CART: An Interview with Paul Tracy
Motor racing - 17 Mar 2000
T.E. McHALE: At this point we are going to welcome Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green, 3rd place finisher in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series. Good afternoon, Paul, thanks for taking the time to be with us today. Paul's victories in Milwaukee and Houston highlighted a 1999 campaign which saw him post seven podium finishes including four in a row at Toronto, Michigan, Detroit and Mid-Ohio. Overall, he scored in 13 of 19 starts during a season which saw him tie Alex Zanardi for 8th place on the CART Career Victory List with 15. He scored a career high 161 points while finishing third in the Championship for the third time in his nine-year career, matching previous third-place efforts in 1993, and 1994. At this point we are going to open it up to questions for Paul. Q. I was wondering I have been reading that among the teams, yours has made some of the fewer changes this year compared to the other teams. Do you see that as a big advantage, particularly after testing the car? PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't see it as a huge performance advantage. I think that one of the advantages that it will have, I think, is really in the short-term. I think we have a data base to fall back on if we run into problems or handling woes during the course of a weekend we have got data to fall back on. A lot of the teams that have made major changes, like Penske, and Newman/Haas, Ganassi, with new engines, new cars, new tires, new drivers, I think that they are going to be still learning and trying to figure out their package up to the midway point of the season. I think that in the short-term it will -- it could be an advantage. Q. How has the Honda engine developed since spring training? At that time you were hoping for more power. Have they been giving it to you? PAUL TRACY: Well, they have got a new engine, I guess that they have revamped, found some problems that -- they are not saying what the problems were with the current engine that we have been running, but from what I understand, we are supposed to get delivery of our engines on Wednesday. We will put them in the cars. I think we got one engine already to be put in the spare car, then our qualifying motor will be delivered to us on Wednesday at Homestead. So better late than never. Q. So you have not driven it with the new motor then? PAUL TRACY: No. But the last test that I did at Homestead we ran pretty well. I felt like there was a pretty good power increase from the last test at Homestead to then and they said, well, the next phrase is supposed to be even better. So I feel pretty good about what Honda has done. Q. Will the new motor that you get for qualifying then be just for qualifying and you will run in the race with what you have just run now? PAUL TRACY: We are going to run the same engine that we qualify with that we will race with that. Q. Do you feel a lot different going into this season than you did last obviously? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think obviously I am going to get to do the first race so that is a bonus and I feel pretty confident. I am not overly confident but we had a great season last year. I have done pretty much the lion's share of the testing because of Dario's accident. So I am pretty well prepared. I have had really good amount of testing. I am now happy with where we are at setup-wise for Homestead. I think Homestead has kind have been one of our weak points in terms of speed and we really had a good test the last time we were there. I will go to Nazareth this weekend and just do a final test before the start of the year. So I feel prepared and in shape and confident. But not overly confident. Q. When you look at this season and you see what happened last season as far as the team's development, and then, of course, spring training, where do you assess your chances to finally get the Championship? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think our chances to get the Championship is just really, I mean, and I think it is the same for everybody, is you have got to get off to a good start and score consistent points and really, I didn't get rolling until I -- I had a third at Nazareth, but it wasn't really until Milwaukee - didn't finish at Long Beach; didn't finish at St. Louis and wasn't until Milwaukee that we got the ball rolling and started scoring points. By that time we were about 50 points behind the lead. I think we ended up 40 or so or 30 behind, somewhere in that range. Our goal is really -- obviously we want to win. We want -- if we can win, we are going to try to win, but the focus is really just to keep gathering points all year and be consistent, you know, take whatever we can get and score as many points as we can and just try to keep collecting them. Q. When you look back over your career from the moment at Long Beach and I remember at Long Beach when Roger Penske invited you after the race to visit him in his trailer, when you look back at points of your career, what had the most impact to make you the kind of driver that you either are or strive to be to win the title? PAUL TRACY: Looking back, I think now my role on Team Green is different than it was with Penske. When I was with Penske, it was more generated at trying to go fast and make the car look like it was fast and Al was kind of the guy who was the finisher and scored the points. Now, it is so competitive that you have got to qualify up front and I have gotten better at that. I have always been a good qualifier, but it's gotten tougher and tougher and you have really got to hang it out on the line now. But now the key, I mean, points are hard to come by now. In the past, a bad day was finishing fifth. Now it is a pretty good day if you finish in the Top-5. That is how competitive it is. You hear these guys in NASCAR say I had a great run today, I finished in the Top-10. Well, we only have points to 12 and those points are hard to come by. I think consistency and getting good finishes every weekend is really what is most important. Q. Have you had a chance to get out there with the Hanford wing; it's a change that is coming up for the short ovals and try to make them a little more competitive and see a little more passing; how has that worked out so far in your opinion? PAUL TRACY: I think it has been good. Our tests have gone well. I think the short oval configuration is a drastic improvement from what we have had in the past. We tested at Phoenix with it. We are going to test at Nazareth this weekend. So I think it is a good change. I think the down-force level is about where it needs to be. The drag level is keeping the cars, the top speeds down a little bit. So I think, overall, I think CART has done a really good job in getting this package together. Q. You had to miss this race at Homestead, the start of the season last year, what is your approach to it now -- now that it has been two seasons since you have had a chance to race there? PAUL TRACY: Obviously we want to qualify well and I think if we can get inside the top seven or eight then we can focus then on having a winning car. But the main focus of this race is not to get in the hole, to start the season off in terms of points, and we are going to try -- obviously try to finish the race. We haven't had a lot of mechanical trouble with Team KOOL Green in the last couple of years, so we will just try to get the best finish that we can and get some points going. Q. Does the reliability factor the fact that the cars are getting so good make it even that much more important to qualify up at the front and stay in the race? PAUL TRACY: Yeah, it is. For sure, because there is not a lot of guys drop out of races with mechanical problems, you know, due to the car or due to the engine. The teams are so good now and all the teams are well funded and they have brand new pieces on the car for the race. It wasn't only but a few years ago that there was only a few teams that could afford to put all new uprights and things like that on for every race. The reliability now of the teams and the cars has gone up probably 200 percent and the pace of the race has gone up dramatically as well. It used to be that we used to pace around and then you'd race pretty hard at the end. Now, as soon as the again flag drops, it is 110 percent the whole way. So that is really what makes passing most difficult. It is just that everybody is going as fast as they can possibly go. Q. This year -- you talked a little bit about getting points and just being consistent, but do you find it kind of ironic - first, there was Michael came into this series, he was the young gun, now you, now it seems everybody at the top has aggressive driving style, Tony, and obviously want. How do you -- how do you work your way, all you aggressive drivers work your way into finishing races? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think that is one of the most important things is that not to get too overaggressive and end up putting yourself out. I have been in that situation where I have gotten too aggressive and cost myself some points. So you have got to measure -- obviously it is a game of calculated risks. There is times when you have to take risks, but do you take it now or later. You have got to measure those. That is the hard thing about this sport is you have only got fractions of a second to make a decision. When the opportunity opens up to make a pass, they don't come about very often and sometimes if you go to make that move and then you say, well, maybe I shouldn't do that, then it is almost too late; that is when an accident happens. That is the kind of things that when a guy wins the Championship, he has made less mistakes than everybody else and calculated his risks and that is how it works out. Q. Can you compare kind of the, I guess it would be kind of an escalating comfort level at the team in the sense that in 1998 you got there and everything was new. Last year you had become much more familiar with the equipment and the team, but at the same time last year you were getting to know Tony and vice versa. This year everything is at least as far as I can figure just virtually everything is the same on your side of the team and just how that figures into the equation for this year? PAUL TRACY: I think it is important to me because I have got some stability within my side of the team and last year even going into the third, fourth race and when John left the team, we had a little bit of instability on my side of the team and disruption, but I think it all worked out for the best. Now having Tony for a second year and the same crew, same crew chief and everybody that is on the crew the same, I think it is really the best case scenario for me because we know what we have going in and we know what we need to do. It is a good feeling to have. Whereas, Dario's side, he has had a lot of change and a fair amount of turnover in terms of crew and engineering-wise that there is a more question marks. I think that is, at least for my Championship hopes, from my side of the team, we know what we have to deal with. Q. Much was made last year especially towards the middle of last year of the maturation of Paul Tracy, how he slowed down a little bit with -- just on your -- the way you approach things and a lot of that was attributed to Tony coming on board. Do you think too much was made of that or do you think a lot of people said was justified? PAUL TRACY: I think it was justified but there was, you know, the other side of the coin is that it is so, so competitive now that any little hiccup in your program or just not having the car the way you want -- I mean, you are not going to qualify well and I think that is what really was the main focus of Tony, at least for me, was not to focus so much on the lap time, but make the car right for me and then the lap time will come on its own. That is really what we focused on and that has kind of been the opposite approach of how, you know, I have driven most of my career. It has always been on trying to get that one lap in to get on -- get up on the grid. I think that is what gave us such a competitive car last year pretty much everywhere is I was always a factor and a lot of guys, you see they qualify up front, but then in the race, they fade. That really was our strength last year, even if we didn't qualify that well, we were always strong in the race because we had a better car. That is really what our focus is going to be this year. Q. How many race wins will the Championship need this year and how many no points races can you survive? PAUL TRACY: Well, it is hard to say. Typically a guy wins three, four, five, maybe, but the key really is consistency. You can win this Championship without winning a race as long as you are there every weekend and you saw last year a tie in the Championship, one guy with seven wins and another guy with three, but a couple of DNF's thrown in by Montoya and it kills you. The key really is finishing all the races and points. And getting points every weekend. Like I said, you can win it without winning a race as long as you are around in the Top-5 and typically the Championship, 200 points usually wins it, 200 plus. That is finishing Top-5 every weekend, fifth or better will get you Top-10 points per weekend, minimum. So that is really what my goal is and along the way, if you finish, third, or second one week, then you can afford a 6th or 7th or whatever, but you have got to keep scoring points. Q. Is this year the best opportunity for a Championship yet? PAUL TRACY: I think so because I know the package that I have; the team is stable; I am stable. I think everything that we have is in place. Obviously it is not going to be easy. I am not saying anything is easy, but there is a lot of competition. There is a lot of -- the new cars, the Lola is very quick, the Ford is obviously very quick, but I think that all of our programs, everybody is responding, Honda is responding; Reynard is responding. I think we have a great package and obviously it is the proven package. T.E. McHALE: We will take one final question for Paul Tracy before we let him go and bring Dario onto the call. One last question for Paul. Q. At spring training Max Papis spoke out about the fact that there is no-weight balancing to make up for sizes of drivers. Was that music to your ears to have somebody else pick that up? PAUL TRACY: Well, sure, he is not a real heavy guy. He is probably the middle of the range, but it is so important now and it is so competitive and the times are so close that, you know, I mean, just me to Dario is about 45 pounds and that is 15 gallons of fuel and we all know how much slower the cars go when you put fuel in them. It -- when it comes down to qualifying, I think every other series around the world does it, Formula 1, NASCAR, you know, I think it is a logical step, I think, to make the CARS more competitive and the times closer and -- I am not pushing the issue. I am happy doing what I am doing. It would be nice if it happened because it would make life a lot easier, but if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Q. Was there any encouragement in recent weeks? PAUL TRACY: No, not that I have heard. T.E. McHALE: Thanks, Paul, for joining us this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck in the season opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota and throughout the rest of the 2000 FedEx Championship Season. Thanks, Paul. End of FastScripts..