Tracy takes 'unbelievable' Elkhart win

Paul Tracy came from last position to win the Motorola 220 at Elkhart Lake and move himself back into contention for the CART title

Tracy takes 'unbelievable' Elkhart win

The Canadian started seventh but an electrical problem on the first lap caused his engine to cut and he dropped to the tail of the pack.

However, he was able to reset the system and charge back into contention. Mechanical problems may have accounted for many of the frontrunners, but this was no inherited victory.

Adrian Fernandez and Kenny Brack completed the podium but Juan Montoya and Alex Tagliani both had reason to feel despondent after being robbed of potential victories.

The unruly start set the tone for a race that the circuit commentators accurately summed up as "pretty goofy." Forsythe's rising rookie star Alex Tagliani came from third into the lead as he drove around front row men Dario Franchitti and Gil de Ferran.

After dominating Mid-Ohio in daunting fashion, Marlboro Team Penske's Elkhart Lake nightmare began almost immediately. A week ago Helio Castroneves was celebrating victory, now he was bouncing through the gravel after contact with Michael Andretti.

At least Castroneves was able to rejoin a lap down after repairs. The unfortunate de Ferran retired at the end of the first lap after suffering an immediate gearbox failure.

Tagliani stormed away from the field at first, leading from Franchitti, Fernandez, Andretti and the amazing Montoya. The Columbian seemed to be in dire trouble during practice as Ganassi again struggled to make the Lola-Toyota work on the road courses, but he charged up from 12th to fifth on the first lap and was soon past Andretti for fourth place too.

While Tagliani had the track to himself up front, Franchitti was holding up Fernandez and Montoya. Further back Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi were giving the Newman-Haas crew a collective heart seisure with their battle for fifth. Fittipaldi was clearly the quicker of the two drivers but Andretti wasn't going to hand him the position without a fight, despite also having Brack, Cristiano da Matta, Roberto Moreno and Oriol Servia queuing up behind him.

After several near misses, Fittipaldi finally made it through on lap seven and began chasing the leaders. His storming pace rapidly took him onto Montoya's tail and into the battle for second place.

While everyone watched this fight, Tracy was carving his way through the field. Despite having been last by a country mile after the start, he was up to 16th by lap 12.

The routine pit stops began soon afterwards. A typically astounding Ganassi service allowed Montoya to vault ahead of both Franchitti and Fernandez, and once clear of that pair the Columbian was able to really fly.

When Tagliani pitted two laps later he rejoined with Montoya right on his tail. The champion was in no mood to waste time and dived ahead into Canada Corner, quickly pulling away in the lead.

The field was already somewhat depleted by this stage. Patrick Carpentier became the second significant retirement when he stopped on course on lap 16, while five laps later Andretti came in to retire from sixth with a transmission problem.

Mauricio Gugelmin dropped out after a relatively competitive top ten showing for PacWest, while Servia needed a new front wing after bouncing through the gravel in a failed bid to snatch sixth from Moreno. With his team-mate da Matta already nursing the gearbox problem that would eventually force him out, it was not a good day for PPI Motorsports.

Franchitti is getting used to having bad days in 2000, and this was to be yet another one. Struggling with an unco-operative third gear, he went down the escape road at turn five and dropped from third to 11th on lap 22.

Meanwhile, Montoya took little time to open out a lead of 9s over Tagliani and 19s over third-placed Fittipaldi, who was followed by Patrick pairing Fernandez and Moreno, the latter again making up ground by pitting much later than anyone else. Tracy was up to eighth and putting pressure on seventh-placed Jimmy Vasser. By lap 29, he would be in the top five.

Montoya was the first man to make his second pit stop, taking service on lap 28 and rejoining seventh. However, just two laps later he would retire with yet another mechanical problem. The Columbian has now finished just five of this year's 14 races, and again would go home without reward despite being clearly the fastest man on the track all afternoon.

Fittipaldi then became the next potential winner to kiss his hopes of victory goodbye. He pitted as planned on lap 32 but immediately retired as his crew spotted an engine fire. With Moreno also struggling with gearbox problems, that allowed Tracy into third behind Tagliani and Fernandez.

The Canadian then surged past Fernandez with an excellent move into turn one, nearly scraping the pit wall as he dived down the inside. That put him second, just 7.4s behind countryman Tagliani with 20 laps to go.

Tracy put on a charge but in the event had no need to do so. He had reduced the gap to 3s when Tagliani slowed to a crawl on the backstretch on lap 38, mechanical problems taking him out of a race he deserved to win.

With Montoya and Tagliani out, Tracy was left to stroll to a relatively comfortable victory over Fernandez. The only glitch came when he had to park on the slowing down lap after running out of fuel.

"It's unbelievable!" Tracy exclaimed afterwards. "We had a stuck throttle sensor at the start and it shut the engine off. The crew told me to flick some switches and it refired but I was already half a lap behind.

"I was just in the zone today," he continued. "Every lap was just faster, faster, faster. The stops were good too but if I'd known we were so tight on fuel I might have backed off a bit once I was in the lead..."

Kenny Brack was always in contention and chased Fernandez home for third, despite losing time with a late header problem.

Moreno used his excellent fuel mileage to stay in contention despite being unable to get third gear for much of the second half of the race. He finished fourth, leading several laps as he waited until lap 52 before making his third and final pit stop.

Vasser was fifth after a strong drive from 16th on the grid. He had battled with Brack for much of the race but fell off the pace in the final stint.

Memo Gidley was a distant yet excellent sixth for Della Penna. He had raced with Vasser initially but lost time with a minor off shortly after his first stop. He led home Max Papis, who was off the pace all afternoon in Bobby Rahal's second car, and Tony Kanaan. The latter had dire engine problems in the closing stages and crawled around the final laps. Castroneves and Servia brought their battered cars home ninth and tenth.

Mark Blundell looked good for seventh until retiring with just five laps to go. Also departing late was Franchitti. The Scot had made it back up to fifth place before his gearbox problems became terminal.

A week ago in Mid-Ohio, Tagliani and Tracy had collided while fighting over a nondescript eighth position, and Montoya spent most of the afternoon in the gravel. Today that trio gave the rest of the field a driving lesson while the Penskes, so dominant just seven days ago, were both out of contention within half a lap of the start.

The CART Championship Series can never be accused of being predictable... Expect the unexpected again in a fortnight's time as the teams head to the streets of Vancouver for round 15.



1 Paul Tracy Green Reynard-Honda
2 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford + 7.450s
3 Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford + 8.836s
4 Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford + 25.316s
5 Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota + 32.561s
6 Memo Gidley Della Penna Reynard-Toyota + 1m33.550s
7 Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford + 1m38.878s
8 Tony Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes + 1 lap
9 Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda + 1 lap
10 Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota + 1 lap

Retirements:

Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Dario Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda
Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota
Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford
Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota
Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes
Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
Gualter Salles Coyne Lola-Ford
Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda
Tarso Marques Coyne Swift-Ford
Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero PRG Reynard-Mercedes
Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda

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