It was a great day for Canada at Mosport on Sunday and a disastrous day for Canada at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
At Mosport, there were three feature races Sunday afternoon and Canadians - Ron Fellows of Mississauga, Kenny Wilden of Oakville and Marc-Antoine Camirand of St-Leonard d'Aston, Que. - won all of them. For details, see story here
At Indy, one of the dumbest decisions in recent auto racing memory left one of the great auto racers of our time – Canada’s Paul Tracy – sitting on the outside looking in.
In short, Paul Tracy failed to qualify for the Indy 500 because of a bad, bad decision made by somebody on his team. Paul Tracy joins Milka Duno, Jacques Lazier and Jay Howard in missing the big race (yes, you’re permitted to chorus WHO! when you come to those last three names. I don’t know who they are either . . .).
It gets worse. Paul Tracy is on the outside looking in while auto racing newbies named Sebastien Saavedra, Mario Romancini, Bertrand Baguette and Ana Beatriz are in.
I might be being harsh, but those four (and any number of others in the field) have absolutely zero chance of winning the Indy 500 next Sunday but Paul Tracy, if he’d qualified, could have.
Here is what happened.
Tracy was sitting safely in the Indy 500 field Sunday afternoon. He was "on the bubble," as they say of the car/driver combination sitting in the 33rd and last qualifying spot, but he was in. The only way Tracy could fail to make the 500 would be for another driver to go out, literally at the last minute, and beat his qualifying speed of 223.892 miles an hour.
All Tracy – and his KV Racing Technology team (Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser) – had to do was sit there. If somebody did bump him out, then that bridge would have to be crossed. But, meantime, to repeat, he was in.
For some inexplicable reason, the team withdrew Tracy’s car and sent him out in hopes of him turning a faster speed, which would improve his starting position and remove any possibility of him being bumped.
But try as he might, he couldn’t get his car going fast enough to even match his previous speed. When qualifying ended at 6 p.m., Tracy was out.
Saavedra is an incredible story. The Indy Lights driver (that’s correct; he plays in the minors and was taking a one-off shot at the big leagues) was in the hospital after crashing earlier in the day. His team owner called him there and told him he's going to race in the Indy 500.
And why was that? Because his team – Brian Herta Motorsport – left his car in the field and waited for him to be bumped out.
It didn’t happen. So Sebastien Saavedra is in the Indy 500 with an average qualifying speed of 223.634 mph while Paul Tracy is out with a qualifying speed of 223.892.
As a friend of mine said, "you should never take points off the board."
In this case, you should never take a qualified car out of the Indy 500.
But KV Racing Technologies did and Paul Tracy and Canadian auto racing fans are the poorer for it.
There will still be a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, when Honda Canada will announce that it will sponsor Tracy in this year’s Honda Indy Toronto and Honda Indy Edmonton.
But Tracy’s chances in future of attracting serious sponsorship money (Geico Insurance, in this instance) for big races like the Indy 500 and/or a full season on the Indy car circuit have been seriously hurt by this disaster.
It’s really too bad. It's not the way for a great champion to go out.
Here is the transcript of the press conference he attended shortly after qualifying ended:
THE MODERATOR: Can you tell us how you feel?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I mean, obviously I'm a little bit numb right now, disappointed. We were on track, and we were trying to do it. And it's harder to walk away, you know? The team did everything they could. I drove the wheels off it. And I don't know what to say.
THE MODERATOR: We saw you drive the wheels off of it. The effort was there. Open it up to questions.
Q. Paul, when the decision is made to pull out a qualified car, you're in the car, do you have any idea what's going on, or do you know you just gotta go?
PAUL TRACY: It's time to go. It's time to go. And the frustrating part for us is that the speed was in the car, at various times of the day. It was all week the car was 225s, 226. Two days ago we were second quickest on the track.
You know, we ran a 225 this morning. And when the temperature came up, we lost the handle on the car and couldn't get it back. And it wasn't for lack of trying. We changed a lot of things on the car. We changed springs. We changed dampers. We changed roll centres. We changed aero. It wasn't like we were sitting on our hands waiting to go.
But we felt at the time there we were pretty safe where we were. Turns out we would still have been in. But it's a team decision. And we worked as a team all week, and we made decisions as a team.
And you win and lose as a team. So I've had a lot of wins in my career where we've made calls that were the right calls. We've made calls that are the bad calls.
And I just feel really frustrated for all the sponsors that got on board, GEICO. And this is not a cheap endeavor. And put a lot of work into this and we came up short as a team. So it's frustrating.
Q. Paul, looked like you came pretty close to the wall there a couple of times (trying to get up to speed). Did you actually touch it? We couldn't see from TV if you touched it or not.
PAUL TRACY: No, I didn't touch. I just about touched on every lap. And it was sliding, and, I mean, you guys could see it on TV. I was on the verge of crashing every corner. So I was able to keep it off the wall and not destroy the car.
We've had a tough week, KV. The cars have like I said, in certain conditions it had become very difficult to drive. We had three cars hard into the wall. So I was happy that we didn't end up going on the trailer in a box with a bunch of pieces.
It's how Indianapolis is, you know? Some of the greatest drivers have not made it.
THE MODERATOR: Paul, I applaud you for coming in. It means a lot to us.
PAUL TRACY: Thank you, guys.