PT's Passion to Win
INDIANAPOLIS, September 2, 2003
It's been an amazing decade and a half watching Paul Tracy grow up from a chubby cheeked kid with oversize glasses to the slim, lasik-adjusted version of PT we have today. He's changed a lot over the years, but one thing has been constant: Paul Tracy has always been the fiercest of competitors.
I, for one, hope he earns the championship title both he and Team Player's have yearned for all this time. Player's, of course, entered the American open-wheel wars with Claude Bourbonnais and Jacques Villeneuve in Formula Atlantic and went on to score the Indianapolis 500 and CART titles with Villeneuve in 1995. The cigarette brand will depart all motorsports marketing at the end of this month.
Hiring Tracy to deliver the Champ Car title in their final year of permitted competition, Imperial Tobacco Canada Player's brand felt they had the right man at the right time in the right place. That certainly rankled Patrick Carpentier, who has been a stalwart with Team Player's since the 1998 CART campaign. It still rankles Carpentier, but he's had to live with being second fiddle to Paulie, the Thrill from West Hill, a Toronto suburb.
Tracy, of course has been in and out of favor with team owners and fans throughout his Champ Car career, which began with a single race for Dale Coyne Racing back in 1991. He's worked with the best: Team Penske (twice), Newman/Haas Racing, Team KOOL Green and now with Team Player's.
In this, his 13th CART season PT has experienced the same roller coaster ride he's had since he first started, going from winner of the first three races to three points only in the succeeding three. From hero to zero and back again. Not what he or the team needed.
And now, there are only four events left on Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Tracy's got 18 points on Bruno Junqueira, whose season hasn't exactly been what the Brazilian had hoped for, but certainly not the binge-and-purge ride of his closest competitor Tracy. Mexican Michel Jourdain Jr. shadows this duo like a vulture, just waiting for both of them to fall apart.
Running from February to November the Champ cars have 19 races in which to find a Champion. This title is Tracy's to win or lose and I can hear the rumblings already: "If he wins it, there should be an asterisk by his name, because all of his competition defected to the Indy Racing League."
That is a bunch of bull. The guys Tracy's racing against may not have names like Andretti, Brack, Franchitti, Castroneves, Dixon, Kanaan et al, but they've made it interesting and tough competition every weekend.
This Champ Car season is one of passion. With the series in such a state of flux, it's now or never for, well, maybe for everybody. And no one on this tour has more desire than Paul Tracy. He's not afraid to show it inside or out of the race car. He's been a veritable sound-bite lover's dream all year.
But mostly, he's simply been fighting for what he wants and what he needs. That elusive championship. You can feel PT's ardor as you watch the in-car camera, when you hear his expletive-laced conversation with his crew and with the next guy who sticks a microphone in his face.
Yes, Bruno Junqueira has passion, as do Michel Jourdain and Sebastien Bourdais and Patrick Carpentier, to name the fab four chasing Tracy. But they don't have the ability to transmit that zeal quite the way PT does. They just don't make you feel how badly they want and need this championship the way he does.
Just take a look at Paul Tracy's statistics if you need reminding how good this guy is: Tracy is 10th All-Time in Champ car wins, dating from 1909; he's fourth in CART victories and has twiceat this point anywayrecorded three wins in a row, in 1997 and earlier this season. His 18 pole positions are shared with three-time champ Bobby Rahal, giving them 11th place all-time and fifth in CART standings since 1979.
With 25 victories to date, Paul Tracy has a way to go before besting leader Michael Andretti (41), who has hung up his helmet. He leads all active drivers with 206 starts, to Jimmy Vasser's 201 and he's second in laps led behind Andretti Junior. This year alone, PT has led 594 laps, nearly double his closest competitor, Michel Jourdain.
The stats are good, yes they are, but the rewards are what elude Tracy and egg him on. After all, how many drivers have transformed their bodies like Paul has to achieve success? If you can't feel his intensity, can't feel his obsession to win, you just haven't been paying attention.
Back in the fall of 2002, when he was not yet permitted to talk about where he was going for the 2003 season, Tracy promised to support CART in what he knew would be a difficult season. "I'm prepared to put my work in, promotions-wise to make this succeed. I'm ready to help get it steered in the right direction and I don't think a lot of people are prepared to make sacrifices," he said at the time.
Not ready to give up his individuality or personality to benefit CART, Tracy still has done his part and now he's ready for the reward of the title and the Vanderbilt Cup that belong to the CART champion. I only hope he achieves his goal and helps the series on to more years of great competition. It would be a shame to see both Paul Tracy and Championship Auto Racing Teams do anything but succeed.