With little opportunity apparently on the horizon in either the Indy Racing League or NASCAR ranks for 2009, Paul Tracy could be looking to the Middle East for a regular fix of motorsport action.
The Canadian was a surprise addition to the ranks at the latest Speedcar group test, joining such varied opposition as former F1 grand prix winners Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Alessandro Nannini and aspiring youngsters Bertrand Baguette, James Grunwell and Chris Buncombe behind the wheel of the series' 6.2-litre NASCAR clones.
The outing, which runs over two days at the Dubai Autodrome circuit, comes just a week after Tracy's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut, the 2003 Champ Car champion following an impressive showing at Texas Motor Speedway with a last-second deal to strut his stuff on the Arabian Peninsula. Although former CART rivals Jacques Villeneuve and Stefan Johansson are missing from the test line-up, Tracy quickly found that, should he pursue a place for the season, he would face stiff competition for the $3 million purse.
Despite bringing stock car experience from outings in the #34 Sport Clips and #4 GEICO machines in the 2006 NASCAR Nationwide Series, his background is largely in open-wheel racing, and his lack of familiarity with the Dubai circuit saw him restricted to fifth on the timesheets on day one.
“It's a great opportunity to do something that I have fun doing, which is racing stock cars,” Tracy said before arriving at the test, “Everyone knows how much visibility the Speedcar Series is receiving and the quality of drivers that it is attracting. I have driven many different types of race cars, and this trip to Dubai will only add to my long list of racing experiences. I'm appreciative of the opportunity and I'm looking forward to getting over there and having fun.”
Some 14 drivers tested on day one in Dubai, with eight teams - with David Price Racing, Meritus Racing, Christian Jones Racing and Phoenix Racing from the inaugural campaign being joined by newcomers FIA GT champions AF Corse, Durango and N.Technology - and it was Alesi who emerged on top.
The French-Sicilian clocked a 1min 42.501secs effort that left the rest of the field, headed by Herbert, trailing by at least half a second. Tracy for the record, was 1.4secs adrift, behind Frentzen and Christian 'son of 1980 F1 champ Alan' Jones.
"We're pursuing a different strategy this year by leasing the cars to teams as opposed to maintaining the cars ourselves, as we did last season," series operations director Claudio Berro commented, "We are targeting professional teams that have proven track records in motorsport with successful racing histories.
"The evolution of the cars is equally important to growing Speedcar Series and the new fuel injection system will make for better track action and excitement. The cars have already shown better performance compared to the ones from last year and we are very happy that our strong technical have achieved this."