Long Beach Opener
By MIKE HARRIS
Posted on Sun, Apr. 18, 2004
The Associated Press
LONG BEACH, Calif. - Paul Tracy pulled off a
dangerous move on the first green flag lap of the Grand Prix of Long
Beach, then drove away with an easy victory in the Champ Car World Series
season opener Sunday.
"The car was just perfect all weekend," said Tracy
after winning the Long Beach race for the third time in five years and
fourth time overall.
A crowd estimated at more than 70,000 turned out on
the sunny, warm day and Tracy thanked the fans for sticking with Champ
Car, which survived the bankruptcy of former owner CART and considerable
uncertainty over its future during the offseason.
"We're all here for you guys and I want to thank
you," Tracy said. "This is a great start and we're going to do great
With Newman/Haas Racing teammates Bruno Junqueira
and Sebastien Bourdais ahead of him at the start, Tracy, the defending
race and series champion, wasted little time in making his move.
After the first lap was run under caution because of
a ragged start, the green flag came out for the start of lap two on the
tight 1.968-mile downtown street circuit. Tracy's Forsythe Racing Lola
darted to the inside, fishtailing for a moment before he completed the
pass heading into the first turn, a sharp left-hander.
Except for the laps around his pit stops, the
Canadian-born Tracy led the rest of the way in the 81-lap event, beating
Junqueira to the finish line by 5.681 seconds - most of the last
Bourdais, last year's top rookie, finished third,
followed by Patrick Carpentier, Mario Dominguez and former Formula One
driver and Champ Car rookie Justin Wilson.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alex Tagliani also finished on
the lead lap.
Junqueira, who has finished second in the points the
last two seasons - behind Cristiano da Matta in 2002 and Tracy last year -
was not pleased with giving up the lead to Tracy at the start or with the
new rules that require two green flag pit stops by each driver.
"I knew that Paul was going to try something like
that," Junqueira said of the pass for the lead.
"Unfortunately, the ways the rules are, you have to
play it safe. I caught him twice but, the way the rules are, there is no
race. It was a great crowd today but one thing they didn't see was a fight
between me and Tracy."
Despite the close confines at Long Beach, the race
had only two full-course cautions.
The last one came out moments after Tracy completed
his pass for the lead. In the pack behind the leaders, six cars wound up
crashing as they jostled for position going into the first turn.
Former series champion Jimmy Vasser, Tarso Marques
and rookie Alex Sperafico were all knocked out of the race, while rookies
A.J. Allmendinger, Nelson Philippe and Roberto Gonzalez all lost laps but
were able to continue.
Philippe, 17, became the youngest driver to race in
Champ Car since the series began in 1979. The youngest previous starter
was Michel Jourdain Jr., who was 19 when he first raced in 1996.