Champ Car Cleveland: Tracy turns zero to hero

Paul Tracy took his first victory for two years despite crashing twice in the first ten laps of the race.

The Canadian switched to an alternative fuel strategy after his collisions which paid off after a late safety car period.

Robert Doornbos chased him home but champion Sebastian Bourdais had a rare failure on his Newman-Haas-Lanigan car.

Champ Car’s second standing start went exactly as smoothly as the first one did – even taking into consideration the tight first corner at Cleveland.

Pole sitter Bourdais kept the lead from the Team Australia cars of Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. From eighth on the grid Justin Wilson started moving forward, passing Dan Clarke for sixth on the second lap.

Graham Rahal took fourth off Robert Doornbos on the fourth lap but Doornbos tried to defend and broke the rules by doing so. He was able to re-pass Rahal at turns three and four and Paul Tracy tried to scramble past Rahal as well – but thumped into the NHL car.

Both got going again but Tracy ducked into the pits for a replacement front wing as the safety car came out. But when the race got going again on lap eight Tracy tangled with Bruno Junqueira and lost his wing again.

The second restart came on lap ten and this time Tracy kept his new wing clean. Wilson and Doornbos exchanged fourth place but the Dutchman was in for his penalty on lap 12.

Now Clarke was on the move. He passed Alex Tagliani for fifth on lap 15, caught Wilson, and passed his compatriot on the 22nd lap.

Tracy was also beginning to plot a course back to the front. Tristan Gommendy was despatched on lap 21 and Ryan Dalziel succumbed the next time around, Tracy moving up to tenth.

A few laps later the leaders began making their stops but Tracy, having topped up with fuel during his earlier visits to pit lane, stayed out. Team Australia turned Power around so quickly he moved into the lead ahead of Bourdais once all the leaders had pitted.

On lap 36 Gommendy cut the final chicane and spun as he returned to the track. He collected the hapless Jan Heylen and both were out on the spot. The safety car made its third appearance.

It took six laps to get the mess cleaned up, and Power kept his lead when the race got going again. But Bourdais was hunting him down and the gap between them was less than 0.4s when the second round of pit stops began on lap 58.

Tracy made his second stop on lap 63 with half an hour of the race remaining. Now running eighth, he had a chance of making it to the end if there was another yellow flag period.

On lap 67, fortune obliged, offering race control three different reasons to scramble the safety car. Tracy’s team mate Oriol Servia lost his side pod on the pit straight and Clarke spun off while trying to take sixth place off Rahal.

But most surprisingly Bourdais had stopped out on track. He eventually limped back to the pits but his race was over.

Most of the drivers who had pit stops left to take got them out of the way under the safety car – the major exception being Rahal, who was gambling on another safety car period to get him to the end. It didn’t happen, and he had to pit on lap 85.

Power had a golden opportunity to seize the initiative from Bourdais in the championship but his hopes were deflated along with his front left tyre on lap 73. He pitted for a new tyre, but any thoughts of a top five finish were gone.

Rahal had pitted from second but now Doornbos was hot on the tail of leader Tracy. As the last lap began he was within 0.6s of the leader – but couldn’t get close enough to pass despite apparently having over half a minute of unused Push to Pass.

Tracy held Doornbos at bay to take his first win since the 2005 race at the same circuit. Neel Jani was third after a quiet race, with Wilson fourth ahead of Pagenaud. Tagliani, Service, Rahal, Dalziel and a very disappointed Power completed the top ten.

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