Updated: Sep 5, 2020
The sixth instalment of my latest series.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Behind the lead quartet Michael Andretti finished fifth just ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy, who is my feature this week.
I must admit before researching these pieces on drivers I did not know too much about the likes of Paul Tracy. I have always been a huge fan of the history of motorsport however until recently I have focused on Formula 1 and the British Touring Car Championship, however this set of series has given me the opportunity to look at American Motorsport in much finer detail.
This is something I am hugely enjoying and to read about Paul’s life as well as his love of motorsport has been fantastic. I hope you all enjoy the reading about Paul as much as I enjoyed writing about him.
Paul was born in Ontario, Canada on the 17th December 1968 and had a fascination with motorsport and cars from an early age and started racing go karts at an early age. He started his career predominantly at the Goodwood Kartways complex near his hometown and by 1985 Paul had moved up to cars, competing the Canadian Formula Ford Championship.
Incredibly, in his debut season of car racing he became Canadian Formula Ford champion, the youngest champion in history at the age of 16, a year before becoming the youngest winner of a Can-Am race at the age of 17. Sadly for the great series it would prove to be the final race in the championship’s history, however what a feat for Tracy, knowing that this record would never be beaten.
Following his early successes behind the wheel, Paul moved up the single-seater ladder, graduating into the Formula Ford 2000 Canada championship, in a season he also contested races in the Can-Am series as well as the CASC Rothmans Porsche Challenge Series, a series similar to the Porsche Carrera Cup GB.
In all three Paul fared well, winning twice on his way to fourth in Formula Ford, and eighth in the final Can-Am season with his maiden win his only result that year. Paul remained in the Formula Ford 2000 Canada championship and Rothmans Porsche Challenge for 1987 before moving up the ladder once more in 1988 to the HFC American Racing Series, or Indy Lights as it is now known, as well as the Formula Pacific NZ National Championship, both championships being Paul’s first experiences of racing outside Canada.
It was a major step up for Paul who found himself racing against the likes of Jon Beekhuis, Tommy Byrne and Juan Manuel Fangio II. Despite the stiff competition, this did not hamper Paul’s talent as he won the first race of the season around Phoenix Raceway on his way to ninth in the standings.
Paul also faced strong opposition in New Zealand where he was joined in Formula Pacific by David Brabham and Paul Radisich, however once again he fared well against strong opposition on circuits he was not familiar with, winning twice.
After an indifferent 1989, 1990 was Paul’s breakthrough season as he won the Indy Lights championship after dominating the year, beating nearest rival Ted Prappas by 80 points. Throughout the year he was the man to beat, leading the most laps in all bar three of the races, winning eight times throughout the fourteen-race season. No other driver that year won more than once such as Paul’s control on the series.
His impressive results did not go unnoticed as for 1991 he raced his first races in the CART series, firstly for Dale Coyne racing for a sole race at Phoenix before contesting three races of Penske in which he achieved a best result seventh. It must have been an amazing moment for Paul racing for Penske who at the time had legends Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi as their drivers.
Paul’s involvement within Penske increased for 1992 as he remained with the team once more, only missing five races of the sixteen-race calendar. Once again, he was joined in the team by Mears and Fittipaldi however following Mears’ accident at Indianapolis Al Unser replaced Mears during his recovery.
Having been given extra time in the car, Paul repaid Penske’s faith in him as he achieved his first CART podium at Michigan, finishing second behind Scott Goodyear. He finished on the podium twice more as he ended the season an impressive twelfth.
It was his last part-time drive for Penske as 1993 saw Paul go full time with the team alongside Fittipaldi, following Mears’ shock retirement at the conclusion of the 1992 season. For me, looking back through the history of the championship the eighties through to the late nineties appear to be a golden era for IndyCar with star studded teams up and down the grid, all with a chance of competing on a level playing field similar to what we see today.
There are not many grids such as the 1993 CART season which feature Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr, Scott Goodyear, Jimmy Vasser and that year’s champion Nigel Mansell. What an incredible selection of drivers and a selection that Paul mixed it with all season, winning his first ever CART race around the streets of Long Beach in only the third race of the season.
Paul would win a further four times, equalling Mansell’s tally, however sadly it was his consistency which let him down as he finished the season third on 157 points, only behind the Brit and teammate Fittipaldi.
It was the beginning of a dominant stint for Penske in which Paul played his part as the team finished first, second and third in the standings in 1994, as Paul and Emerson were joined by eventual 1994 Champion Al Unser Jr. Paul added three wins to his tally in 1994 however he was not able to keep pace with his two more experienced teammates, with Unser Jr dominating the season.
1994 also saw Paul become test driver for Benetton F1,
It would prove to be Paul’s final season with Penske as the team decided to scale down to a two-car team, leaving Paul to join Newman/ Haas Racing alongside Michael Andretti, who replaced his father within the team. It was an interesting combination as the duo had history following a run in the previous season.
However, despite the mild history between the pair, the duo performed well, as Paul won a further two times to end the season sixth with Andretti fourth. It was Paul’s only season with Newman/ Haas as he returned to Penske for 1996, replacing Fittipaldi. It was the first season since the premier American single-seater “split” which saw the Indy Racing League created to rival CART, with the championship solely racing on ovals rather than a mixture of ovals and street and permanent courses.
Paul returned to a team who were nowhere near the juggernaut they were when he left them, as Penske had attempted to build their own chassis, a move which affected the team for years before abandoning the idea ahead of the 2000 season. In his first season back with the team he only finished on the podium once all year at Michigan ending the year thirteenth in the standings.
Despite this setback he remained with Penske for 1997 alongside Unser Jr and fared better with the team, comfortably beating his teammate. His high of the season came between Nazareth and Gateway as he won three rounds on the bounce from races four to six of the season. It would be his only three wins of the season as he ended the season fifth.
Once again, Paul left Penske at the conclusion of the 1997 season to join Team KOOL Green, now known as Andretti Autosport, alongside Dario Franchitti. Prior to Paul joining, the team had enjoyed success with Jacques Villeneuve in 1995 when their Canadian driver won the CART title in only his second season in the championship.
However, despite the team’s heritage, Paul struggled in his first season with the team as he failed to finish on the podium again finishing the year thirteenth.
This would be his only blip with the team as he remained alongside Franchitti for 1999, with both drivers enjoying success. Franchitti ended the season second, amazingly ending the season on the same points as champion Juan Pablo Montoya, however Montoya won the championship having won seven times to Franchitti’s three.
Behind in third was Tracy who added two victories to his tally ending the season on 161 points. Paul continued this fine form heading into the new millennium as he remained alongside Franchitti, finishing the season fifth winning another three races during the season, although his consistency and reliability were not as strong as 1999.
2001 saw Paul and Dario joined by Michael Andretti via satellite outfit Team Motorola, with the trio struggling against a resurgent Penske and Chip Ganassi. Paul finished the season fourteenth with Rockingham being his final points of the season as he finished sixth.
I remember his recognisable Team Green livery, how much it differed from the rest of the field. From memory the Rockingham crowd were supportive of Paul being the teammate of hometown favourite Franchitti.
Despite two podiums it was a disappointing season for Paul and 2002 was no better as he struggled once more, although he did win once at Milwaukee. This would be a high in a season he failed to finish ten of the nineteen races. 2002 did see Paul return to the Indy 500 with Team Green for the first time since 1995, in what proved to be one of the most controversial races in the event’s history.
On the 199th lap, Paul made a move for the lead on Helio Castroneves at turn three while at another section of the track, the caution was flown due to a crash. It was determined the caution was waved before Paul had completed his move ensuring he finished second behind Helio, who became only the fifth person to win back to back Indy 500’s.
Paul and his team took the decision to appeal however on the 2nd July 2002, Helio’s win was upheld. It was a decision which angered Paul and team owner Barry Green who felt the decision was upheld to ensure an IRL driver won the race rather than a driver from the rival CART series.
Throughout his career, Paul had a history of moments throughout his career, in 1998 he had
numerous alterations off the circuit, predominantly with CART officials, which ensured he was excluded from the opening race of the 1999 season. Paul found himself in a similar situation at the end of the 2002 season after long-time rival Michael Andretti purchased a majority stake in the team, and had intentions of moving the team to the Indy Racing League.
Although Andretti had struck a deal with 7-eleven on the basis Paul was racing for the team, Tracy opposed the move, explaining he did not want to drive in the IRL describing them as “crapwagons”. Paul instead remained in CART, joining Player’s Forsythe/ Pettit Racing for the 2003 season.
It turned out to be one of the most successful seasons in CART history, as he won the opening three rounds of the season, becoming the first driver to achieve this in 32 years. A highlight of Paul’s season, and indeed career mush have been the 2003 Molson Indy Toronto round, in which he led all 112 laps.
Paul won six times that year on his way to his first title since 1990 and his maiden CART championship triumph, beating nearest rival Bruno Janqueira by 27 points.
It would prove to be his most successful season in the series as he remained with Forsythe Championship Racing for 2004, although the team struggled to match their 2003 results due to a lack of sponsorship following the withdrawal of cigarette brand Player’s at the conclusion of the 2003 season, after a change in rules ensured they were unable to advertise in Canada.
2004 was a bad year for CART as a whole as the series went bankrupt, with the series being renamed Champ Car for the season. The lack of funds did not help Paul as he was not able to defend his crown, ending the season fourth.
A third season with Forsythe Championship Racing in 2005 started strongly for Paul as he led the Champ Car series after five rounds, however bad luck and mistakes halted his title charge. Similar to 2004, Paul finished the season fourth.
A seventh and an eleventh in the final two Champ Car seasons followed included a final victory in 2007 completed the CART/ Champ Car history.
2008 was the first season of the reunification of American single seater racing, and although Forsythe confirmed Paul would not be moving over to the IRL with the team, they initially did not release him from his contract, ensuring the two went to court.
The delay in being released from his contract resulted in Paul being unable to find a full-time drive for the 2008 season, in a year which mean he only raced part-time, finishing ninth in the Indy 500.
Paul would continue to race part time until the 2011, when he announced his retirement from single seater racing following the Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident during the Las Vegas 300.
Away from single seater racing, Paul raced various races in the NASCAR Busch series as well as the Truck series with varying levels of success.
These would be his final appearances behind the wheel of a fantastic career in which he won races over a sixteen-year period for some of the biggest teams in American motorsport. It has been fantastic to learn about Paul’s career and I am grateful I got the chance to watch him race.
Pictures: www.motorsportimages.com, www.unracedf1.com