Tracy captures third Grand Prix of Cleveland title
CLEVELAND -- Paul Tracy left dust, debris and drivers in his wake.
And when his dirty day of racing was over, Tracy showered with a few celebratory blasts of champagne.
Using years of driving experience -- and his front end -- to intimidate and push his way to the front, Tracy held off rookie Robert Doornbos on a frantic final lap to win his third Grand Prix of Cleveland on Sunday, ending Sebastien Bourdais' three-race winning streak.
Tracy's 31st career victory, and first in the series since winning here in 2005, came after he was involved in two early accidents, mishaps that forced his pit crew to change his front wing twice in the first seven laps.
"It was by no means a nice, comfortable, easy, pretty win," Tracy said. "It was ugly. It was messy. It's not the way I would have liked to have won a race."
Rookie Graham Rahal, trying to win on the same track where his dad, Bobby, finished first in 1982, was critical of Tracy's tactics. Rahal was clipped from behind by Tracy on the 10-turn airport layout.
"He tried to put me in the grass," the 18-year-old driver said. "Tracy just punted me. ... He's wild and he'll put you in the fence and doesn't care about it."
After starting seventh and falling back in the pack because of the wrecks, Tracy worked his way through the field and finished .513 seconds ahead of Doornbos and another rookie, Neel Jani, who was 5.405 seconds back in third.
The victory made Tracy the third three-time winner in Cleveland, joining Danny Sullivan and Emerson Fittipaldi.
The 38-year-old racer's 2007 season had been slowed by a back injury, the result of a practice crash in Long Beach, that forced him to miss two races. He finished 10th in Portland two weeks ago.
But despite some so-so qualifying times, Tracy, who started seventh, was confident of his chances. And once he was back on the familiar runways and taxiways of Burke Lakefront Airport, the Canadian took off.
Because of the accidents, he was able to top off his fuel supply and he gambled late that he would have enough to finish. Tracy, who made seven pit stops, was also running on well-worn tires on the final lap as he tried to stay ahead of the 25-year-old Doornbos, an impressive Formula One test driver who has finished on the podium four times in five races this season.
Doornbos, forced to drive through the pits as a penalty for blocking early on, had used up his push-to-pass allotment -- 60 seconds of added horsepower -- and didn't have enough speed to reel in Tracy.
"I was pushing the button really, really hard and nothing came out," Doornbos quipped. "I almost bent it trying."
Bourdais, the series' points leader and dominant driving force this season, led for the first 30 laps and was still running second when he blew an engine on Lap 67.
The McDonald's No. 1 car was towed back to the pits, and the crew tried to restart Bourdais before finally giving up, forcing him to climb out of his cockpit following another disappointing outing along Lake Erie's shoreline.
A year ago, Bourdais, a two-time winner in Cleveland seeking an unprecedented fourth straight series title, was knocked out on the first lap in a scary wreck as Tracy's car landed on him, leaving tire marks on his helmet.
He tried to put me in the grass. Tracy just punted me. ... He's wild and he'll put you in the fence and doesn't care about it.
"The engine just let go," Bourdais said. "That's the way it goes."
As Bourdais was in the pit, Australian Will Power, who entered the race second in the standings blew a front tire. He finished 10th.
Despite the poor showing, Bourdais still leads the championship standings with 117 points, three more than Doornbos and 12 ahead of Power heading into next week's race in Mont-Tremblant, Canada.
The first standing start in Cleveland's 26-year history resulted in one of the cleanest beginnings of the race in recent memory as all 17 cars got through the infamous Turn 1 without an incident.
Usually, there's a pile up or two just seconds into the race.
"There were a lot of cars on the verge of running into each other," Tracy said. "But it didn't happen."
Soon, though, fenders were bending -- courtesy of Tracy, Champ's resident racing rebel.
He first plowed into Rahal, whom he said "basically parked the car in front of me to avoid spinning out. I ended up running into him. That was wing No. 1."
A few laps later, Tracy bulled into Bruno Junquiera's rear in Turn 1, ending the Brazilian's day.
"Tracy, as usual, threw a chrome horn on somebody and unfortunately it was me," Junquiera said.
Tracy didn't excuse that wreck.
"I ran right into the back of him," he said. "That was wing No. 2."
The rest of Tracy's day was incident free until the final straightaway when he crossed the finish line amid a barrage of fireworks.
"It's satisfying because we really had to push ourselves to win," said Tracy, a 17-year Champ Car veteran. "I really had to fight."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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