Tracy's still got game

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

From the couch to the front of the pack.

It was pretty remarkable, actually.

It turns out Paul Tracy is more than just an over-the-hill token Canadian brought here to wave the flag and sell tickets.

Tracy still has plenty of game left, and he proved it yesterday in a couple of blazing practice sessions for tomorrow's Rexall Edmonton Indy.

After not having raced in almost five months, Tracy slid into a car he'd never driven before and finished eighth in the field of 27 drivers - three-tenths of a second behind leader Will Power.

"I was pushing pretty hard, driving out of anger a little bit," said Tracy, who hasn't been able to land a ride this season, but landed the one-race Edmonton gig because of a sponsorship deal anchored by Subway restaurants.

"I couldn't have asked for a better day, to be in the top six, seven, eight, with the level of competition here. Showing up here, no testing, no nothing, me having not driven in four or five months, is a pretty good achievement, I think.

"We haven't done this before and these (other drivers) have been doing it all year. To be in that group of company, I think, is pretty good, because I think a lot of people were expecting me to be in mid-field, in the teens."

Or worse.

There's still a lot of racing left - starting with today's qualifying sessions, but any Tracy fans who were worried that their guy would make a fool of himself here, stumble around the track like Muhammad Ali fighting Trevor Berbick, breathed big gulps of relief.

In between the cheers.

"I talked to a lot of different people,"said the 39-year-old. "Some of them said 'Don't go there, you're going to be set up to look bad.' Other people said 'Come, be a part of it.'

"A lot of people thought Paul won't be competitive, he's been out of the car a long time. I think we showed today that if we have a good car, put me in a good situation, we'll be competitive."

Rumours of his demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

"I've been driving a long time," he said. "I've never been one to take a long time to get up to speed. I can get in a car and bet at pace within a few laps. It doesn't take me long because of my experience level, which obviously helped."

Tracy has never been a poster boy for fitness, but says even though the got up "off the couch" to come here, he's still in racing trim.

"I'm not in my best shape, but I'm not out of shape," he said, adding Indy cars are a little easier on the body than Champ cars were. "They aren't as hard to drive as Champ cars. They're not as fast so they don't have as much down force. Physically, it doesn't break as deep and corner as fast. It wasn't too bad.

"The race is going to be tough, but it's going to be tough for everybody."

The biggest hurdle now is getting the car right. The crew's had very little time with it, and Tracy's had all of one day to get a feel for it.

"The crew did a great job in a very small amount of time to get this car ready. They only had a couple of weeks. It had to go from an oval set-up to a road course set-up so it was missing a lot of the bits.

"I'm still not totally happy with my seat and I'm still getting used to how the car operates and what it's going to take to make it right. We made a couple of mistakes today."

But it was sure fun to be out there again.

"Obviously, I'm a race driver and I want to go racing. This is the top level open- wheel championship in North America. This is what I do, what I love to do, what my heritage is."


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