- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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Forsythe Championship Racing won five Champ Car World Series races this year, but the driver lineup it fields in the Mexico City season finale will have nothing in common with the one it started the season with.
"It's never easy to come into a world-class series as a rookie, but after driving the car I have a better idea of what to expect, and that's going to be a big help for Mexico."
-- David Martinez
The 2006 campaign has been equal parts success and turbulence for Gerald Forsythe's Indianapolis-based organization, which has made a series of driver moves over the last five months -- some forced, some unforced. The most recent drama involves Forsythe team leader Paul Tracy, who revealed that he fractured his right shoulder blade in a golf cart accident a week ago and will be forced to miss the Mexico City race.
Forsythe started the season with Tracy and Mario Dominguez on board, but when the Mexican wrecked Tracy out of two of the first four Champ Car races of the season, he was summarily fired and replaced by A.J. Allmendinger. The rising American star thrived in Forsythe's easygoing atmosphere and won five races, but he too was fired when he announced a move to stock cars for 2007.
Forsythe then hired IRL refugee Buddy Rice for a one-race trial in the Mexico City finale and announced he will run a third car there for local driver David Martinez. Then news of Tracy's off-track incident broke, and after a week of physical therapy, Champ Car's leading active race winner realized there was no way his wounded wing could stand up to 70 laps of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Sunday, putting Forsythe back down to two cars.
Drivers from Patrick Depailler (hang-gliding accident) to Juan Pablo Montoya (tennis pratfall) have missed races due to non-racing activity, but Tracy's faux pas ranks right up there. He admitted that he and some pals were goofing around on a Las Vegas golf course after a night of drinking when the cart's right front suspension failed. The fact that Tracy & Co. were jumping sand traps at the time might have contributed to the breakage.
In any case, Tracy said the other occupants were thrown from the cart, but the vehicle came down squarely on top of the sturdy 37-year-old Canadian. It will end a streak of 136 consecutive Champ Car race starts for Tracy; the last race he missed (Homestead 2000) was due to suspension.
The shoulder injury was enough of an issue, but Tracy admitted his real problem was working out too hard to rehabilitate the injury.
"This story has gotten blown way out of proportion," he said. "Basically what happened is that I was out with some friends playing around with an ATV that I own and it just got a little out of hand. I flipped it over and it landed on top of me.
"The first three or four days I was making a lot of progress and I thought that I was going to be OK for Mexico. I was doing therapy and some exercises and I think I just overdid it, I just went backwards really fast and the injury got worse."
Tracy consulted with noted Indianapolis orthopedist Dr. Terry Trammell before making the decision to sit out the season finale.
"Dr. Trammell reviewed my X-rays and he recommended that I stay out of the car for a few weeks so the bone can heal properly," Tracy said. "It's very disappointing, obviously. But I don't want to risk hurting it even more."
In general, it hasn't been a great season for Tracy, who along with 30 race wins since 1993 won the 2003 Champ Car series title. He went winless in 2006 and was generally outpaced by Allmendinger during the American's whirlwind nine-race stint with the Forsythe team. PT sits fifth in the 2006 Champ Car standings but could drop as low as 10th depending on how others fare Sunday.
Meanwhile, Rice and Martinez had their first experience with the Forsythe team in a private test at the Motor Sport Ranch Houston road course. It was Martinez's first opportunity to drive one of the 750-horsepower open-wheelers, while Rice last sampled a Champ Car in 2001 when he tested for Ganassi Racing.
That test was part of Rice's prize for winning the Toyota-sponsored Atlantic Championship in 2000. But he was unable to land a Champ Car ride in 2001, and in mid-2002, he joined Eddie Cheever's IRL IndyCar team.
Rice moved to Rahal Letterman Racing in 2004 and won three races, including the Indianapolis 500. But his engineer, Todd Bowland, left for NASCAR and the RLR team slipped down the IRL grid in 2005 and '06.
When Forsythe cut Allmendinger loose, he made sure there was still an American driving in the Champ Car series by hiring Rice. Now 30, he finally gets his chance in the series he has targeted since coming up through the open-wheel road racing ranks.
"I feel really good and everything went just as planned," Rice said of his 200-mile shakedown in the Forsythe Lola. "Getting used to the turbo lag takes a little while, and I couldn't believe how good the brakes were. But after only a few laps I got very comfortable and I was able to push hard. These guys are really well-organized and everybody is very professional, so that has just made the transition to Champ Car much easier.
"It seems like [engineer] Michael Cannon has a good feel for what I want from the car. Everything went smooth and now we just have to get down to Mexico, get back on track and keep gaining speed so we can have a strong result."
Forsythe was the leader of CART's move into Mexico in the early 21st century with races at Monterrey and Mexico City and by running Martinez in a third car this weekend, he'll give the locals another reason to come out to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
Monterrey native Martinez, 25, finished fifth in the Champ Car-sanctioned Atlantic Championship in 2005 and 2006.
"Driving these cars is an amazing experience," Martinez said after his 200-mile Champ Car test at MSR Houston. "The power, the aerodynamics, the brakes -- everything is just top notch.
"But I'm feeling very relaxed after this test. It's never easy to come into a world-class series as a rookie, but after driving the car I have a better idea of what to expect, and that's going to be a big help for Mexico."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
Paul Tracy can't race, Buddy Rice is getting a one-race trial and David Martinez is making a step up from the Atlantic Series. Things have certainly changed at Forsythe, writes John Oreovicz.