The opening rounds of qualifying for this year’s 93rd Indianapolis 500 take place this weekend, with the first 11 starting positions determined on Saturday and the next 11 on Sunday. Practice for the 500 started on Tuesday for rookies and experienced drivers who haven’t competed in any IRL races so far this year. The rest of the field was scheduled to start practicing yesterday (Wednesday) but steady rain for most of the day resulted in a washout.
Fastest in practice so far therefore is Paul Tracy, who has raced at Indianapolis only once in the past 14 years. A CART/Champ Car stalwart, Tracy ran the Indy 500 in 2002 and appeared to have won the race when he passed Hélio Castroneves with two laps to go as the yellow light came on. But Castroneves was awarded the victory.
Since Champ Car’s failure at the start of last year the 40-year-old Tracy has been without a regular ride, but he’s been entered at Indianapolis by KV (Kalkhoven-Vasser) Racing on a one-off basis in a car sponsored by Geico Insurance. On Tuesday Tracy showed he’s gathered little if any rust as he jumped into the KV/Geico Dallara-Honda and quickly got up to speed.
By the end of the day Tracy was clearly the quickest driver, turning a fast lap in 40.3462sec (223.089mph). Fastest of the rookie drivers was Dutchman Robert Doornbos (above), who lapped his Newman/Haas/Lanigan entry at 221.735mph.
“The car felt good and I felt great,” said Tracy. “It was no problem. All I was hearing all week from the press here in Indianapolis was how long do you think it’ll take you to get up to speed? Well, I was up to speed in five laps and then we got with the programme.
“We had a high-mileage motor in the car, race-level downforce and we had heavy, race day gearbox oil,” added Tracy. “We didn’t have the good wheel bearings or any of the little go-fast stuff in the car. It was a race set-up and we’ve got a lot of speed left. If it rains [today] like they’re predicting and nobody gets to run, then we’ve got a leg up on everybody.
“The team has done a lot of work and all the good stuff is going on the car for Friday. We’ll see. I don’t know if we can make the front row, but I think we can qualify in the top 11 on the first day.”
Tracy is the cat among the pigeons at Indianapolis this year. He has raced Indycars since 1992 and is the most successful active North American open-wheel racer with 30 wins to his credit. But with Champ Car’s failure and Jerry Forsythe’s withdrawal from racing, Tracy found himself without a ride in 2008. He ran the final Champ Car race at Long Beach last year in one of Forsythe’s cars and also raced at Edmonton in July, where he finished fourth in his only IRL start of the year. Dario Franchitti would love to see his former team-mate and old friend in action in all of this year’s races.
“PT is 40 now but in his mind he’s 21,” said Franchitti. “He’s got a hell of a lot of enthusiasm and confidence, and he’s worth the price of admission.
“Paul was very, very loyal and really stuck by everybody in Champ Car,” added Dario. “Sadly, that’s been to his detriment because he was [left] sitting there with nothing. Paul deserves to have a competitive ride and it’s great that he’s at Indy this year. I hope it works out so he can race in the IndyCar series on a regular basis.”
It will be interesting to see where Tracy qualifies this weekend and even more intriguing to see if he can steal some thunder from the IRL regulars in the 500 on May 24.