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 protégé 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.