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Sunday, June 24, 2007
Vintage Tracy angers competitors early, outdrives them late

By John Schwarb
Special to ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- Paul Tracy has been around long enough to know never to apologize for winning. Especially not after a prolonged winless streak.

But this one defied logic. The Grand Prix of Cleveland had no business becoming Champ Car World Series career win No. 31.

At the same time, it was vintage Tracy.

Make sense? Maybe not. Neither did Sunday, a race that, by season's end, likely will be an aberration in the overall story line. But Tracy's not giving it back.

Not after surviving two early-race incidents, two broken front wings and an afternoon's worth of sweating out pit strategy.

"I'm just kind of overwhelmed," said Tracy, who had not won since 2005 -- also at Cleveland. "I've been waiting for this win for a while, it doesn't seem like it came the right way, but I'll take what I can get."

Tracy was one of the few doing the taking on the 2.1-mile runways and taxiways course of Burke Lakefront Airport. Points leader Sebastien Bourdais was giving, seeing a podium finish and a chance at a win vanish with engine failure on Lap 69. Will Power, second in points coming into the weekend, also gave the race away with a flat tire on Lap 74.

Paul Tracy
Paul Tracy celebrates winning the Grand Prix of Cleveland for a third time -- his only victory of 2007.

All that played into the hands of the 38-year-old Canadian, who got his adversity out of the way early.

On Lap 4, he got into the back of rookie Graham Rahal, putting both in the grass. "That was wing No. 1 … ," Tracy said after the race, drawing laughter.

Wing No. 2 was called into action three laps later, when Tracy had contact with Bruno Junqueira in treacherous Turn 1, sending the Brazilian spinning and out of the race in 16th in the 17-car field.

"Tracy, as usual, threw a chrome horn on somebody, and unfortunately this time it was me," Junqueira said.

When Tracy came in the second time (had he had any more incidents, he would have had to borrow wings from Forsythe teammate Oriol Servia), he took a full service, including fuel.

For the next several laps, he tooled around in the rear of the field, disheartened. But the team insisted he was still in contention, having plenty of time remaining and being on an off-sequence pit strategy that had the potential to pay off.

It did. He led twice, for one and five laps at a time, midway through the 89-lap timed race, then landed in the lead for good on Lap 70 when leaders Power, Simon Pagenaud and Justin Wilson went to pit. Four laps later, Power fell out of the picture with his flat tire.

When Tracy took that lead, Rahal became the first in pursuit. He also had an off-sequence pit thanks to the early-race trouble, but his Newman/Haas/Lanigan DP01 was strong. He led his first Champ Car laps early in the race, then seemed poised to take over the lead later. But he couldn't get past Tracy, then had to bail to the pits for fuel with five laps remaining.

"I think we had the car to get by Tracy; we were much quicker than he was," said Rahal, who finished eighth. "We could keep up with whoever was in front of us and pass whoever was in front of us.

"The problem was that once I got behind Tracy, he's wild and he'll put you in the fence and doesn't care about it."

The problem was that once I got behind Tracy, he's wild and he'll put you in the fence and doesn't care about it.

Graham Rahal

Well, that and a lack of fuel. When Rahal pitted, that moved fellow rookie Robert Doornbos into the second spot and made him the next candidate to try to take down Tracy. He couldn't do it, catching up to Tracy several times in the closing laps but failing to pass.

It was reported that he had 35 seconds of "Push to Pass" power in his Cosworth engine, but Doornbos said that was not the case.

"Of course, I ran out at the time when I needed it," said Doornbos, whose second-place finish gave him four podiums in five races. "I could see Paul's [tail] light flickering, which means he was using it. Very, very frustrating. I mean, it's a game. But he lives in Vegas, he's used to gambling."

Tracy took the checkered flag with plenty of fuel remaining, surviving to claim his third Cleveland title, tying Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan for most wins on the lakefront course.

It was a full day, angering some fellow drivers early and outdriving others late. In other words, vintage Tracy. Ugly, but vintage.

"I guess this is why the series pays me to stay here, to create some excitement," he joked.

But he didn't apologize.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.