LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Paul Tracy spent most of last season
watching the Newman/Haas Racing duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno
Junqueira win races and listening to people question the commitment
of the former series champion and his Forsythe Racing team.
After running away with the Champ Car World Series title in
2003, Tracy won only twice -- including the season-opening Toyota
Grand Prix of Long Beach -- in 2004. He slipped all the way to
fourth in the standings as Bourdais and Junqueira combined for nine
wins and finished 1-2 in the points.
A new season begins Sunday at Long Beach, where Tracy is not
only the two-time defending champion and a four-time winner, but
also goes into the 81-lap race on the 1.968-mile downtown street
circuit as the pole winner.
"I'm definitely very motivated for the team,'' Tracy said after
setting a track record with his lap of 1 minute, 7.485 seconds
(104.982 mph). That broke the mark of 1:07.494 (104.969 mph) set in
2000 by two-time series champion Gil de Ferran.
It was his second Long Beach pole -- he also started from the
pole here in 1994 -- and the 23rd of his Champ Car career. But Tracy
figures he and the team owned by Gerald Forsythe have a lot to
prove in 2005.
"It gets me upset when you pick up some motorsports magazines
that say the Forsythe team has lost its way and that we're not
motivated,'' Tracy said, eyes flashing.
He noted that new teammate Mario Dominguez, who joined Forsythe
on Thursday, qualified third in the 19-car field for Sunday's race.
"You can't go fast like that unless the car is good,'' Tracy
Dominguez, who moved ahead of Bourdais on the grid with a lap of
1:07.803 (104.491 mph), said, "Forsythe just has something special
about it: a lot of experience and confidence. They know what
"I didn't know anybody on the team until Thursday. I've been on
a crash course and it just shows how professional this team is.''
Bourdais saw his 15-race string of starts from the top three
Junqueira took the provisional pole on Friday, assuring himself
of a front row start, and he came close to retaining the top spot
with a lap of 1:07.644 (104.737 mph) as the checkered flag flew for
the end of Saturday's qualifying.
"It was very, very close,'' Junqueira said, shrugging. "I had
two tries and that's pretty much all I could do. Paul had a great
car and a great lap, but tomorrow counts the most. I hope we can
have a good start, great stops and great strategy and win
If he or Bourdais does win Sunday, it would be the first victory
here for the Newman/Haas team since Mario Andretti took the
checkered flag in 1987.
The team co-owned by Chicago businessman Carl Haas and actor
Paul Newman won three of the first four Champ Car races at Long
"Newman/Haas has always been competitive here,'' said
Junqueira, who has finished third and second here the past two
years. "It's just a matter of everything has to fall in the right
place. There's no reason why we shouldn't win the race.''
The racing may look a bit different on Sunday, with Champ Car
abandoning a 2-year-old rule that forced teams to pit and change
tires within a specified number of laps at each event.
"It's a long race and, without the forced stops, there will be
a lot of different strategies going on,'' Junqueira said.
Bourdais, who won eight poles and seven races last year on the
way to the title, was a little disappointed after qualifying fourth
at 1:07.821 (104.463 mph).
"The car was pretty good but I was just trying very hard and
made a couple of mistakes,'' he said. "But, if (fourth) is a bad
day, I'll take it. We'll be ready to race tomorrow.''
Justin Wilson was fifth at 1:07.919 (104.312 mph), followed by
former Formula One driver and Champ Car rookie Timo Glock at
1:08.274 (103.770 mph), Alex Tagliani at 1:08.466 (103.479 mph) and
2002 series champion Cristiano da Matta, returning after a two-year
stint in F1, at 1:08.493 (103.438 mph).