Paul Tracy will hold a news conference in Long Beach tomorrow afternoon (Saturday) in which he will announce details of his races this season with pal Jimmy Vasser’s KV Racing team in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
If all goes as expected, and as was the case last year, Tracy will be supported at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen by the U.S. Geiko Insurance company and by the Ontario and Alberta Honda dealers’ associations for the Honda-sponsored Canadian races in Toronto and Edmonton.
It will be good to see Tracy back in harness. I know he’s been doing some work for a television show/series that will be seen on the Speed Channel in the coming months, but he hasn’t been driving racing cars in anger, which is what Paul Tracy is all about, and although it’s undoubtedly harder on him than it is for his fans, it’s tough not seeing him out there.
Once upon a time, the sky was the limit for this guy. He was on Roger Penske’s A-List in the CART series and being touted – by some – as a potential world driving champion.
Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear – in this case, the Oct. 6, 1994, issue of Britain’s Autosport magazine – and there, on the cover, is a big picture of Michael Schumacher and a smaller picture of a really young-looking Paul Tracy.
(I’ll tell you how young he looked: his hair was long and brown and his glasses were big and round.)
There was a slash headline across the top of the photo – it said EXCLUSIVE! – and the words underneath the picture said: “Listen in on Paul Tracy’s F1 debut.”
Tracy had gone to Estoral for the Portuguese Grand Prix as the guest of Flavio Briatore and the Benetton F1 team, who were looking for a driver to replace Schumacher, who was expected to move on following the 1995 season.
The fact that Autosport devoted four pages of pictures and text to what was essentially a diary of Tracy’s time in a Benetton F1 car showed he really was a young driver on the way up. The story was a transcript of the conversation between the driver and Benetton tech director Ross Brawn (who also, in the pictures, looks about 12).
Autosport also devoted a good part of its “Pit & Paddock” news section to a setup of the Tracy story inside. The headline? “Promising Tracy rules out F1 in ‘94” – mainly, as he explained in the piece, because he was under contract to Penske.
I will not type into this blog the “listening in” article. It might have been interesting at the time but it’s of no relevance now.
But the setup piece. Now, that’s interesting. Reported Autosport:
“On new rubber at the end of his second day in the car, Tracy lapped in 1m21.24s. . . His time was 0.76s faster than the qualifying mark set by Jos Verstappen in the Portuguese GP. . . . Tracy’s time would have put him fourth on the grid in Portugal.
“Although Tracy greatly enjoyed the experience, the smart money says he will stay in Indycars next year, probably moving to Newman-Haas, and then switch to F1 for 1996. . .”
Said Brawn: “Paul did a very professional job. Considering he was new to the car, the circuit and F1, his time was very creditable. I saw nothing to say he couldn’t hold his own in F1. He may not be as quick as Michael (Schumacher) but he’s at the upper end of the scale and has a lot of potential.
“I have given Flavio (Briatore) my report.”
Well, Autosport was right about one thing. Tracy did drive for Newsman-Haas in ’95 but returned to the Penske Indycar stable in ’96 and there was no more talk of F1.