Magic win for Perfect Paul
21 August 2000
Paul Tracy recovered from a first lap incident which dropped him to 23rd to score a memorable victory in a drama filled Motorola 220.
The majestic four mile Road America circuit was at its most demanding on Sunday, claiming more than half the CART field in what has to rank as one of the most dramatic races of the year so far.
One man to survive the mechanical carnage was Paul Tracy although at the end of the first lap it would have been a brave man who placed a wager on the fiery Canadian taking his second win of the year.
Starting in seventh, Tracy slowed dramatically as the 25 car field took the green flag for the first of 55 laps and for a short while it looked as though any hope of a good result in the Team KOOL Green Reynard-Honda was gone before the race had even started. However after a frantic scramble in the cockpit, traction was found and Tracy was on his way, albeit dead last.
Tracy's problems meant that he missed a dramatic opening lap which single handedly removed the previously dominant Penske outfit.
It was Forsythe's Alex Tagliani who got the jump on pole sitter Dario Franchitti and fellow front row man Gil De Ferran to take the lead into Turn One. The action continued at the bottom of the hill at Turn Two where Helio Castroneves mis-timed his braking and ran wide into the thankfully spacious gravel trap. The Brazilian was able to extricate himself without much delay although a precautionary pit stop at the end of the lap removed one half of the Marlboro steamroller from the equation.
Roger Penske's face grew even longer half way round the opening tour when De Ferran suddenly slowed, unable to select a gear. Gil toured round to complete the lap although he undid the belts on arrival in the pits. Not a good day for the second placed man in the Championship.
The progress of Tagliani was outstanding and the Canadian rookie eased away from the chasing Franchitti at will in the opening laps. The Scotsman continued the chase with great vigour despite losing up to half a second a lap to his rival.
Adrian Fernandez took advantage of the Penske drama's around him to move into third place although the Mexican had to endure constant pressure from Juan Montoya who had rocketed up from twelfth at the start to fifth at the end of the opening lap. The Colombian swiftly dealt with Michael Andretti at the start of lap two and proceeded to home in on the Tecate machine. However Fernandez proved a tough nut to crack and it wasn't until Montoya's first stop on lap 16 that the Colombian was able to get past.
The usual swift work by the Chip Ganassi pit-crew also enabled Montoya to beat Franchitti out of the pits aswell, the two 1999 title protagonists leaving the pits side by side with Montoya little more than a nose ahead.
Behind the leading quartet, the two Newman-Haas Lola's kept the crowd entertained with a lively battle for fifth place with Kenny Brack joining in the fun in the leading Team Rahal entry. The ever committed Christian Fittipaldi clearly had the edge in performance over Andretti, who continued to hold down fifth despite losing a second a lap to those ahead. At one point Christian got a bit too committed and the two made light contact under braking for Turn Three, neither suffering any damage.
At the back of the field Tracy took a little while to get the feel of the car and to ensure that nothing was broken, however once into his stride he began to pick off the backmarkers at will and by lap ten he was homing in on the midfield runners.
With the car showing no signs of the inherent understeer that had plagued it all weekend, Montoya was in scintillating form and on the first two laps after his stop, on cold tyres, he simply obliterated the gap between himself and Tagliani. Coming into Canada corner for the 19th time Montoya neatly outbraked the Player's car and slotted into the lead.
The stops had shaken up the leaderboard somewhat with Roberto Moreno being the main beneficiary, rising from eleventh to sixth thanks to his Team Patrick Reynard's seemingly unlimited fuel capacity.
One driver not on the leaderboard after the first stops though, was Andretti who pulled in to the pits after 18 laps with a severe braking problem. The American driver angrily stepped aside, his only solace being that his closest Championship rival was already out.
Franchitti continued to circulate in third place although he was unable to make an impression on Tagliani who similarly could do nothing about Montoya. Fernandez ran a solid fourth ahead of Fittipaldi, Moreno and Brack, who had once again lost out in the pits.
Jimmy Vasser had risen steadily to eighth ahead of the flying Tracy who was consistently the fastest man on the circuit. Tony Kanaan and Mark Blundell led the rest, both benefiting from the remarkable rate of attrition which had already claimed Mauricio Gugelmin, Patrick Carpentier, Michel Jourdain Jr, Shinji Nakano, Gualter Salles, Luiz Garcia, Tarso Marques in addition to the two Championship.
As the race approached half distance it became clear that all was not well with the Franchitti Reynard as the Scotsman began losing ground to the leaders at an alarming rate. Just prior to the half way mark, Dario found himself without the use of third gear, a situation which caught him out on the run down to Turn Three. Franchitti found himself unable to slow the car sufficiently and decided to make use of the escape road, a move which dropped him to eleventh place.
If one Team Green car was suffering then the other was thriving as Tracy relentlessly closed in on Vasser and Brack. The American driver was dispatched soon after the 20 lap mark and as Montoya made his way down the pit lane on lap 28, Tracy dived past Brack for what had become sixth position.
Montoya's stop was, as expected, quick and smooth and the Colombian resumed the race on a clear track and well within reach of the yet-to-stop leaders. However as Montoya started his 30th lap the gear change in his Lola-Toyota became increasingly stiff. By the Carousel turn it was clear that the gear linkage had a terminal problem and the despairing Colombian was left to slowly make his way back to the pits and retire for the third race in succession.
As the drama continued to unfold it was Fittipaldi who suddenly became the man to watch, the Brazilian looking for a successful defence of his Motorola 200 crown swept past Fernandez for second into the first corner on lap 31.
However Christian's continual appalling luck continued at the end of the lap as he made his second pit-stop. As the re-fuelling man went to work, a small fire underneath the car erupted and it was exit stage right for the distraught driver.
With the CART field looking more and more sparse each time around, Tagliani was being more and more careful with preserving his car and made his second pit stop with a good degree of caution. However in another almost fictional twist of fate, the Forsythe machine suddenly had no gears on the run down to Turn Five and Tagliani was pushed away.
Amidst the confusion Tracy emerged as the new race leader on lap 38 after previously overtaking Fernandez for second place, the two veterans running side by side along the start/finish straight in a great show of wheel to wheel action.
Once ahead Tracy proceeded to pull out a ten second advantage over Fernandez, helped in no small part by the lapped car of Oriol Servia who proved to be a very stubborn obstacle to overcome for several of the leaders. Jimmy Vasser, Kenny Brack and Roberto Moreno remained closely packed and kept the pressure on Fernandez up for many laps. Franchitti continued to battle his gradually increasing gearbox problem in sixth place while Tony Kanaan, Mark Blundell and the impressive Memo Gidley continued their almost race long battle for seventh. Max Papis was an uninspired tenth ahead of the delayed Castroneves and Servia. No-one else was left.
Franchitti's cruel luck continued on lap 43 when his gearbox gave up completely although the Scot was left with the scant consolation of a single point for twelfth place.
Tracy began the final round of stops on the same lap as his team-mate's demise and emerged from the pits some five seconds behind Moreno in what was now fifth place. Over the next two laps Fernandez, Brack and Vasser all pitted with the Swedish rookie managing to beat the American out of the pitlane for fourth place.
With Moreno being able to squeeze more miles out of his tank at almost every single race, the crowd began to cotton on to the fact that the wily Brazilian may have pulled the ultimate masterstroke and had saved enough fuel to complete the race on two stops. That scenario seemed unlikely as the organisers had added an extra 20 laps to the race distance to ensure that teams would have to make three stops. However as the laps wound down and Moreno showed no intention of coming in, the tension began to rise. Tracy's crew had put just enough fuel in to get him to the finish and so he was unable to charge, despite being on new tyres and the gap between the leaders remained at around four seconds.
Moreno's bubble burst on lap 51 when his fuel tank finally cried enough and the Brazilian was forced to pit. Despite being at rest for just six seconds, the delay coming in and out of the pits cost him more than twenty seconds, by which time Tracy, Fernandez and Brack had all gone through.
With every finger and toes crossed in anticipation, Tracy calmly reeled off the final four laps to record a well deserved victory to the absolute delight of his crew, who judged his fuel strategy so close to perfection he ran dry on the slowing down lap. Getting a ride back to the pits in a course car may not be the most glamorous way to celebrate a victory but it did nothing to dampen Paul's spirit and his Championship challenge was back on track.
Fernandez was a relieved second after coming under increasing pressure from Brack in the closing laps, the Mexican driver moving into fourth place in the points standings on the back of his sixth points finish in the last seven races. Brack meanwhile extended his already massive lead in the Rookie of the Year standings and kept himself in with a shout of the big prize with another podium finish, his tenth points finish in the last twelve starts.
Moreno's fuel economy run may not have reaped maximum reward on this day but Pupo managed to move himself back into second place in the points standings, just 13 points behind Andretti.
Jimmy Vasser was fifth in one of his strongest drives in recent months although the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the increasingly popular John Della Penna owned Reynard-Toyota of Memo Gidley who came home in a seasons best sixth place for the close-knit team.
Gidley's place came at the expense of Mark Blundell and Tony Kanaan, both of whom encountered late race difficulties. Blundell was another victim of the gearbox plague with just six laps to go although the Englishman was classified eleventh while Kanaan had already been the victim of a superb Gidley overtaking manoeuvre at Turn One when his thirsty Mercedes engine ran dry as he crossed the line on the penultimate lap and was unable to stop Max Papis flashing past for seventh right at the death.
Castroneves and Servia completed the top ten, both a lap down after their various difficulties with several drivers having some unsavoury things to say about the Spaniards lack of co-operation when it came to moving out of the way whilst being lapped.
However the final laugh was left to Tracy who could do nothing but salute the crowd and shrug his shoulders as his race winning machine was attached to the back of a course truck and was silently towed into the parc-ferme. It was a fitting end to a day of high drama.