CHAMPCAR/CART: Paul Tracy Interview 2000-04-18

Paul's victory in Sunday's second race of the FedEx Championship Series season was the 16th of his career, moving him into sole possession of 8th place on the CART career victory list. He trails 7th place Danny Sullivan by one and 6th ...

Paul's victory in Sunday's second race of the FedEx Championship Series season was the 16th of his career, moving him into sole possession of 8th place on the CART career victory list. He trails 7th place Danny Sullivan by one and 6th place Mario Andretti by three. Paul's triumph from the 17th starting position represented the second furthest back on the grid that a driver has claimed victory on a road or street circuit in CART history, topped only by Al Under, Jr.'s drive from 19th to victory at Miami in 1986. In his first two starts of the FedEx Championship Series season, Paul has driven from the 17th starting position to 3rd place at Homestead, and from the 17th starting position to victory at Long Beach. The performances have brought him the Budweiser Hard Charger Award, given to the driver who improves his position most from start to finish at each event in each of the first two races, as well as the lead in the season-long Hard Charger standings with 30 points. Heading into the April 30th Rio 200 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Paul leads the FedEx Championship Series with 34 points. It marks the first time he has led the Championship since 1997 when he led following Round 11 at Toronto before being overtaken by eventual champion Alex Zanardi following Round 12 at Michigan Speedway. The Rio 200, race number three in the FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast live on ESPN this Sunday -- next Sunday rather April 30th beginning at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Q. Twice now you've had to -- you've started 17th, come back for a 3rd and for a win, obviously is there something you'd like to do to get a better training time so you start a little farther up the grid?

PAUL TRACY: Well, it would be nice, but, you know, to come away with the results that we've had so far this season have been fantastic. We qualified 4th at Nazareth, so I'm looking forward to that race, looking forward to going to Brazil. But we definitely struggled at the first race. We've never been great at Homestead in terms of speed, but we're really surprised at Long Beach, how much we struggled. Not only myself but also Dario, he qualified 19th. We were both kind of -- had problems with the car, and hopefully we can get some testing done before we go to the next road course event. It will be a little while; so we'll have an opportunity to test.

Q. What about yourself, do you feel your driving skills have changed the last several years to make this kind of move up the grid?

PAUL TRACY: Well, you know, I think now I'm more patient and willing to wait, and it obviously pays off instead of taking risks and ending up out of the race. To wait for the end of the race, when you're there at the end, you can win, you know. That's really probably the biggest difference.

Q. I wanted to ask you more along those lines of being more patient, how hard is that for you to do that, especially when you're driving in 17th place and you're trying to move up through the field, you sort of have like this tug-of-war between being too aggressive and too patient?

PAUL TRACY: I think now it's a lot easier for me because my motivation now is not so focused on just purely winning at all costs. My focus, really, the last year and a half has been finish the race first. You know, not in first place, but just to finish. And if you can finish and get a good result, and then you're going to pick up wins and you're going to get good finishes. I think that's really what I've been trying to focus on, and that's what Tony has been trying to get me to focus on, and it seems to be working for us.

Q. And that's something you've just had conversations with Tony about over the last couple years or has that been a hard adjustment?

PAUL TRACY: Well, it hasn't been too hard of an adjustment because the results started to come. If I was, you know, going with his philosophy and it wasn't working, probably wouldn't be doing that. But, you know, what he's been preaching to me has been working, and, you know, I can't argue with that.

Q. One last thing, sort of switching gears, there's been a lot of talk about what's going on with Detroit. CART has said they don't want to come back to Belle Isle after 2001, what's your reaction to that after seeing what happened in Cleveland last year, the drivers being very vocal, what are your thoughts about Detroit?

PAUL TRACY: I know there's a lot of issues, on the paddock, especially. The facility has not been -- you know, the track is very bumpy and they have made changes to the track, but still, it's a difficult place to get in and out of, for the fans and the teams, you know. So I don't know what the end result is going to be. I know that the contract is up and I know they have made recommendations that they need to improve the facility, if we're going to come back. That was never a question with Cleveland. Cleveland, there was never an issue of the track or the facility or anything like that. So I think it's two different situations.

Q. Paul, you've never had a 1-2, like two races in a row at the beginning of the season that's been this productive, looking way whack in 1993 you started with the 5th and then you were 16th the next race, and '97 you were second in the first race, 19th in the second race. So this is -- you've never been in a situation like this. How do you -- do you build on that or how did you feel?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I feel good about it. My confidence is definitely up. You know, I feel very confident going into this oval stretch now because I know that -- I know we've got a good car and a good race car and all these short ovals coming up. And I know that even if we don't qualify right up front, I know that, you know, my team and the way I race on the short ovals will get us up front. I'm definitely confident going into these races and I feel like we have a really good opportunity to rack up some pretty strong finishes. You know, like I said before, I'm just really focusing not so much on just purely winning, but being there at the end of the race, and when we're there, if I'm around at the end of the race, I'm usually not running around. And I think if you look all the way back through my career, you look at my running positions and when I fell out of a race, I was always towards the front. It was never -- I was never really running around in the back of the pack. So if I'm around at the end of the race, I'm usually in the top -- top five or six.

Q. But it's an interesting thing that over the years, you always talked, you know, about the importance of finishing, and it was only last year that you -- you know, as you said, you saw the results and really seemed to -- you know, that kicked in, just the importance of finishing?

PAUL TRACY: I think in the past, I probably just took too many chances, made too many risky passes, and I paid for it.

Q. But did Tony -- what was it that Tony said that finally kind of got you thinking -- or is it just, you know, that you were 30 years old last year?

PAUL TRACY: Maybe that was it, and realizing that, you know, the situation now, how competitive it is, you're not going to drive -- you know, you're not going to drive by somebody. The field is running at the same pace from front to back, and the only way you're going to beat guys is put enough pressure on them that they end up making a mistake themselves, or, you know, saving more fuel than they do, so if it goes yellow, you have a better pit stop, or if you go a full stint you can go a couple laps further than they can; and you can go faster when they get out of your way, and that way you can beat them out of the pit when you come in the pit. It's really hard to pass now, and you've just got to play -- have better strategy than everybody else.

Q. Is it as much fun?

PAUL TRACY: Well, yeah, I mean, it is. When you can get a result like we had at the end of the day, but, you know like I said, the cars are so equal now, there's not -- you know other than the super speedways where we've got the wing that you can draft back and forth; if it's on a street course, you're not going to pass somebody and have him pass you back at the next corner. It doesn't work like that.

Q. You had a chance to learn a new course in practice and in qualifying, did you find that in the face there were circumstances to learn anything about the new section of the course?

PAUL TRACY: I definitely liked the new track at Long Beach. I think they have done a pretty good job. I know there's some issues with safety barrier and fencing for the future that needs to be changed. But I thought the race it was a great weekend. We had a huge crowd. Long Beach is one of our -- one of our marquis events. You know, it's one that you definitely want to win.

Q. I think maybe a year ago, public perception might have been a little bit different of Paul Tracy. Let me ask how that influences what Paul Tracy does and how it's different this year from last?

PAUL TRACY: I don't know if it's any different because the people that I'm around have always supported me. And, you know, my fans have always supported me, and maybe I have some more fans now, but the people that have -- that are within, I guess, my inner circle that I'm always around, have always been behind me. And I guess now, like I said, I've got more people on my side.

Q. I think that might be true. I saw quite a bit of the race around Turn 9, and when you won, those people just ignited.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. That was a great win, and I was around that victory circle and everybody there was really happy for you, as well. I know all weekend you struggled getting the car together, and for a long time looked like that was going to come together. What really happened over Saturday night, what changes were made to the car that put you in the position to move forward?

PAUL TRACY: Well, we pretty much exhausted all of our -- you know, all of the engine setup ideas that we had from '98-'99. You know, both Dario and myself, we changed pretty much everything you could change that we've done in the past to make our package work, and it just wasn't working.

You know, we have Steve Challis, who was Greg Moore's engineer last year, on our team, he made some suggestions, opened up his notebook from some of the setups Greg had, and I made some of the changes to the car. You know, a lot of the stuff on our car was very similar to his, except for some pretty key components of the car. I made the changes in the morning warm-up and was really happy with the car. I got out of the car after 10 or 15 minutes of running and was ready to race. Dario didn't make any of the changes. He wanted to stick with his own -- what he had been running all weekend, and that was really the difference, you know, was just putting some of the stuff that Greg ran last year on our car.

Q. Kind of an emotional experience then, wasn't it?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah, it was a good feeling. And that's not really the first time that that's happened. We did the same thing at Homestead as well. We struggled all weekend for speed, and Sunday morning we made some changes and put some things on the car that Greg had ran before, and that really brought the car alive. So we were really lucky to have Steve Challis working with us to lend a hand.

Q. Looking ahead towards Rio, what do you expect it to be like down there this year? Do you think it's going to be another one of these, "you throw out your old setups and go with something new"?

PAUL TRACY: We'll have to see. Our setup worked at Nazareth. We'll have to see what happens at Brazil. Usually the track is very, very dirty down there; so it's tough to get going quickly right away. But, you know, I feel good about the car. I think we're looking a little bit of straightaway speed to some teams, but, you know, I think we've got a pretty good handle on -- you know, braking is so important there, and getting stopped and coming off the corner, that's what we're going to try to work on.

Q. Do you see this as being Paul Tracy's year for the Championship?

PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I've been working at -- hoping it was going to be my year every year. And, you know I guess really the only thing that I can do is go out at every race and just do the best that I can in everything single race, and really not try to add up points and try to calculate where you need to finish. You just do the best you can at every race, and whatever is going to happen will happen. The key thing that we need to focus on is making less mistakes than the other teams. Our focus is really to make less of them.

Q. Going ahead to Nazareth, going back into Nazareth, one day only, how is that going to impact the whole deal, and is one day enough to get a practice run at it again?

PAUL TRACY: Well, you know, I think it's good for me. I have a lot of experience just showing up and doing a race there. So maybe -- hopefully, I have a slight upper hand to some other guys. But in terms of the race, I think it will be better. I mean, we've got an opportunity to bring some more fans in, you know, people that we're going to have to leave on Sunday at Nazareth, to go home to go to work on Monday, can hopefully come back and see the race, and I think it's going to be a good weekend.

Q. And the Honda engine, you mentioned that it was down a bit on power. Are there more bits coming from that?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think we're doing pretty well right now. I mean, obviously Homestead is a motor track. You know, we almost won that race. Obviously, Long Beach is definitely a premium on horsepower, you know, and I was able to win there. So, you know, Honda has definitely done a fantastic job. Absolutely no complaints at all. I heard on Sunday that if Honda has won 15 of the last road course events, I mean, that's phenomenal.

Q. Has the difficulty with the car been adjusting it to work with the new tires?

PAUL TRACY: No, not really. It's just we haven't been able to find the total grip in the car that it takes for the car to qualify. And I think we found this weekend probably what one of our main problems was, and I don't want to go too deep into what it was, because, you know, we feel we've come across something. Maybe we've just come up to where everybody else is, but we definitely found that we were lacking something.

Q. A couple of times late in the race, it looked like you were having a little bit of trouble getting into Turn 1. Was that cold tires and pick-up?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah, that was the first couple laps, the first, second lap after a restart. That was, you know, pushing hard, trying not to allow Helio to get too close to me, underbraking. And locked up the front brake and almost skated -- you know, skated a little wide. But overall, the car was good. I just had -- took a couple laps -- new tires are a little harder, so they take a couple laps to get up to temperature.

Q. The contact with Michael in pit line didn't skew the steering any?

PAUL TRACY: No. I was actually very fortunate about that, about what happened there, because that could have been disastrous.

Q. That was a phenomenal move on the final pit stop. It looked like if Garcia had closed up that you might even have gotten Moreno in the pits, as well?

PAUL TRACY: I think so, yeah, because he was not -- he was kind of asleep at the wheel there. He allowed Moreno to just kind of drive away and get in the pits for us. Even though I was able to get around Moreno right away on the restart, you know, would have put us in a better position towards the end of the race, definitely.

Q. Sunday after the race you eluded to the safety issues. Long Beach Association and CART have said that they have got a plan where the things that weren't done this year will be done by next year. Had you been told about that and how do you feel about that?

PAUL TRACY: I feel good about it because Long Beach is a great race for us. You know, I think safety should be the first issue at a racetrack, because we've all seen what can happen in the last year. You know, you always want these things done right away, but hopefully, they will be done in the future.

Q. It is my understanding they will be putting in taller blocks and stronger fences. Were there any other issues?

PAUL TRACY: No. That was really one of the main issues, and so, really, I guess just some touch-up work in making the track facility look nice to the eye, I guess.

Q. How did you feel about the corners and the turns that they opened up this year?

PAUL TRACY: Good. Great. The track was great.

Q. When you unload the car off the truck on a Friday and you have some problems with the setup, how do you approach fixing those problems? What did you start out looking at?

PAUL TRACY: When you start out with problems, it usually means potentially it can be a pretty tough weekend. I think that's where our team is really good. And when things aren't going well, we don't panic and start, you know, pulling our hair out and losing our temper. We really try to work carefully to make the right decisions. Because it's tough, we only get an hour -- an hour and a half of practice at a road course, and then we qualify and then an hour the following day. So if you waste a whole session and don't come out of that session with a clear direction on what you want to do, it's impossible to make that time back.

Q. You said that you discovered some things that you really didn't want to get into that maybe helped you out in the setup, is that something that you're going to have to test privately or is that something that you feel you can do on a race weekend?

PAUL TRACY: I think it's something that we can do at every racetrack, but we obviously want to test our setups and test some other things and see if we can optimize it even more. But definitely -- definitely worked at Long Beach.

Q. Going back to the fan issue, it was really evident that you did have a lot of fans out there, and like you said, you probably will have more. What does it mean to you to have loyal fans that will always back you up no matter what you do?

PAUL TRACY: It's great. It's always nice to have someone pat you on the back and enjoy what you do. Without the fans, this sport wouldn't be what -- motor sports or any form of sports wouldn't be what it is today if it didn't have people to come out and watch and enjoy it.

Q. What do you personally do to show the fans that you do appreciate them?

PAUL TRACY: I try to sign as many autographs as I can. And sometimes it's hard when you're walking, getting in the car at practice. But I try to do as much as I can, take as much time as I can, give some time back to the fans, autograph sessions and just being around, you know.

Q. Paul, you talked earlier about the necessity of getting good mileage and using strategy to overtake. That's a little bit harder for you because your car automatically has more pounds than some of the other drivers. Has there been any movement from CART on equalizing the driver weights?

PAUL TRACY: No. I haven't actually heard anything. Although, I would love that to happen, because I pay a pretty tremendous weight penalty compared to some other drivers, you know, some less, some more. But I'm not harping about it. It's just a fact of life, and, you know, I just try to do the best that I can and I rely on my own personal strength and know that I'm stronger and I know that I'm fit. I can do a whole race at the speeds that I qualify at. Because of the weight penalty, it's hard to beat the fastest car in qualifying because of my weight versus --

Q. Well, you're automatically a couple of tenths behind.

PAUL TRACY: I'm already giving them a couple tenths before we even go on the track; so it's hard to be the fastest car. But I know what I can qualify at, I can run that pace all day long, every lap, and that's what I -- you know, that's what I draw from.

Q. It looked on Sunday as though the harder compound really made the track a lot more raceable; was it for you?

PAUL TRACY: Definitely. There was no marbles, which was nice. You do get off-line and try to pass, and it definitely made for a more enjoyable racetrack.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Mario Andretti , Danny Sullivan , Greg Moore