Tracy keeps his Kool, wins Long Beach GP for the 2nd time
In what his team owner Barry Green called Paul Tracy's best race ever, Paul Tracy used aggressive driving and timely pit stops to win the 82-lap 26th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach by holding off Marlboro Penske driver Helio Castro-Neves and Target Ganassi driver Jimmy Vasser by 3.191 seconds. Rounding out the top five were rookie Alexandre Tagliani and Bryan Herta.
Starting from 17th on the grid, Tracy and his crew worked their way to the front with strong pit stops that were out of sequence with the rest of the field. He led the final 21 laps, cruising to a margin of victory of 3.191 seconds over Helio Castro-Neves, with Jimmy Vasser in third.
Tracy’s crew employed a different pit strategy because of their starting position, making three stops instead of two compared to most front-runners. The #26 crew serviced Tracy’s car for the final time on lap 54, when the fourth of six cautions in the race slowed the pace of the race. From there, Tracy slotted into third after his stop, behind Roberto Moreno and surprise race leader Takuya Kurosawa. The Japanese driver led for seven laps before giving way to Tracy, who took over the lead at turn one on lap 62. Moreno dropped back with gearbox problems, allowing Castro-Neves to take a run at Tracy. Two more cautions in the race brought Castro-Neves within striking distance, but each time Tracy powered away as Neves defended against Vasser.
Ironically, two of the top three drivers are over thirty years old, and are considered veterans on the CART circuit where young drivers with fast reflexes have dominated the action in recent years. Listen to top-3 finishers press conference (20:14 min.).
For the second race running, Paul Tracy started toward the back of the field, but both times he worked his way to a podium position. In the season opener at Homestead it was a 3rd place, but this time he and his team did everything right to get the win.
“It’s just huge to win this race. The job that Team KOOL Green does is amazing. Tony
Cicale, my whole crew, Barry Green, and I really have to thank Steve Challis for the contribution that he has made to our team this year. It’s just phenomenal. We started in the back twice now and we haven’t panicked. We just got the car sorted out. We know that we have a good team and that’s what we’ve concentrated on… being as good as we can be. That drives us to go forward.
Tracy credited the early pitstop that he and Michael Andretti made during the first yellow flag session of the race for helping him win. Both Andretti and Tracy started the race much further back than they are accustomed to. He said the two drivers teamed up together and were able to push each other to turn laps faster than the leaders were. Both drivers found themselves at the front of the pack after the rest of the leaders were forced to make green flag pitstops, effectively erasing their poor starting spots. Andretti led for thirteen laps with Paul Tracy and Christian Fittipaldi in close pursuit.
Unfortunately for Andretti and his teammate Fittipaldi, both succumbed to identical fires in their engine compartment. Their exhaust failed causing the oil in their rear shocks to catch fire.
Run before a record crowd of over 100,000 at a packed Long Beach circuit, Tracy's team elected not to change tires on his final pit stop which put him at the front of the order for the final run to the flag. Paul drove just hard enough to make his Firestone tires last to the end, attesting to just how good the Firestone tires are. Tracy's win marked the 15th straight win on a street course for a Honda powered car, attesting to just how good the Honda engine is throughout the power band.
Castro-Neves and Vasser finished nearly side-by-side with Castro-Neves judging his fuel perfectly - his car ran out of fuel just after he crossed the finish line. It was the first podium finish since Milwaukee 1998 for the Marlboro Penske car. Helio Castro-Neves was seen crying in his car after the finish, overcome with emotion for his 2nd place finish. Both Helio and his teammate, Gil de Ferran, feel it is a great honor to be driving the Marlboro cars, both having admired their late great Brazilian countryman, Ayrton Senna who also drove the Marlboro colors in F-1. The CART circus goes to Brazil in 2-weeks, and having both de Ferran and Castro-Neves running strong is sure to help attendance.
Jimmy Vasser's 3rd-place finish was the first podium finish for a Toyota powered car. When asked afterwards how the Toyota compared to the Honda he drove last year in terms of drivability on a street circuit, Jimmy stated that the Toyota was every bit as good as the Honda and warned the other three engine manufacturers to watch out, there's a lot more to come from the Toyota engine this year. With Japan's CART race just four short weeks away, both Toyota and Honda will be trying to win their home race in the land of the rising sun.
Team Player's rookie Alex Tagliani proved he knows how to get around the streets of Long Beach. He drove his Ford-Cosworth to fourth place on a day filled with attrition and first time front runners. Dale Coyne Racing's Takuya Kurosawa became the first Japanese driver to ever lead a Champ Car event. Kurosawa took the lead on lap 55 and led the next seven circuits around the 1.968-mile Long Beach track. Afterwards, Tagliani said "I am very happy for all my guys - Alex Timmermans and the entire team. In Homestead we could have been on the podium, but sometimes I pushed too hard on the tires and the brakes. Today, I just wanted to bring the car home." "I tried very hard to pass Jimmy Vasser for third at the end. I wanted it bad. But, going into corner one and eight I locked the wheels and then I thought that it might have been a little too risky to go for the podium finish. I thought it might be a better to just bring the car home in fourth place."
Bryan Herta, subbing for an injured Shinji Nakano in the Walker team car drove a heads-up race to finish 5th.
Provisional race results from Long Beach:
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