Paul Tracy has acknowledged the benefit making a strong start to the season in the inaugural Grand Prix of St Petersburg had for his Champ Car title hopes, and says that he is already looking forward to returning to the Florida city as defending CART champion.

Tracy is a colourful, and sometimes controversial, character, who speaks his mind about almost anything and everything, but he admitted that the St Pete event was a good way to start the season.

"Getting out of the starting gate strongly is so important, and we were able to do that in St. Petersburg," the Canadian said, "It certainly was important for our race team, and it proved to be a great way for us to start our season. It provided us with the kind of confidence that carried over throughout the entire year."

Tracy's win in Florida placed him at the head of the field from the very start of the season, and he was either at or near the top of the standings for the rest of the year. After the win in St Pete, he reeled off two more consecutive victories in Monterrey and Long Beach, before going through a bit of a dry spell mid-season, but then bounced back with hugely popular back-to-back wins in Toronto and Vancouver, followed by a win at Mid-Ohio and another in Mexico City.

Following his win at Mid-Ohio, Tracy held the number one spot in the point chase for the rest of the year, but he admits that the win in St Petersburg was especially sweet.

"It was a little bit like a homecoming for me, since my parents have a home in Bradenton," he explained, "It was almost like a vacation to come there and race. The scenery is great, the track layout is very good in that it allows for some passing, and I liked the addition of the airport area."

Tracy, who now resides in Las Vegas, will have a few months to enjoy his role as champion, but will soon turn his attention to the second Grand Prix of St Petersburg, which is scheduled to open the 2004 Champ Car season.

"I expect it to be an even bigger race in terms of popularity and exposure," he reckoned, "I would expect more people to come and it certainly should help that they'll know a lot more who the racers are."

One thing is certain, the fans will certainly know who Paul Tracy is.



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