CHAMPCAR/CART: Paul Tracy pre-season interview

Paul Tracy was interviewed on the weekly CART teleconference. We will begin with Paul Tracy, driver of the No. 26 KOOL Honda Reynard, who is entering his 11th year in the FexEx Championship Series and his fourth with Team KOOL Green. Thanks...

Paul Tracy was interviewed on the weekly CART teleconference.

We will begin with Paul Tracy, driver of the No. 26 KOOL Honda Reynard, who is entering his 11th year in the FexEx Championship Series and his fourth with Team KOOL Green. Thanks for being with us today, Paul.

Paul Tracy: Thank you.

T. E. McHale: Paul's fifth place finish last year marks the sixth time in his ten-year career that he finished among the top six drivers in the championship. He tied for the series lead with three victories last season at Long Beach, Road America, and Vancouver, and established a track record in winning the pole at Michigan Speedway with a lap of 234.949 miles per hour. His three victories gave him a career total of 18, which is seventh in CART history, and second to Michael Andretti among active drivers. He also stands ninth all time and second among active drivers, again to Michael, with 13 career pole positions. Paul finished fifth in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series with 134 points. We'll open it up to questions for Paul.

How do you feel about the fact that there was no Homestead race this year, you're starting in Mexico? Will that be a lot different not having that oval in Florida to start the year with?

Paul Tracy:  I don't think so.  I mean, you know, I think the new
venue in Mexico is going to be good.  I've seen the layout.  It's a
permanent (inaudible) road course.  We have a lot of Mexican and Spanish
fans.  They're expecting a big crowd. 

Frankly, the race in Homestead over the last couple years wasn't promoted very well by the new track owners. The crowds were not very good. It was time for a change.

What difference has the testing rules made up to now, if any?

Paul Tracy: Pretty much. I mean, last year the rules were ten days out of season, ten days in season. Pretty much my off-season testing schedule has been about the same. We won't be doing any testing in season other than some CART-sanctioned days where everybody is kind of running together.

I'm pretty happy with how the car ran all winter. We ended off our last couple days of testing really sorting the car out the way I wanted it, getting the car to handle the way I would like it. I feel we're ready to go and ready for the season to start.

Do you agree with Dario, that having Michael as a third driver gives you an advantage in accumulating data?

Paul Tracy: I think so. I think it's definitely been a help. Dario, you know, he struggled a little bit this winter. The testing he's done, he's had some mechanical problems and really hasn't done a lot of miles. Michael has done quite a lot of miles. Myself, I've done quite a lot of miles. A lot of the things that both Michael and I have come across with the car, we both like. I think that's kind of helped me, and maybe I've helped him. With the extra days, I think it's been a help.

Talk about just not having Tony as your engineer. Who will be your engineer?

Paul Tracy:  Steve Challis is my engineer, who obviously was Greg's
engineer his whole career, Dario's engineer last year.  I'm really happy.  I
mean, I've known Steve for a long time from racing in Canada.  He was Ronnie
Fellows' engineer when he was racing up in Canada.  We've been around each
other for quite a long time.  Finally we got the opportunity to work
together.  It's working really well. 

I'm really happy with how everything has ended up. Tony didn't want to continue on with the Team Green. He wanted to take a break. He got an offer to go with Players. He decided to do that. It's a good opportunity for him. I'm happy with my situation right now. Both Dario's engineer and Steve, they work really well together. I think we've got a pretty strong team.

Tino still helping oversee things?

Paul Tracy: Engineering general manager I guess you would call it. I think we've got a really strong engineering staff. Everybody on the team -- everybody's on the same page. Nobody's going in a different direction from anybody else, which is good.

Seemed like that was the niche that Tony had filled. He helped you a lot. It takes a while to build up kind of a relationship with an engineer. Maybe Steve being there for the last three or four years has helped it. ?

Paul Tracy:  I think for me, I've known Steve for 20 years, 15
years at least.  I've known him since the mid-'80s.  We've been friends away
from the track.  I think that  -- on a personal level, we don't have
anything to build on.  We're already friends.  It's getting to know each
other from the race car aspect.  It's been good. 

Have you spoken to Dario since the Texas test? He mentioned something about the track needing some improvements before the race. Has he talked to you about it?

Paul Tracy:  I haven't spoken to him.  I tested with him at Sebring
a week ago.  That was the last time I talked to him.  It was just a one-day
test for him, then he was on his way to Texas.  I haven't spoken to him. 

Is this going to be your year? You struggled last year off and on. You've had all of those tough years. Do you think this is really your year, your time?

Paul Tracy: Well, I mean, I felt last year was a pretty good year for me. We had some points of the season that didn't go as well as we would have liked. I think that was the same for most people. I feel good about the team I'm with. I've had two really good years in a row in terms of scoring wins last year with three wins, the season before, too, finishing third in '99 in the championship, this last year fifth. I've got a great team. We'll just try to put it all together. That's all we can do.

Is it together in your head, you're ready for it?

Paul Tracy:  I'm ready to go.  I'm always ready to go.  I'm always
ready to race.  Just go out there and do the best we can. 

How is the kart team doing?

Paul Tracy: They're doing good. They're getting ready for the announcement of what the races are going to be. There's going to be a CART schedule that we race at. Waiting for that schedule to be announced and getting ready to go.

Comments from you about Long Beach. You're the defending champion this year. Can you just go into a little bit what you like about that track, what makes it a challenge to win there?

Paul Tracy: Well, I think it's probably one of our biggest events, street courses. It's a marquee event for CART. It's got a long history, a long list of great drivers that have won that race. If there's any race that is on the list that you'd want to win, that's definitely one of them.

I've been fortunate enough to win my first ever race at Long Beach. Then to win last year in 2000 was great. Going back there this year, I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be hard. The series is more competitive now than it was last year with some new drivers, new teams. It's going to be tough.

CART announced a new relationship with Skip Barber for go-karts, another ladder to the system. You're involved with go-karts a lot. What's your opinion of that? Are you going to get involved with that at all?

Paul Tracy: I'm somewhat involved because I have a go-kart team. One of my drivers that drives for me was nominated for the Skip Barber scholarship program where they had a runoff, they picked 16 go-karters, took them down to Sebring. I was actually down there testing at the same time. They ran them all in the cars. They picked four guys to get a free season in the pro series. One of my drivers, actually he won the scholarship. He's going to get a free season of Skip Barber racing. It's a 13-race championship. These are the kind of opportunities that are great for a young driver that's 17 years old, to get that kind of an opportunity.

Have you talked to Michael at all about his son, whether or not he would start getting involved with this program possibly?

Paul Tracy: I think so. I talked to him a little bit. His son is still young. He's only 13. He's racing a junior class. He needs a couple more years until he can move into the senior class, then be eligible for that program.

I want to ask you a little bit about wearing the head and neck support system that CART is mandating for the oval tracks this year. Do you find it restricts your movement in the cockpit? Just general comments about wearing that little thing.

Paul Tracy:  I think it's good.  Every driver is different.
Sitting in the cockpit of a race car is very individual.  Everybody likes it
a certain  -- to sit a certain way, have a seat made a certain way. 

For me, the HANS device, for me it fits me pretty well. I don't have any problems with it on the ovals. It's still a little bit restrictive to be able to drive on the road courses because you've got much more arm and shoulder movement turning left and right on road courses than you do on an oval where you're only turning left and you're only moving the steering wheel a little bit. I think that's the main complaint for a lot of the drivers.

Everybody wants to be able to utilize the system, but we need to make it a little bit more user friendly for some people. Some people say it doesn't fit them properly. It's kind of a one-size-fits-all. They've made one unit that's supposed to work for everybody. Everybody's body profile and the way they sit in the car is different. That's been the hard part.

Some of my listeners don't realize that you guys are poured into your seats. When they make a mold for a Paul Tracy seat, they don't get one from Rusty Wallace or somebody like that. They take you, put you in some sort of silicone, they make a mold. Explain how that works, how that helps you feel more secure.

Paul Tracy: The seats we use in the Indy car are made from like bean-bag type pellets or foam pellets that are inside of a bag. What you do is you put it inside the car, you put a resin inside there like a glue, you mix it all up with the bean bags, and there's a fitting on it that you can suck the air out of the bag. What you do is you get in the car and you move around and get the seat the way you want it to form to your body. It forms inside of the (inaudible) and your body.

What you do is you get a pump and suck the air out of the bag and sit in the car for about an hour until the glue starts to dry and the seat gets hard enough that it stays to the form of your body. That's pretty much how we make our seats. It's different for every person. Everybody likes the seat done a different way or fit a certain way. It's very individual.

One of the things that Barry and Kim have both sort of said in the recent weeks is if there was anything that -- any shortcomings in the program last year, it was maybe because Barry had so many balls up in the air, he wasn't maybe devoting quite as much attention to your side of the program as he might have. This is something that maybe John Anderson is going to take over. Could you talk about maybe what John is bringing to the program from your perspective.

Paul Tracy: I think it's great to get the opportunity to work with John. A lot of people don't know actually the first job that I ever had was I was contracted to True Sports racing after I ran Indy Lights. At that time he was the team manager for True Sports when they were starting manufacturing their own car with Steve Horne. I worked with him a little bit. We've known each other quite a long time and have always been pretty good friends.

Barry, over the winter there was a lot of talk of him going to Formula 1, obviously starting the third car. He's been up in the air quite a bit. With everything that was going on last year, he wasn't spending a lot of time in the engineering office knowing what the fuel mileage is, what our race strategy is because he was busy in meetings. I don't think it really hurt my championship all that much because I always had good strategy on the races and that was kind of left up to Tony. He would kind of just tell Barry when to call me in, what we were going to do.

But I think bringing John in and Steve and everybody working together, really knowing what's going on on the engineering side of the car, is going to strengthen our race program I think on race day.

Was there anything that you worked on specifically in testing for this season, anything from last year that you thought you needed to improve on?

Paul Tracy: I think that we've improved in all areas of the team. I think starting the season, at this point of the year I feel that we've got a much better car handling-wise than we had at this point last year. We've made a lot of improvements to the Reynard from our engineering staff and aerodynamically in the wind tunnel. Starting out the season, I feel we understand the car a lot more than we did last year. I think that's going to make us a pretty strong team.

T. E. McHale: At this point I've been informed that our next guest has joined us. Thanks for being with us and best of like in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series.

Paul Tracy: Thank you.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Michael Andretti , Paul Tracy , Skip Barber , Steve Horne , John Anderson