LAS VEGAS -- Coming off a difficult and frustrating season, Paul Tracy is determined to get his open-wheel career back in gear.
The 38-year-old racer, the oldest and winningest active driver
in the Champ Car World Series, is off to a decent start, taking the outside spot on the front row for Sunday's inaugural Vegas Grand Prix, the season opener on a new course that winds through the streets of downtown Sin City.
While Australia's Will Power, last year's top rookie, won his
second pole in three races, Tracy earned his front-row start by taking the provisional pole in Friday's qualifying. That guaranteed the Canadian driver would start no worse than second and he took advantage of that to use the final session to work on race setup and try to get less wear on his rear tires.
"That's a problem we had yesterday and we spent quite a bit of
time today on longer runs, seven or eight laps, to see if we could figure that out," Tracy said. "It probably cost us a little bit in terms of the outright lap time, but I think we have a good race car."
Most important, though, is that Tracy believes he is competitive
again after a year in which he won no poles and no races for the first time since he joined the Forsythe team in 2003 and only the third time in a career that began in 1991.
"I think my focus is all [on] this championship," Tracy said.
"I signed a new contract last year with Forsythe Racing and made a
commitment to the series and to my team. Probably, looking back on it now, last year I spread myself a little bit too thin, doing too much stuff.
"I was doing endurance racing, doing [six] NASCAR Busch races on off weekends. I was in a position with the team I'm with to have
the freedom to do that, but I don't think my full concentration was totally on this."
There will be none of that this season.
"I'm totally focused on my team, on what I need to be competitive," he said. "We've assembled the people I want on my car and we start out and we're right there."
The same cannot be said for Sebastien Bourdais, winner of the
last three series championships.
The whole series has switched to new cars, the Panoz DP01, but Bourdais appears to be having more trouble than anyone with the change. Electrical problems have hampered him since winter testing and, Saturday, he got in only two laps in qualifying before bouncing off a concrete barrier.
The crash brought out a red flag and Bourdais, who spent the
rest of the session sitting in his car in a runoff area, was penalized his only fast lap and will start Sunday's race 16th in the 17-car field.
"Too much understeer," the Frenchman said. "I forced the
thing and it stepped out a little on exit. It wasn't that bad of a hit, but it bent the toe link and broke the rim.
"To aggravate things, we had a clutch that was creeping so we
couldn't get it into neutral, couldn't back up, couldn't do anything. It was stuck in front of the tire. They couldn't push me back or do anything."
It will be the first time in 54 races that Bourdais has not started a race in the top 10.
Tracy, who has had some well-publicized on-track run-ins with
Bourdais, still expects the reigning champion to be a factor on Sunday.
"It's not the scenario everybody thought it was going to be
with Sebastien running away with everything," Tracy said. "He's starting from the back and it's going to be quite an interesting race. He's still quick and you can't count him out, even back there."
Power, an Australian who won his first Champ Car pole last fall
in his native country, was easily the fastest driver on Saturday, turning a lap of 1 minute, 17.629 seconds (113.154 mph) on the 2.44-mile circuit.
Robert Doornbos of Holland, one of eight rookies in the field,
will start third after posting the next best lap of 1:18.515 (111.877), just a few ticks faster than Alex Tagliani at 1:18.850 (111.401) and Simon Pagenaud of France, another first-year driver, who clocked a 1:18.961 (111.401).
Heralded rookie Graham Rahal, son of longtime racing star Bobby Rahal, crashed in the morning practice and had to move to his backup car, which had never been driven on a racetrack. The 18-year-old Rahal still wound up in 10th place.