Review: Tracy Ignites Title Fight

Paul Tracy kick-started his challenge for the 2005 Champ Car World Series crown with a well-judged victory in an incident-filled race at Cleveland

Review: Tracy Ignites Title Fight

The Canadian converted his pole into a clear lead in the opening stint and was ready to pick up the pieces when Cristiano da Matta, who had leapfrogged him during the first round of pit stops, collided with backmarker Marcus Marshall shortly after half-distance.

Tracy's 30th career win propels him to the top of the Championship standings by a single point over reigning title-holder Sebastien Bourdais, who had a less-than-vintage afternoon and finished only fifth.

"I tell you what, that was tough," said Tracy of the gruelling 91-lap thrash around the bumpy runways of the Burke Lakefront Airport course on a hot and humid North Coast summer day.

"Except in the beginning I never had a chance to just set my own pace; I was always chasing, chasing all the time. Cristiano went on a different strategy, the yellow caught us out, and then I just couldn't run at his pace - I was going as hard as I could go.

"And the yellows shook out and we were behind guys that were out-of-sequence. Everything was okay [physically] while I was in the car but now that the adrenaline high is over, I'm tired. It's a hot day and we were running laps only three-quarters of a second off the qualifying pace, so it was a pretty good workout."

Tracy led away at the start, only for the predictable first-corner skirmish to trigger an immediate full-course caution. Ryan Hunter-Reay had left his braking a touch late for the notorious hairpin and played tag with HVM duo Ronnie Bremer and Bjorn Wirdheim. RHR's Rocketsports car was too heavily damaged to continue, while Wirdheim was badly delayed and fell out of contention.

At the restart Tracy re-established his authority, but it took him some time to shake off the attentions of da Matta, who pegged the gap at a little over two seconds before making his first pit visit on lap 26.

The timing of the Brazilian's stop could not have been better, for he snuck in just as the rest of the field was corralled behind the pace car, which was deployed following a dust-up between Mario Dominguez and Justin Wilson at Turn Four.

With the pit lane closed until the pace car had picked up the race leader, da Matta was able to scoot up to the tail of the pack and move gratefully into the lead when Tracy, Bourdais et al came in for service on lap 29.

It was a lucky break, to be sure, but as at Portland last weekend (where he scored his first win since returning to Champ Cars, and the first for the PKV Racing team), da Matta showed that he had the pace to contend for victory on merit. Aware that he would need a small cushion over Tracy - perhaps three or four seconds - because he would have to make his second pit stop a couple of laps earlier, he put his head down and eked out a 4.8-second margin by lap 50.

That, surely, was enough for him to emerge still in the lead once the pit stop cycle was completed? Sadly we never found out, because on the next lap da Matta came to grief at the hands of Marshall's Team Australia car in the final chicane. The impact broke the PKV machine's left-front wheel and suspension, and da Matta was left to rue a missed opportunity as he trudged disconsolately back to the pits.

"I came up behind two backmarkers, and I don't know if one was giving way to the other or whatever, but the one that was behind actually missed the line and I didn't know which way to go," he explained.

"It was one of those stupid racing incidents that shouldn't happen but unfortunately did today. I'm obviously very disappointed, but still happy for the gain in performance our team has been making in the last few weeks."

Da Matta's retirement removed Tracy's principal competition, with Bourdais looking rather subdued in second place and apparently unable to make any real headway. Newman/Haas teammate Oriol Servia had moved up stealthily from sixth on the grid to third, while AJ Allmendinger, showing no after-effects of his qualifying crash, was moving into the picture in fourth.

In fact, the American was the big gainer from the second round of pit stops, following da Matta's example by stopping slightly earlier than the other front-runners and then benefiting from a timely full-course yellow which trapped his rivals behind the pace car with the pits closed.

Allmendinger duly inherited the lead, and proceeded to add a couple of tenths of a second to his advantage with each new lap. He had 3.7 seconds in hand when he peeled into the pits for his third and final stop on lap 76.

It wasn't quite enough, and Tracy retook the lead following his own stop on lap 80, with Allmendinger slotting into second ahead of Servia, who had benefited from slightly slicker service at the preceding stops to demote teammate Bourdais.

(The Frenchman had briefly nosed ahead as they jostled for position at pit-out, but was promptly instructed by the Champ Car officials to hand the place back, much to his chagrin. He then fell behind Alex Tagliani when he tried to bite off more than he could chew at the ensuing restart.)

Servia, indeed, was the man to watch in the closing stages, hunting down Allmendinger and posting the fastest lap of the race on the penultimate tour. The Tracy-Allmendinger-Servia podium was a carbon copy of the Milwaukee result just two races ago, and the RuSPORT man's achievement was especially creditable given that he was only cleared to drive by doctors this morning and finished in a state of near-exhaustion.

Another yeoman effort from Tagliani netted fourth place for the revamped Team Australia (formerly Walker Racing) outfit, while Bourdais was far from satisfied with fifth at a track where he had won on both his previous visits.

Sixth-placed Jimmy Vasser salvaged a useful helping of points for PKV Racing, with Wilson turning in an uncharacteristically wayward performance to finish seventh in the second RuSPORT entry. Andrew Ranger, Ricardo Sperafico and Timo Glock rounded out the top ten.

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