Q & A with Paul Tracy
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined by Paul Tracy. Thanks for joining us, Paul.
PAUL TRACY: Sure.
MODERATOR: Paul will be making his 2009 IndyCar Series debut in the Indianapolis 500, driving the No. 15 GEICO/KV Racing Technology car. Paul has made five starts in the Indianapolis 500 with a best finish of second in his last start, which came in 2002.
Paul, you got into an IndyCar Series car last summer at Edmonton. Obviously you were quick right off the bat, finishing fourth in the race. Do you have any concerns now about getting back into the rhythm and being quick at Indy?
PAUL TRACY: No, not really. Obviously I've got a little bit more lead time to get ready for Indianapolis. There's a whole week of practice before the first week of qualifying. When we went to Edmonton last summer, it was really just kind of a last-minute deal. I was actually on vacation with my wife and kids at the beach in San Diego and got a phone call from Tony (George) asking if I'd like to do the race in Edmonton. That was about three days before I had to leave. Really didn't get any time to prepare for that. Hadn't driven a car in four or five months.
From that standpoint I've kind of known for the last three, four weeks that this deal was going to come together. I've had time to get ready for it mentally and physically. The team obviously has fast cars this year. They were looking for a veteran driver to make their assault, KV at the 500. We all share the same goal, and that's to go there and try to win the race.
MODERATOR: You mentioned the team there. Guys you're familiar with, like Jimmy Vasser, Kevin Kalkhoven. You've known those guys on and off the track for years. Tell us about the chance to work with those guys for the month.
PAUL TRACY: I think it's great. I've known Kevin since he got into the car. Then Jimmy got involved with him. We've been competitors. But Kevin has always been very friendly with me, has said to me on a couple of different occasions that at some point he would like me to drive for him. So we've finally got that opportunity to do that. I couldn't be happier. Obviously the team is doing a good job this year. I think Mario (Moraes) is just lacking a little bit of experience. That only comes with time.
But the team, I feel they've got competitive cars. A lot of the guys on the team, the mechanics and engineers, I've worked with in the past. Quite a few of them are from Forsythe. My championship year at Forsythe, the guys on the team were on my crew, you know, three, so it should make the transition to getting there and getting up to speed fairly easy 'cause it's pretty comfortable surroundings really.
MODERATOR: Let's talk about the month of May and the race. What type of goals and expectations have you set for yourself heading into the month?
PAUL TRACY: For me, the only reason I want to go there is to try to win. It's not to go there to qualify and make the field and have a good day. I said at the press conference in Long Beach the reason I'm going there is to win. If we can do that and generate a lot of media for our sponsor with GEICO, hopefully we can grow this into something bigger and better. Right now the focus is just on Indianapolis. If that goes well enough, then maybe we can get into the races in Canada or maybe more.
Q. Like you said in Long Beach, this is the one trophy missing from your mantel and you'd like to have it. As you talked about earlier, can this be the springboard to get you back in full-time?
PAUL TRACY: I would hope so. Obviously with either a win or a great result in Indy I would hope that it would open the door to racing on a full-time basis. Last year coming back at Edmonton to come right out of the box and be in the top five or six in every practice session with Tony's (George) team, then finish fourth, I thought the expectations of that, I think everybody exceeded what we had planned to do. The excitement level after the race for that three, four, five days post race was very good. I thought, 'OK, I'm going to be in a car here.'
As time passed by, it just kind of fizzled. You know, nothing's a guarantee. Obviously this is a good opportunity. It didn't come out of the blue. I've had to generate the sponsorship to do this and find the money to do it. Nobody has handed me a ride. It takes money to run these cars. It's going to take finding a full-time sponsor to get me on the track.
Q. Toronto is back on the schedule this summer. Your old pals/enemies at Andretti Green are running the show. How much would it mean to you personally to be back on the grid with a car that's competitive to win?
PAUL TRACY: Well, obviously I would like to do that. Again, it's going take finding sponsorship to do that. Now that we've got a program for Indy, and I was at Long Beach, generated a lot of talk, generated a lot of media, a lot of exposure - some people are starting to talk. 'What is it going to take to get you in the Canadian races or more races?' So we've got the doors open now talking to more sponsors, people getting interested.
But it's tough. It's a tough market out there. I was just listening to Stanton (Barrett). It's no different. I'm no different than him. We're out there talking to sponsors, but it's hard to get a commitment from them.
Q. I remember in 2002 before the race when the team was struggling to make it into the show, you kind of called it Groundhog Day, that every day was the same. Rather than getting better, it was just getting worse. Then you were there at the very end of the race with it in your hands. Do you feel much better prepared going into Indy this year than you did back in '02 with Team Green?
PAUL TRACY: We went there again in '02 on just a one-race deal to run Indy. Our focus was the CART title with Dario (Franchitti) and myself. I think as the month was ramping up towards qualifying, we just weren't progressing and getting the setup right on the car. We struggled and struggled and struggled with it. We were just off a little bit in terms of setup. It doesn't take very much to be two, three or four miles an hour slow.
We basically on the day of qualifying, I think on the first weekend, we made a big drastic change in the final practice to try to get some speed in the car. I had lost the car in Turn 2 and backed into the wall, banged myself up pretty good. I was almost right then, I said to Barry Green, I'm ready to throw in the towel on this deal. I think I should go home for a couple days and just clear my head and think about this. If you don't want to run, or if we want to go test at Mid-Ohio with the Champ Car, then maybe that's what we should do. Barry said to go home for a couple days. I went home, got my head clear, because Indy is the kind of place where you run so much there, and once you get kind of sideways, get going the wrong direction, it's hard to get going back the right way again. Sometimes the best thing to do is just go and clear your head.
I did that. I came back. We had gotten some information and some help from some different teams and some ideas, really just changed the setup and changed a few things that we had on the car that weren't right. Then both Dario (Franchitti) and myself and Michael (Andretti), we were all quick. Second weekend, I think I qualified at like 228 (mph) on the second weekend. Then the car was good. But I was starting on the last row.
It doesn't take very much to be wrong. That's how sensitive the cars are.
Q. To go in there this year, even though Jimmy's (Vasser) team has a year of IndyCar experience now, it seems the teams that came over last year have picked up the pace dramatically. How much better suited do you feel you are going into this year's race to what you were back then?
PAUL TRACY: Well, Jimmy's (Vasser) guaranteed me a fast car, so I'm taking his word on it. He said they worked and worked and worked all winter on a lot of the fundamentals of the car, little tiny things that make big differences in terms of speed. It's not just changing a spring, changing a roll bar that makes the car fast. There's a hundred little things that make these cars fast on the superspeedways. A lot of it is body fit and aerodynamics, wheel bearings, oil. It's all the little tiny tricks that make the difference, like in a stock car. When they go to qualify at Daytona, Talladega, there's like 50 little things that make the difference. When you don't have those, it really shows.
From that standpoint, they qualified sixth at Kansas, which is a big, fast speedway, flat out, with all that preparation is where it shows. I don't think they had the race that they wanted, but the speed is in the car. With that, they've told me they've got a good car that they feel can win at Indianapolis.
Q. I noticed you were quoted recently about that 2002 race saying, I feel I kind of got swindled. Are you haunted by what happened in 2002?
PAUL TRACY: I'm not haunted by it. It's one of those things where I've seen the data and I've seen the television footage and I've seen where our cars were positioned on the track. They can measure these cars. I said to somebody at Long Beach, I watched a show on VERSUS a couple weeks ago, the closest finish in IndyCar Series history, they can measure these things by millimeters, the differences of thousandths of a second. The video of my car 16 feet ahead of Helio (Castroneves) with the green light on.
From that standpoint, I'm not haunted by it. I guess I don't have the material things that show that I won the race. I don't have the trophy. I didn't get the money that comes along with it. But from the other side of it, I have that feeling that you long for when you're a kid in your driveway playing hockey and you're counting down five seconds left and you score the winning goal, when you're a kid. We were coming down to the closing stages of the race and I made an outside pass for the win. That's what every kid dreams about, whether you're shooting baskets and there's one second left on the clock and you make the basket when you're a kid dreaming about stuff like that. That's in my soul now. So I have that feeling of winning there, which I think is more important than having a piece of -- you know, a trophy on your shelf. After a while, you never look at it anymore and it just gets tarnished.
Q. You have the feeling. Maybe you'll get the actual hardware shortly.
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, we'll see. I'm excited about it. Get an opportunity to go back and try to do it.
Q. Probably the one great irony of the reunification last year was the fact that you lost your job. How have you been able to deal with that, watching everybody else move on to the new series where you're left on the sideline and your time clock is clicking away on your career?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously it's been frustrating. But as the merger -- the only way I can really say where I'm at today is because while the merger wheels were in process, I was being told a different story by (Gerry) Forsythe, that there wasn't going to be a merger, that I was going to continue to drive for them. That all didn't go the way it was told to me. So I was under contract to Forsythe. It took me a long time legally to be in a position where I was comfortable from a legal standpoint to go and drive for another team. So by the time I was able to do that, the season was already going and there was really no opportunity to get in another car.
Like I said before, with the result in Edmonton, I thought the door would be open. Nothing really happened. Nothing happened over this winter until the last three weeks. So, it has been a little bit frustrating. But I guess it's a lot of different factors that happen, whether it be economy, sponsorship and things like that.
Q. Has it basically in your mind been the economy? Is that the biggest stumbling block right now?
PAUL TRACY: It doesn't help. I think the economy, sponsorship dictates whether the wheels turn on the car. I haven't had a sponsor. I've gone out and found this deal with GEICO, a friend of mine, Doug Barnett, who does a lot of work with them, their NASCAR program. Without that I wouldn't be on the track. It's really a case of if you have money, you'll get a ride, and if you don't, then you sit.
Q. Has the 2002 race been a haunting thing since then? How did you get over it?
PAUL TRACY: I got over it the next week. I went to Milwaukee in the CART race and won there. I kind of let things go pretty easily. Obviously, I've won a lot of races since then, won a championship since then. Like I said, I've got that feeling that's burned inside of me of what it takes to win that race, but I don't have the material things that go along with it, which that's just the way it is.
Q. It's been a couple years since you've been on an oval and seven years since you've been on this one. Anything about that that concerns you or do you feel like once you get out there and get going everything will come back pretty quick?
PAUL TRACY: No, I think it will come back pretty quick. Obviously, I've been doing this for so long, have a lot of experience at it. I don't think it will take me very long to get back up to speed. It's not like I'm going there as a rookie, never seen the place, never been on a track like that. I've raced there a bunch of times, done lots of miles. So I don't think it will be too difficult for me.
Q. I know you joked at Long Beach, you were asked about whether you'd be interested in getting some extra track time, going out with the rookies. You said, 'Former winners aren't invited to do that.' If the extra track time was available, is that something you'd want to take advantage of or are you content to start with everybody else next week?
PAUL TRACY: I know they're talking to the league, I guess they have, apart from the rookie session, they have a refresher session, which is the extra miles that don't really cost anything in terms of the engine program. So if we can do that, we're talking to the league now about getting a handful of laps on the track before official practice starts on Wednesday. So we're trying to plan on that.
MODERATOR: Paul, thank you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Appreciate that. We're looking forward to seeing you back here in Indianapolis next week.
PAUL TRACY: Thanks, guys.(IndyCar)