Editorial

One-on-one with Paul Tracy
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 July 31, 2006

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Paul Tracy
Bob Heathcote/AutoRacing1.com

Saturday in San Jose, California I caught up with veteran Champ Car driver Paul Tracy with the Forsythe Championship Racing team.  As the most senior and most experienced driver in Champ Car, Tracy has a wealth of experience having driven with many great Champ Car drivers.  We talk about the new Champ Car, the future of his career, his NASCAR foray, and what he sees for Champ Car's future. 

Find out why he thinks new teammate AJ Allmendinger has been faster than him.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  Paul, thanks for being with us today.

Last night was the big announcement and unveiling of the new car. What was your impression of it?

PAUL TRACY: I think it was -- I think the presentation, the effort put out in it was one of the best that I've seen in a long time in terms of the unveiling, the hype behind the unveiling, the anticipation behind the unveiling.

It used to be that we would get new cars every year, so now -- it's like it wasn't a big deal in my time to get a new car every year. You'd get excited about driving the new car. But now with having run the same car for six, seven years, you know, there was a lot of excitement behind the new car. So that was exciting for everybody.

Q. As far as what you saw of the new car, anything you liked or didn't like?

PAUL TRACY: I think it looks good. I think, you know, a lot of people had question marks whether it would look like a classic Champ Car, how the lines would be, whether they were going to put an air box on it like an IRL car or Formula One car. I know a lot of the fans don't like the look and the styling of the air box.

I think they've done everything to maintain the classic lines and the sleekness of a Champ Car, the low lines, and I think that they've updated the car with more modern aerodynamics with a raised nose, more aerodynamic, the under wing tunnel is going to be more effective for downforce than what we currently have, and allow us to run closer to each other.

Q. How do you feel about the paddle shifters and the thought of maybe doing standing starts next year?

PAUL TRACY: I think it's good. I think standing starts, you know, it all depends on the track, but I think having an onboard starter is good.  The problem in the past was packaging, the onboard starter with a battery and a starter, where you would put it. There's not a lot of room in a Lola for that. But they've designed this new car around having that option.

I think the paddle shifting, it was good. It was something that I was for when they came and asked me about it. You know, some of the tracks that we have to run at currently,  just as an example, Houston is so bumpy, you almost don't want to take your hands off the steering wheel because the bumps are so violent that you can barely hang on to the steering wheel hard enough as it is on the bumps.  I think that's going to add some safety factor.

And the other big issue was, you know, some of the tracks we go to, you get a lot of overrevs on downshifts because some of the corners are medium speed, your one gear is too long, the other is too short. You go for the shorter gear and you have a lot of overrevs that the rear wheels drive the engine overrevving.

That will save a lot of, you know, pulled engines in terms of early rebuilds for the teams. You can't overrev the motor. The engine will downshift when it's ready to downshift.

Q. Have you had much experience with standing starts in your career?

PAUL TRACY: Not really. I mean, I've done some in Formula Fords and Formula 2000, Formula Atlantic. But we're talking 20 years ago now. So not a lot of experience with it.

Q. Does it give you any apprehension at all?

PAUL TRACY: No, no. I mean, you know, it will be the same for everybody. So I don't have a problem with it.

Q. Besides the new car, there's talk of some new races next year. Las Vegas has been announced. Phoenix is apparently close to being announced. China, as well, as I understand it. Believe it or not, I learned today of some other ones. How do you feel about where the series is positioned right now?  The rumors about a merger seem to have died down. What I'm hearing, it doesn't sound like it's that close. So do you feel that Champ Car is on the right path?

PAUL TRACY: I think they've got to continue. I think that what they're doing now and what they've got to continue to do is keep continuing on their own path. And if unification happens, that would be great. I think it would be great for both series. But you can't stand still and wait on unification. You've got to keep developing the series. You've got to keep cultivating new markets to go to.

Going to Las Vegas, people have been trying to go to Las Vegas, whether it be Formula One or, you know, Champ Cars, IndyCars, for the last 10 years. People have been trying to put together a street race in Las Vegas, unsuccessfully. For Kevin and Gerry to be able to pull that off I think is a big shot in the arm for the series, that they were able to put that all together with the city, get a unanimous vote and funding from the city, whereas everyone else in the past has failed to be able to do that, to run a race in Las Vegas. So I think that's a big shot in the arm for the series and it underscores the capabilities of them as businessmen to be able to achieve that.

So, you know, we've got Phoenix that looks like that's going to happen as a season-ender, another great market that we haven't been in in a long time. It will be a street race. You know, and then going to the east and China I think is good, too.

Q. We also are hearing new team owners coming in. Things seem to be turning around. Bob Gelles announced last night, he was a little more specific, he's going to run a 12-car team next year, six Formula BMWs, four Champ Car Atlantic cars and two Champ Car World Series cars next year. Quite a big operation. He's one. There's rumors of Paul Stoddard coming in.

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think that will put another four cars on the grid. We're currently at, depending on how things go from week to week, 17, 18. So that would put us over the 20 mark to 22. I think that's -- as a series, you know, I think what we really need is between 22 and 24 cars. Anything over that,  when you get up towards 26, 28, it kind of becomes a little bit of a chaos in terms of traffic and, people getting in other's way, especially on some of the temporary tracks like here and Denver. It just becomes too many cars for the size of the venue. So I think that 22 to 23, 24 cars is a good number.

Q. You've been in the series quite a long time now. You just recently renewed for, what, five years?

PAUL TRACY: Five years.

Q. Five years. You've made another commitment to stay here. You must be relatively happy with what you see. How about your NASCAR aspirations? Are you still going to do any NASCAR at all?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I'd like to. But obviously I have the option to really pick and choose what I want to do. And, you know, my first opportunity to really go -- you know, there's been some interest in me doing it for five or six years from Childress. We went and did a test. But the deal was kind of contingent on putting together some sponsorship packages for me to run. Obviously, it takes money to run those things. It's vastly expensive to run those cars. Talking about 300,000 to 400,000 dollars a weekend for budget for a Cup car.

Q. That's a lot.

PAUL TRACY: You're talking budgets of $20 million for a 38-race schedule. You break that down, it's a half a million dollars a weekend. So, I mean, you know, Childress had some things happen, potential sponsors in Canada. I went and tested. But ultimately everything didn't come together. The money didn't come through. So the plans kind of got squashed.

I talked to Gerry about I was interested in doing it. I was intrigued by it. And he said, Well, you know, I think you can stay in this series a lot longer and still do a lot of things for this series. He said, I would caution you to go and try NASCAR and go do however many races you want to do, see if you enjoy it. And if you like it, 'cause there's -- the list goes on and on of guys that have gone down there and been unsuccessful and it's ended their career.

So, I mean, that was really what I decided to do. I went down there and started talking, couldn't really get a lot of interest, the answer to my question was, How much money do you have? Do you have any sponsorship to run a car?  I had to put together a sponsorship package. I was able to do that with Sport Clips, a shampoo company, American Crew, for a five-race package. But really when I went back with my money in my hand, nobody was really prepared to give me a top-flight in-the-points car for a five-race deal. They were looking at, We need a full-season deal if we're going to free up a championship-level car. It doesn't really make sense to do it for five races.

So by the time we had our money together to go do it, to get into the race at Daytona, in a guaranteed spot, you needed a car that was inside the top 30. The only car that was available at that time was Frank Cici's car. I was kind of stuck doing that program. Frankly, you know, it's a back-of-the-pack car. So it's been a little bit frustrating. I had a good run at Daytona. I enjoyed doing Daytona. I've enjoyed doing the restrictor plate races. But there hasn't been any door open for me to get into a good car. And it just didn't make a lot of sense for me to spend two or three years running around in mediocre equipment hoping that I'm going to get an opportunity.

Q. So will you do any more part-time NASCAR stuff or is that it?

PAUL TRACY: The sponsors that I have now, they're really happy with me, American Crew and Sport Clips. They want to do a bigger better deal next year, more races. But I really haven't decided if that's really what I want to do yet. I made a commitment to Gerry. He knows that I like to go race other cars and I like to stay busy in the off-season. I don't really know how busy we're going to be this off-season. I don't know what our testing schedule is. Last winter I wasn't going to test from November until the beginning of April was my first test. So I had five months off. And I just felt that it was a good idea for me to be out driving Grand-Am cars, driving something to stay busy all winter and keep the rust off.

So I haven't really decided what I'm going to do in terms of stock cars. I have sponsorship put together, but I haven't really decided whether it's what I want to do or not. It all depends on what the schedule is for the new car, the '07 car.

The only thing I know for sure right now is that I'll continue to do some Grand-Am races. I want to do the 24 Hours. I'll do the 9 Hours of Utah with Mike Shank and Mike Borkowski. Continue to do that stuff because it's road racing. It's good.

Q. You're originally from Canada.

PAUL TRACY: Uh-huh.

Q. Will you try to make the Busch race in Montréal next year? Is that a goal?

PAUL TRACY: It all depends on the schedule. We don't know what's schedule is yet. It's not announced yet. We'll see.

Q. You're still living in Las Vegas, is that correct?

PAUL TRACY:  Yes.

Q. What is your sense for that race doing well in the old downtown area of Las Vegas? I don't know Las Vegas very well.

PAUL TRACY: Well, I live there.  Over the last five years there's been a big revival, push down there. They're in the process right now of building minimum-priced condos, townhomes, around the area where the track is going to be. Right now where the track is going to be, they just built two giant furniture-type showrooms -- it's like a world center for furniture.  Buyers come in from all over the world. All the manufacturers of furniture worldwide display their product in these two buildings they built.

It's like a big giant -- it's a year-round convention place for furniture. It's only open to dealers. So the race is going to be based around this -- there's an outdoor shopping mall there, and there's this furniture convention center, and then you have these kind of big empty lots and streets that have already been done for this new development of condos that are going in down there.

So, you know, that whole area is going to be completely redeveloped. Now that our race is going to be part of that area for the next five years, I think it's going to be great because it's going to be the new downtown of Las Vegas.

Q. Might be a good time for Champ Car to be getting in there.

PAUL TRACY: Yeah.

Q. Yeah, sounds like it. Let's talk a little bit about your new teammate, A.J. He seems to have been a spark for the team, it really seems to have come alive.

PAUL TRACY: Yeah.

Q. How is your relationship with A.J. because both of you have moved forward since he came onboard?

PAUL TRACY: The biggest factor really is obviously he's very fast. Probably wasn't comfortable in the team that he was at. He didn't feel like he could get what he wanted there. When he came to this team, he started from a clean sheet of paper. The team was welcomed to have him. They wanted him on the team. He came in and obviously wanted to impress his first race. He did that in a big way the first three races by winning all three.

You know, in terms of our team, the level of our team stepping up, I think for myself, it's benefited me in the last couple races because when he came in, the last two to three years, I haven't really had a teammate that has been able to push me as I've always had the measure of my teammates by 3 to 4/10ths of a second a lap.

So he has come in and obviously he's been very, very quick. So I've had to raise my game. I've had to look at the telemetry, figure out where is he making up all his time on me. So it's helped me a lot, you know, because basically I've had it easy for the last four years.

Patrick [Carpentier] was slower than me 80, 90% of the time. The same with Mario [Dominguez]. I really haven't had to push myself as far as you need to push yourself.

Q. You guys share similar setups?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah, our cars are virtually the same other than brake pads are a little bit different, you know, small things. So we drive a very similar car. Our driving styles are a lot different. He's a left-foot braker and I'm a right-foot braker. That's the kind of a thing where, in terms of lap time right now, the only real difference between myself and him is that he's able to -- he's braking with the left foot while he's still a hundred percent on throttle. Kind of there's a transition where he's still on the throttle and on the brake at the same time, whereas I go from the full throttle and there's a gap between from when I get to the brake. So he's beating me in the brake zones a little bit because he's doing it -- he's getting on the brake as he's at full throttle, then he lifts off the throttle and is slowing down, whereas I'm having to transition from one to the other.

So, you know, it's making me think now that I probably should start trying to make the transition to being a left-foot braker.

Q. It would be interesting. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

PAUL TRACY: I've always kind of shied away. I mean, most of my teammates have been left-foot brakers. Rick [Mears] was a left-foot braker. Al, Jr. was a left-foot braker. Emerson Fittipaldi was a right-foot braker. Michael Andretti was a left-foot braker. Dario Franchitti was the same as me, a right-foot braker. Patrick Carpentier and Mario Dominguez were left-foot brakers. I was always quicker than them. I was able to brake as deep as them, but they never carried full throttle and braked at the same time. They would brake and get off the throttle right away.

This is -- I guess this is the new generation of go-karting kids, that this is how they do it now. And, you know, times have changed and I've got to learn new tricks.

Q. There's been some ongoing controversy I guess between you and Sébastien Bourdais. Have you guys kind of worked out those differences?

PAUL TRACY: I don't really talk to him. You know, he's just a guy who likes to give his opinion on everything, and I'm kind of the same personality. But, you know, when we see each other face to face, it's always very cordial. But it seems like every time that I turn around, especially when we're in Canada, whether it's in Edmonton or Toronto, he's got to try to stick a knife in my back, he has some comment to say about me.

That's just -- it's his prerogative. I don't take much weight in what he has to say because, frankly, I don't think a lot of people really care what he has to say.

Q. How do you feel about him as a driver?

PAUL TRACY: I think he's a great driver. I think obviously he's proven that he's a great driver. It's just his personality doesn't lend himself to, you know, people adoring him.

Q. All right. Thank you very much for your time. Wish you a lot of luck this weekend.  Hope to see you back in the winner's circle soon.

PAUL TRACY: Thanks Mark.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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