Ruffles feathers in 3rd win in Cleveland
CLEVELAND — Paul Tracy won the Grand Prix of Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, he just didn’t win any friends along the way.
Tracy was involved in early crashes with Champ Car rookie Graham Rahal and series veteran Bruno Junqueira. Tracy lost a pair of nose cones; Junqueira lost the rest of the race.
“Tracy, as usual, threw a chrome horn on somebody,” Junqueira said of being hit from behind on Lap 7. “This time, unfortunately, it was on me.”
Rahal was knocked to the back of the field after the Lap 4 collision, which altered his pit strategy and forced him into the pits for fuel with four minutes remaining in the race. He was behind Tracy in second at the time of the final pit stop.
“Tracy just punted me,” said Rahal, who was trying to remain perfect in Cleveland after winning two Atlantic series races last season. “He’s wild and he’ll put you into the fence and doesn’t care about it.”
Tracy admitted “I made a couple of pretty bad mistakes at the start,” but wasn’t about to apologize to anybody. The 17-year veteran won his 31st career race and his first since the 2005 Grand Prix of Cleveland. He became just the third driver to win the event three times, joining Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan.
The win was impressive because Tracy wound up at the back of the field after the incidents, worked his way to the front and then managed to hold off hard-charging rookie Robert Doornbos during the final laps.
“I really thought I was kind of out of it,” Tracy said. “My team did a great job of keeping me in the race and keeping me motivated. It doesn’t seem that I won it the right way, but I’ll take it.”
The win was made possible for the 38-year-old thanks to a laundry list of problems that claimed nearly half the field, including series points leader and polesitter Sebastien Bourdais and teammates Will Power and rookie Simon Pagenaud — the race’s top three qualifiers.
“Yeah, I guess it’s not a good day for the fast cars,” said Bourdais, who’s won the Cleveland race twice and was taken out last year by Tracy. “I’m not sure exactly what the failure was on my engine, it just let go all of a sudden. That’s the nature of the game.”
Bourdais lost oil pressure on Lap 67, causing his engine to shut down. He couldn’t get the car restarted and had to be towed to the pit area.
The 12th-place finish by Bourdais allowed Doornbos to pull within three points of the season leader after his second-place finish. Fellow rookie Neel Jani finished third.
“I know in Europe we race a bit tougher than we do here in the States,” said Doornbos, who drew a black flag for blocking and was accessed a drive-through penalty. “In this championship, blocking is a big word. Yeah, I didn’t see it as a dangerous position or move.
“I respect the rules of Champ Car, but I think we might have to talk about it afterwards.”
The race was filled with notable events.
Rahal led his first three Champ Car laps. Jan Heylan and rookie Tristan Gommeendy had a brutal crash, then blamed each other for it. Rahal’s pit crew seemed to mistakenly put red tires on the front and black tires on the back — a Champ Car no-no — but it was later revealed that the red had been rubbed off the back tire during the mix-up with Tracy.
But after the checkered flag was waved, the biggest news was the resurgence of Tracy.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Tracy said. “The pressure begins to build and build so much that when you finally get that elusive victory, it’s almost like your first win again.
“I’m still kind of in shock with how the race went.”
Tracy was able to keep another streak alive at Burke Lakefront Airport. Champ Car’s resident bad boy has had issues with fellow drivers almost every year in Cleveland.
He sent eventual series champion Bourdais to the hospital last year after a horrific crash, he’s had a war of words with both Bourdais and Alex Tagliani about his racing style and he’s thrown several verbal jabs at drivers during practices and qualifying.
“I guess this is why the series pays me to stay here,” Tracy said. “To create some excitement.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.