A magnificent win for Paul Tracy on his Team Players debut, the birth of a new superstar (albeit a flawed one), some great wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking around a challenging, well supported circuit. Who said CART was dead?

Some things were just meant to go the right way and after the most trying period in its history perhaps it was only fitting that one of CART's staunchest supporters should emerge victorious in the inaugural Grand Prix of St Petersburg, the first round of the new-look Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

Paul Tracy is always a popular winner (in CART circles at least) these days after long being regarded as the series bad-boy and his 20th career Champ Car win may be his sweetest ever. Driving his first race for Player's Forsythe Racing Tracy was able to overcome the sudden departure of engineer Kelly Loweren and a problematic Ford Cosworth engine on Friday to score what turned out to be a comfortable win around the 14 turn 1.806-mile St Petersburg course.

The 34 year-old Canadian took the lead from rookie Tiago Monteiro on lap 35 of the 105 lap event and never surrendered it, eventually running out victorious by a margin of 12.136seconds over the ever-consistent Michel Jourdain Jr who scored his best career finish to date for Team Rahal.

Tracy's path to victory lane may not have been so easy had troubles not befallen polesitter Sebastien Bourdais and the second Team Players Lola-Ford of Patrick Carpentier.

Following his electric performance in practice and qualifying Bourdais made no mistake on his first rolling start and he led the 19-strong field down the main runway of the local Albert Whitted Airport and into the invitingly spacious turn one/two complex.

With the absence of traction control greatly increasing the overall spectacle Bourdais had the field covered during a caution filled opening 20 laps, choosing to stay on the track on lap 16 when many of the other leaders chose to pit at the first available opportunity. Knowing that the mandated fuel window meant that he had to pit by lap 30 Bourdais took off like a whippet when the green flag waved on lap 20 and built an impressive margin of almost 15 seconds over second placed Adrian Fernandez before the top two had to make their first stops on lap 30.

Once again Bourdais coped well with what is a new experience for him and left the pits cleanly. Such had been his previous speed that he only dropped as far as fifth overall, just six seconds behind new race leader Tiago Monteiro.

Choosing a different fuel strategy to the rest of the field, Emerson Fittipaldi's young Portuguese prot?g? had moved into third position when the rest of the leaders pitted on lap 16 and had proceeded to defend his place from the chasing bunch, led by Player's Forsythe duo Tracy and Carpentier. Jourdain had moved himself quietly into fourth spot with Bourdais right on his heels in fifth and the fast rising Oriol Servia sixth.

Tracy's relentless pressure on the Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing driver eventually paid off when Monteiro made a slight mistake on lap 35 and allowed both Player's sponsored cars past. A little further around the same lap, Bourdais overdid things while trying to pass Jourdain Jr and clipped one of the retaining walls with his left rear tyre, damaging his suspension.

Although he was able to coax his car back to the pitlane, the manner in which he deliberately baulked a much faster Adrian Fernandez on his way back to the pits may earn him a trip to the stewards office. Eight laps were lost while the suspension was repaired and Bourdais was allowed back on the track, his Champ Car debut impressive but not faultless.

At the 40 lap mark Tracy enjoyed a two second cushion over his teammate with two rounds of pitstops remaining although just nine laps later Carpentier threw his chances of victory away when he slid into the tyre barriers in turn eight to bring out the fourth caution of the race. The Simple Green Safety Team was able to extricate Carpentier's lightly damaged machine and he retuned to the pits for a new nosecone, losing two laps in the process.

All this shuffling moved Jourdain Jr into second place following Monteiro's scheduled stop with Mario Dominguez a superb third for Team Herdez and Bruno Junqueira a recovering fourth following a very long first pitstop, which dropped him to 14th.

The lap 51 restart saw Junqueira surge past Dominguez, who was struggling to get his tyres up to proper working temperature, and quickly latch onto the tail of Jourdain. However the Gigante sponsored driver refused to yield to Junqueira's advanced and the situation remained status quo. Up front Tracy was able to take advantage of the squabbles behind him, of which there were many, and move into a decent 6-8 second lead.

With the field thinned out somewhat, only one more caution slowed the days proceedings, rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay punting the turn ten wall in his American Spirit Team Johansson Reynard on lap 62. Undaunted, Tracy got the measure of Jourdain and Junqueira on the lap 69 restart and quickly established an eight second gap over the Team Rahal driver.

Jourdain continued to fend off the challenges of Junqueira who remained glued to his rear spoiler for almost 20 laps before beginning to fall away with rear brake troubles at the 90-lap mark. By this time Tracy was almost ten seconds up the road although Jourdain was able to bring the gap down to a shade over three seconds some 20 laps from home when Tracy ran off line and almost into the wall while trying to lap Patrick Lemarie. After regaining his rhythm Tracy re-established the gap at six seconds and with only five cars left on the lead lap, Jourdain wisely backed off some ten laps from home, which allowed Tracy to double his advantage.

Junqueira dutifully completed the podium, four seconds behind Jourdain after a difficult day in the #1 PacifiCare Lola-Ford. Although he was pleased to start his season on the podium the former Formula 3000 Champion had a few choice words for rookie Mario Haberfeld after the race following some rather vociferous blocking from the Mi-Jack Conquest driver.

Questionable defensive tactics aside, Haberfeld drove a splendid race to finish in fourth position and was the leading rookie finisher as well as Reynard's best placed runner with veteran Roberto Moreno finishing fifth on his return to the series for Team Herdez.

Jimmy Vasser was rewarded with a sixth place finish following a tough day for Stefan Johansson's fledgling team. His problems began before the start when his Reynard refused to fire and the 1996 Champion ended up starting last instead of eighth. Picking off cars at a rate of one per lap Vasser's progress through the field was slowed by the early cautions but had still moved into ninth position by lap 30.

The veteran American often found himself in the middle of some of the days fiercest racing, which occurred in the lower half of the top ten and ran as high as fifth before being told to save his fuel in the closing laps after the team inadvertently short-fuelled him on his final stop. His scaled-back pace cost him a lap to the leaders but with a further lap back to his nearest competition, it didn't matter that much.

Monteiro crossed the line in seventh spot after the late race cautions he was hoping for never materialised and he had to pit under green flag conditions while Carpentier recovered to eighth position, passing Swiss rookie Joel Camathias in the final three laps.

Camathias stayed out of trouble and drove smoothly on his CART debut for a ninth place finish with PK Racing's Patrick Lemarie tenth, four laps behind the leaders. Bourdais crossed the line in eleventh position, gaining two more valuable points in the chase for Rookie of the Year honours while the mechanically delayed Oriol Servia completed the points scorers, and the finishers, in twelfth position, ten laps behind.

Darren Manning's debut drive for Derrick Walker saw the Englishman pass more cars than any other driver on the track and he was running in sixth position on lap 75 when he ducked in to make his final fuel stop. Sadly for Manning he would never return when a gearbox problem on his Reynard prevented him from selecting the necessary gear to leave pit road and he was forced to retire.

Also out by this point were Fernandez and Dominguez, who had an on-track altercation that eventually led to both drivers demise while Rodolfo Lavin, Roberto Gonzalez and Alex Tagliani all tasted the concrete walls early in the race.

The second half of the race may have been a bit static as far as podium positions were concerned and the field was certainly a little strung out by the end of the day. However the Champ Cars put on a great show in front of a large and appreciative St Petersburg crowd and generously rewarded all those who kept faith in the series.

The only problem is, there is now a full month before round two in Monterrey.