach, Calif. (April 16, 2000) - Paul Tracy charged from a 17th place starting position to win Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. After 82 laps around the 1.968 mile street circuit Tracy's margin of victory was 3.191 seconds over runner-up Helio Castro-Neves.
Both Team Kool Green cars, driven by Tracy and Dario Franchitti, struggled through practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday. "Really, with this new car we haven't been able to get a good handle on the setup. Both Dario and I really struggled all weekend but we never gave up."
"We've really got to give credit to (engineer) Steve Challis. He worked with Greg Moore last year. We tried all different setups and we couldn't get one to work right so we went into Greg's notebook this morning and put one of his setups on the car, and it worked. The car was perfect."
Tracy's charge to the front was a combination of brilliant driving and a good race strategy by the team. The first round of pit stops were completed during laps 33 through 42. With large openings in the pit windows, there were several different strategies employed throughout the race.
Tracy's crew opted for a three-stop strategy. "The pit strategy the guys came up with was unbelievable. I ran a clean race and we tried to be real conservative. Starting 17th, the plan was just to stay alive and not get into a wreck."
"Early on I had a big train of cars in front of me and there's not much you're going to do. That's when I rely on my guys. I know I've got a great crew and I'm not going to lose positions." Castro-Neves finished second in the Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Reynard, the team's first podium finish since Al Unser Jr's third place finish at Milwaukee in 1998. Castro-Neves broke into tears as his car came to a stop on the cool down lap after running out of fuel.
"I tell you, I couldn't control my emotions. We need to remember someone very special, Greg Moore. I wish I could share this with him today."
Despite a pit lane speed violation and a subsequent drive through penalty, Castro Neves was able to equal his career best finish with today's second place. Late in the race, while trying to conserve fuel, Castro-Neves came under intense pressure from third place finisher Jimmy Vasser. "I was running conservatively to finish the race. Jimmy was all over me. Either he was going to pass me because I run out of fuel, or I'm going to finish in second."
After several attempts to make his move at Turn one, Vasser decided to leave Long Beach with 14 points and second place in the championship.
"I was determined to make the outside pass in Turn one, until the last couple of laps. I thought I could still catch Paul. My car was really fast. I thought if I could get around Helio, I'd be able to catch up to Paul then have a chance at making a maneuver on him. But I couldn't. I took a look a few times but it just wasn't going to work."
Vasser's drive to third place earned Toyota its best ever finish in the CART FedEx Series.
Vasser's teammate, defending FedEx series and Long Beach champion Juan Montoya finished 19th after two off track excursions and some problems with the car. "The engine started to overheat and we lost engine power," said Montoya. "We had a series of misfortunes today, but these things happen and you just have to focus on the next race."
Rookie driver Alexandre Tagliani finished fourth today. The Canadian driver earns 12 points, placing him seventh in the championship after two races. "I'm happy with the results. This was a fun race and even though it's hard to pass here, I managed to make quite a few of them."
Bryan Herta, who was presented with a submarine sandwich by Roberto Moreno at this morning's drivers meeting finished fifth in his first appearance subbing for Shinji Nakano at Walker Racing. "I'm not looking at this race as a substitute. I'm just looking at this as a race on balance, on merit, and a top-five is a top-five. I'm happy with that."
After running comfortably with the leaders for most of the race, Herta slid into the runoff area in Turn one, losing six positions. "I made a mistake in the race that cost us a few spots. We definitely should have been on the podium. We were running with those guys all day. But a lot of guys made mistakes today and a lot of them were bigger than the one I made. Given the lack of time we've had together and the lack of time I've had in the car, I'm really pleased with the result. I'm looking forward to Rio."
Roberto Moreno, who led the race twice for ten laps, finished ninth, the last car on the lead lap, after suffering gearbox problems. "I basically lost second gear. Every time I would let the accelerator off to go into a second gear corner, it would come out of second."
"I didn't know how to handle it on the restart and it took me five laps to learn. I was driving with one hand, changing gears twice into a corner. I would have to go in the corner in third, and only when I had to accelerate, I would go into second."
Despite having never raced on a street course, rookie driver Takuya Kurosawa became one of six drivers to lead the race. "It was like going to school for him," said team owner Dale Coyne. "We like getting our guys in the front once in a while because it gives them experience. Usually it raises their game. He was all ready competitive because he had run a 10.3 as his fastest lap so we knew we had the capability of a top-seven car. He did a good job, he ran good all day.
The CART FedEx Championship Series moves to South America for Round Four at the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 30, 2000.