Tracy wins attrition-filled CART race

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Paul Tracy drove from 17th to victory on Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in California, pulling away at the end for the 16th victory of his CART FedEx Series career.

It was the farthest back a winner has started on a temporary street circuit since Al Unser Jr won from 19th in 1986 on the old downtown course in Miami.

"That's two races now we've started in the back, but there's no panic on Team Kool Green," Tracy said. "Starting 17th, the plan for us was just to stay alive and not get in a wreck."

It worked for the 31-year-old Canadian as he avoided most of the trouble that knocked out all but 12 of the 25 starters in the 82-lap event race.

Tracy's closest call came in the pits on lap 11 when several of the drivers made their first stops during the first of six caution periods on the 1.968-mile (3.166-kilometre), 11-turn circuit.

Michael Andretti darted out of his pit just ahead of Tracy, who bumped the rear of Andretti's car. But neither sustained any serious damage.

"After that, we hooked up with Michael and came up through the field," Tracy said.

With teams trying a variety of fuel strategies on the tight course, team owner Barry Green's crew chose to go with three pit stops and watch the race unfold. It worked as Tracy took over lead on lap 62, passing rookie Takuya Kurosawa, the first Japanese driver ever to lead a CART event.

With most of the contenders, including Andretti, falling out with mechanical problems or getting caught up in accidents, Tracy was able to run to the end without much pressure.

Helio Castro-Neves and 1996 Long Beach winner Jimmy Vasser had an intense battle for second over the final 18 laps, with Castro-Neves holding him off by half a car length for second.

"I know Helio was having trouble with his tires going away and with fuel, but he did a good job of holding me off," said Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, whose Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team had won the last four Long Beach races.

Castro-Neves, a 24-year-old Brazilian in his first year with Marlboro Team Penske, matched his career-best finish for the third time as he crossed the finish line 3.191 seconds behind Tracy's Reynard-Honda. That showing came despite a mid-race penalty for exceeding the 50 mph (80 kph) speed limit on pit road that sent him to the rear of the field.

"It was really, really tough. We knew it would be close (on fuel)," Castro-Neves said. "The crew said, 'Let's cross the fingers and see what's going to happen."'

Rookie Alex Tagliani finished a career-best fourth, followed by Bryan Herta, who got his ride with Walker Racing when rookie Shinji Nakano was injured on March 30 in a testing accident in Milwaukee.

Oriol Servia, another rookie, finished sixth, followed by pole-winner Gil de Ferran, Mark Blundell and Roberto Moreno, the last driver on the lead lap.

De Ferran, who has led this race more than anyone else over the last six years without getting to victory lane, led until he pitted for the first time on lap 30. Castro-Neves' teammate never got back to the lead.

Max Papis, who won the season-opener last month, never led and wound up finishing only 44 laps after sliding into a tire barrier.

Last year's winner and the defending series champion, Juan Montoya, also failed to finish, completing just 50 laps before his engine failed.

Both Andretti and Newman-Haas Racing teammate Christian Fittipaldi had engine fires that ended their race day. Fittipaldi's car burst into flame as he sat on pit road on lap 48.

The Brazilian driver scrambled from the cockpit, jumping to the pavement where he stepped on an air jack, twisting his ankle. That was the only injured reported in the race.

Results from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach CART FedEx Championship Series race, with starting position in parentheses, driver, nationality, type of car, laps completed and reason out, if any:

1. (17) Paul Tracy, Canada, Honda Reynard, 82. 2. (9) Helio Castro-Neves, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 82. 3. (2) Jimmy Vasser, United States, Toyota Lola, 82. 4. (11) Alex Tagliani, Canada, Ford Reynard, 82. 5. (5) Bryan Herta, United States, Honda Reynard, 82. 6. (21) Oriol Servia, Spain, Toyota Reynard, 82. 7. (1) Gil de Ferran, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 82. 8. (20) Mark Blundell, Britain, Mercedes Reynard, 82. 9. (8) Roberto Moreno, Brazil, Ford Reynard, 82. 10. (16) Mauricio Gugelmin, Brazil, Mercedes Reynard, 81. 11. (22) Michel Jourdain Jr., Mexico, Mercedes Lola, 81. 12. (25) Luiz Garcia Jr., Brazil, Mercedes Reynard, 75. 13. (23) Takuya Kurosawa, Japan, Ford Lola, 74, contact. 14. (14) Michael Andretti, United States, Ford Lola, 73, fire 15. (18) Noberto Fontana, Argentina, Toyota Reynard, 65, contact. 16. (15) Tony Kanaan, Brazil, Mercedes Reynard, 53, contact. 17. (7) Kenny Brack, Sweden, Ford Reynard, 53, contact. 18. (13) Christian Fittipaldi, Brazil, Ford Lola, 48, fire. 19. (3) Juan Montoya, Colombia, Toyota Lola, 48, mechanical. 20. (6) Max Papis, Ford Reynard, 39, contact. 21. (10) Memo Gidley, United States, Ford Reynard, 37, mechanical. 22. (24) Gualter Salles, Brazil, Ford Lola, 34, mechanical. 22. (19) Dario Franchitti, Scotland, Honda Reynard, 23, contact. 23. (4) Adrian Fernandez, Mexico, Ford Reynard, 10, contact. 25. (12) Cristiano da Matta, Brazil, Toyota Reynard, 10. mechanical.


Race Statistics

Time of race: 1 hours, 57 minutes, 11.132 seconds. Margin of victory: 3.191 seconds. Winner's average speed: 82.626 mph (132.945 kph). Caution periods: 6 for 20 laps. Lead changes: 6 among 6 drivers. Lap leaders: De Ferran 1-30, Moreno 31-33, Gidley 34-34, Andretti 35-47, Moreno 48-54, Kurosawa 55-61, Tracy 62-82. Series points leaders: Tracy 34, Vasser 26, Papis 20, Moreno 20, deFerran 18, Castro-Neves 16, Tagliani 16, Herta 10, Servia 8.