18 Mar Catching up with Paul Tracy
Catching up with Paul Tracy
by Bryce Turner
With NBC Sports airing the entire NTT IndyCar Series schedule for the second straight year, 2013 Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame (CMHF) inductee Paul Tracy continued his role of TV analyst for all 14 races in 2020, where the pandemic made it a much different experience.
On a typical race weekend, the Scarborough, Ont., native would go around the track, talking with drivers, mechanics and others to gather information for the broadcasts, but IndyCar’s COVID-19 restrictions put an end to that. Tracy even came up with a novel method of physical distancing: Spending time between sessions in his car.
While COVID meant the 2020 season lacked a sense of normalcy, the addition of Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe to the broadcast team for select races served as a bit of welcome good news, especially for Canadian fans robbed of their home race after the cancellation of the Honda Indy Toronto.
“(Hinchcliffe) raced at the same track I did, up in Goodwood (Kartways) when he started, and I’ve known him for a very long time,” said Tracy.
“We competed on the same team together, when I was driving for Forsythe (Championship Racing), he was driving Formula Atlantic’s for Forsythe. I have a great relationship with him and he’s very good on TV as well.”
When Hinchcliffe wasn’t on-camera, he raced part-time for Andretti Autosport, recording an average finish of 12.8 in six races, including a seventh place in the Indianapolis 500.
Another Canadian, rookie Dalton Kellett, also raced part-time this season for A.J. Foyt Racing, recording an average finish of 23.0 in eight starts.
“I thought (Kellett) did a good job this year,” said Tracy. “People were saying, well, he’s coming in a little bit early, not enough experience, but I thought he did a pretty nice job.”
Although two Canadians drove in IndyCar this year, Tracy feels Canada might not see another for a while, as he sees no potential IndyCar racers coming up through the open-wheel ranks in the next few years. One driver who caught his eye, but on the sports car side, is 2019 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA champion Roman De Angelis.
“He’s actually quite quick, won a couple of Porsche Cup championships and finished on the podium a couple times here at the end of the (IMSA) season,” Tracy said. “He looks like he can be quite a talent.”
Before his TV role took off, Tracy went into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in the Class of 2013, alongside Diana Carter, John Magill, Scott Maxwell, Norris McDonald and international inductee Nigel Mansell.
“It was a real special treat for me to be inducted, as well as to have Nigel Mansell there at the same time,” said Tracy. “He’s a legend and to have had the chance to race against him, compete and race wheel-to-wheel with a guy like that, and then have him be there on the night I was inducted, and my parents there, it was fantastic.”
Mansell raced in IndyCar’s predecessor, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), in 1993 and 1994. He won the Formula One championship in 1992 and has 31 wins across 15 seasons in that series and added a championship (1993) and five wins to his career total in two CART seasons.
When asked about a Canadian racing legend who he looked up to, Tracy offered the name of another CMHF member: Gilles Villeneuve. Villeneuve won six career races in 67 Formula One starts and finished as runner-up in the 1979 championship. Villeneuve died in an accident during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at the Zolder Circuit.
“I was a huge fan of Gilles when I was a kid growing up,” said Tracy.
While he never banged wheels with his Canadian hero, Tracy raced against Gilles Villeneuve’s son Jacques during the 1994 and 1995 CART seasons.
When looking back at Tracy’s career, one of the most talked about races is the 2002 Indianapolis 500, where he’s officially scored as finishing second to Helio Castroneves under caution.
The race unfolded six years before the formation of a unified IndyCar Series in 2008, at a time when there were two top tier U.S. open wheel series locked in a sometimes bitter turf war, following the formation of a breakaway series from CART in 1996, called the Indy Racing League (IRL). The Indy 500 was an IRL race that year and the series viewed Tracy as a CART interloper.
Tracy, team owner Barry Green and many Canadian fans, remain adamant to this day that the Canadian passed Castroneves before the caution flew, but in the end, IRL officials ruled that the yellow came out before he passed Castroneves. Even a court case launched by his team couldn’t sway the result in his favour and Tracy settled for second.
Although Tracy’s anger subsided over the years and he now feels it’s nothing to get upset about, he still considers the 2002 Indianapolis 500 to be one of his wins.
“I don’t have the trophy, but I know what it felt like on the race track and that’s where it counts,” he said.
Tracy posted 31 wins, 74 podiums, and an average finish of 11.0 in 261 CART races between 1991 and 2007, and added one podium in 20 career IndyCar starts, which includes the 2002 Indy 500. His lone CART championship came in 2003.
The wins that stand out for him include two victories at his home race in Toronto (1993 and 2003) plus his four career triumphs on the streets of Long Beach, California, where he collected his first CART victory in 1993. He also took the chequered flag in Long Beach in 2000, 2003, and 2004.
All-in-all, he’s please with his open wheel career that spanned 20 years, from 1991 to 2011.
“Pretty much everything that I ever set out to try to do, I was able to accomplish,” he said. “(The) championship took a little bit longer than I expected, and I think I definitely gave a couple of championships away … but, overall, happy with how (my career) went.”
Tracy lives in Arizona, where he’ll be awaiting the start of another IndyCar season and a return to the NBC Sports television booth. The season begins on April 18, 2021 in Birmingham, Alabama.