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Q&A: Paul Tracy - EXCLUSIVE

6 July 2007


Champ Car veteran Paul Tracy has seen a lot of things in his lengthy career, but has encountered a tough start to 2007. He told Crash.net Radio's Craig Llewellyn about the highs and lows of the opening six races and openly discussed some of the season's more controversial issues....


Q:
Just looking back over the start of the season, it's been a bit of an up-and-down year for you so far?

Paul Tracy
It's been more than an up-and-down year, it's been a rollercoaster ride! It started out fine for us in Vegas, with a good result and everything going as well as we could have expected it to. We qualified on the front row, and pole on the first day. We had some issues in the race with fuel, but still ended up in a nice third position. Then, obviously, from there the season kind of unravelled. We went to Long Beach, suffered a broken vertebrae and had to miss eight weeks of racing. We came back at Portland and had a pretty disastrous weekend in terms of our car and set-up, but then went to Cleveland and had a win - and then Mont-Tremblant this last weekend was a disaster again for the team.

Q:
After you had the injury at Long Beach, how hard was it, mentally and physically, to bring yourself back from that?

PT:
It wasn't hard. Obviously, it is one of those things that happens, but one of the most frustrating things is that I only had a relatively small incident. No corners on the car were damaged, all that was damaged was the nose, but I suffered a compression fracture of one of the vertebrae. You sit there for eight weeks and wonder 'how did this happen? Was the seat right? Is this right? Was the car right?'. And then you see an accident like Robert Kubica's in Montreal and that guy walks away from an incident like that and I have a very small incident [and am sidelined]. It can be a little frustrating, but that's kinda the cards I was dealt.

Q:
Is it the sort of thing to make you consider retirement or took look somewhere else?

PT:
No. It's easy for anyone to stop when things get difficult, but all it's done is motivate me to get better. This season has been.... you know, we've gotten a win but, for most of the season, it hasn't gone well. But everybody works together as a team, and I've been fortunate enough to win a lot of races in my career. When it gets hard is when you have to buckle down and do the best you can. Like I said, I've been fortunate to win a lot of races and you're always going to lose a lot more races in your career than you're going to win, so that one win in Cleveland can make up for a hundred bad races.

Q:
Of course, an afternoon like you had in Cleveland, where you had an amount of luck on your side, can make you a whole lot more positive?

PT:
For sure it can. We need to have some good luck and we were fortunate enough to have some that day, but I think what showed on the day is that you had to have the pace to stay up front and not get passed by the quicker cars that were behind you, and, when we got to the front, we had the pace to do that. If we can get our team in order and figure out this car, I know that I can win races.

Q:
What do you make of the new Panoz and the reliability - or lack of reliability in some cases - that you've had with that and the Cosworth engine?

PT:
We haven't had any major reliability problems with the car itself. We had some fuelling problems, which everybody had, but that has been addressed and the car is now fuelling properly and quickly and effectively. We haven't really had any major problems with the car, not anything out of the norm. This past weekend we had an engine failure, which isn't really anything to do with the car itself. There are always little areas that we want to work on but, as a whole, I think the car has done a pretty good job this year.

Q:
You've been in Champ Car for quite a few years now, but there is something of a 'changing of the guard' going on, with a lot of younger drivers coming in and lot of European drivers....

PT:
I think it's pretty normal, no different from the mid-'90s or the early 2000s, [when] you had a lot of guys coming over from Europe. In the era that I've raced, you've had ex-F1 drivers like [Mauricio] Gugelmin, Mark Blundell, Gil de Ferran coming along - guys who spent a lot of their career trying to forge a finish from F1 coming to Champ Car, so I don't think that's changed. What has changed is that the age of the drivers has gotten younger.

Q:
With the number of overseas drivers coming through, do you think it is to the detriment of American drivers - or Canadian drivers - who really should perhaps be coming into Champ Car?

PT:
I don't think so. At the end of the day, it's all about results. Some of these teams that are out here now need funding and some of these younger drivers are either supported by Red Bull or they have backing from whatever country, and companies in those countries, that feel it is a viable option for them to be in Champ Car. Right now, in America and Canada, it is very very difficult to find sponsorship for open-wheel racing and that is because NASCAR dominates the sponsorship front. It is where the money is dedicated to. It costs money to run these [Champ] cars and, if a team is to be fielded, they need funding for it, and the European drivers tend to have access to that, through junior programmes, be it with Red Bull or whatever...

Q:
Obviously, AJ Allmendinger was a protégé of yours and had a bit of Red Bull support, so how disappointing was it for you personally to see him defect to NASCAR?

PT:
It's his decision - but obviously the series wanted him to stay and I know for sure that my team owner, Gerald Forsythe, wanted him to stay, but the opportunity was offered to him to go with a big Red Bull programme and a factory-supported Toyota programme and I think that looked very appealing going in. But now I think it has been a very difficult transition for him. Of course, we're talking now in hindsight, but there could have been more opportunities for him within Red Bull, to go to Formula One or do something else had he stayed within Champ Car and continued to win. Last year, when he came joined our team, he tended to get the better of Sebastien [Bourdais] - who is now in line to get a Red Bull [supported] seat in F1. Maybe that could have been AJ's...

Q:
We can safely say that American hopes in Champ Car - this season and in the future - lie with Graham Rahal, who has come up from the Atlantic series [for 2007], but what do you make of quotes attributed to him after Cleveland, which suggested that he was maybe reluctant to pass you because, to quote him, 'you didn't care, and that you'd put him in the wall'? Is that the wrong attitude for somebody as young as Graham to come into Champ Car with?

PT:
I haven't had the chance to talk to him about it, but the incident between him and I was really caused by him and [Robert] Doornbos playing around and trying to run each other off the track. Whether he feels he was nervous about trying to pass me or not, I guess that's a good thing for me because, the more he feels that way, the more it leaves me in a better position to race against him. At the end of the day, I was going to sit down and talk with and say 'hey, listen, I raced against your father for nearly 15 years and never once came into conflict with him'. Like I said, the incident between him and me was really the end result of him and Robert messing around with each other, so it wasn't something that was caused by me, or initiated by me - it was the end result of him and Robert trying to have each other off the track.

Q:
You mention Robert Doornbos there.... He was penalised in Cleveland for an alleged blocking offence early in the race and then won in Mont-Tremblant, only to be accused by Sebastien Bourdais of trying to run him off the track. Do you think Sebastien was over-reacting or was there some just cause there?

PT:
I don't know. I haven't seen it myself, or seen anything on TV to suggest whether Sebastien was run off or not. At the end of the day, I did see the incident between Rahal and Robert, and he took him all the way to the grass and had him pinned all the way along the edge of the grass, which is really against the rules in Champ Car racing. Whether that is allowed in F1, or in Europe, is arbitrary the rules are the rules of Champ Car. I think, at the end of the day, Sebastien got out of the car and had a major meltdown in front of the Quebec French fans and they kinda reacted in a negative way to him for his complaint at the end of the race. There are two things that really went on there... At the beginning of the race, Sebastien clearly jumped the start, which was seen on TV, and he was let away with that with no penalty, so he should be thankful that he didn't have to do a drive-thru' on that.

Q:
You've had your share of run-ins with Sebastien over the years. Do you think he has perhaps got too used to winning and now he's under pressure a little bit more?

PT:
I think it's just really typical of his personality. I think that, any time he's presented with some pressure, he seems to react in a..... I think everything's great, everything's fine and he's happy when everything's going the way he wants it to go, but, at the moment it doesn't go the way he wants it to go, he reacts in a very negative, harsh way. I came across that in '03 and '04, when he and I had a lot of bantering back and forth in the media about each other and it was the same last year with AJ. Once AJ started to win and challenge him, they started going at each other verbally through the press, and now he has Robert who's challenging him. And now he has a confrontational showdown with Robert, a verbal confrontational showdown. So I think it's just in his nature.

Q:
So how do you think that he's going to fit into F1 if, indeed, he goes there next year, because he's not going to be with a front-running team?

PT:
I think, based on his personality, he'll just be a very unhappy person to be around.

Q:
Obviously, we're in the middle of a run of races in Canada - a run of races generally week-by-week - so how do you think that that atmosphere between Sebastien and Robert will spill over into Toronto this weekend?

PT:
I'm just excited to go the press conference, as I think both are slated to be there. I'm happy not to be the one in the centre of the storm, and it'll be nice to be a bystander and look on to see how each reacts to each other. It was quite comical last week to see their reactions to each other on the podium. Robert obviously comes from a European background, and has spent time already in Formula One. He's been around the F1 atmosphere and lifestyle for a few years now, so he definitely knows how to play the game and seems to have Sebastien pretty wound up.

Q:
Obviously, Toronto is your home race - how much are you focused on trying to get back to winning ways there?

PT:
Well, the way the trend has gone this year, we've had a good race, a bad race, a good race, a bad race. We've just come off a bad race so I'm hopeful that we'll have a good one this weekend. In all seriousness, I think we have a better chance this weekend than we did last week as I think our street course set-up is far better than our road course car. I'm not sure where we're going to be, but I feel that we should be running better this week.

Q:
You've got a useful team-mate in Oriol Servia now - how much has he been able to bring to the team and how has he helped to develop the new car?

PT:
We haven't seen a lot of development because it's been up and down the last few races, but really, with Servia on the team, it re-affirms the handling issues that we have with our cars. It would be one thing if we'd gone about this season as a one-car team for myself, and I was complaining that the car didn't handle, that the results weren't coming and that we were all over the map. I'm sure then that there would be some criticism, 'maybe Paul's older and not cutting it any more', but, now that we have Oriol on the team, his complaints are the same - we both have exactly the same handling problems and are both struggling with the same thing. It's really just a re-affirmation of where our car is. We need to work on it as a team - we can't just point the finger at anybody. The car is not where we need it to be, and we need to work at it.

Q:
Testing's more limited now under the new Champ Car rules, so how much are you going to be able to do to turn the situation around?

PT:
With me sitting out those eight weeks, other teams were testing and we were not, so I have some miles left and Oriol has some miles left as well, because he's only just started testing. I think that can help us through the rest of the year as most of the other teams have finished with their testing now. We have some testing left but, right now, there's really no opportunity to test because we're racing every week for the next five out of six weeks.

Q:
Is that sort of schedule something you enjoy personally, being a 'racer'?

PT:
For sure, I like to go racing and I don't like it when the races are spread out, like they were at the start of the year with a bunch of time off. Now is the meat of the season, the time when we can race every week, which is just fun.

Q:
And how much are you looking forward to coming back to Europe, with the races at Zolder and Assen towards the end of the summer?

PT:
I'm excited about it. I think it's a great opportunity for the series. It's going to be a great atmosphere too, especially now that we've got more European drivers. I think it's going to add to the crowd - and, obviously, it's not going to hurt having Robert right up there in the championship right now. That's really going to help the draw in terms of how many people come to the race.


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