Tide's turning for Tracy

Paul Tracy leaves the pits after the morning session on Friday. (Pete Fisher/Sun Media)

Paul Tracy leaves the pits after the morning session on Friday. (Pete Fisher/Sun Media)

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:36 PM ET

The Thrill from West Hill, Paul Tracy, looked like the cat that had just swallowed the canary yesterday at the Honda Indy Toronto.

The first practice session of the 2009 event had just been completed and Tracy's No. 15 KVRT Honda Dallara was posted in P-5 -- fifth fastest of 23 entrants in the first big time open-wheel race in this city in two years. It couldn't have come at a better time.

It is no secret that, in spite of his high profile and the world-wide recognition of his skills as a race car driver, Tracy has been unable to find full-time work since the old Champ Car World Series folded its tent and left town.

Worse, he has never really mastered the art of shopping for sponsors. Prior to the recent downturn in both the scope of auto sports and the economy, sponsors always came looking for him.

'NOT HIS FORTE'

He readily admits that peddling himself to the highest bidder is, as the TV ad says, not his forte. So, a P-5 and the promise of even bigger and better things tomorrow on race day have put a little more bounce in Tracy's step.

He is all too well aware that, at age 40, there are more big paydays behind him than in front, but he insists he has at least two more seasons before he contemplates quitting.

Yesterday's results reinforced that opinion.

"I feel back to normal, again," he said.

It probably had as much to do with being on a track that he knows like the back of his hand. But no matter the reason, Tracy, after a spinout at Watkins Glen last week, was happy to take any positives he could out of his performance.

"We used the first couple of laps just to get used to the car and the track again," he said. "We came in (to the pits), put on a new set of tires and it all came back to me."

With his confidence level rising, Tracy is focused on a result that will make it easier for him to lure sponsorship beyond the Rexall Edmonton Indy in two weeks.

Without additional funds, his season likely will end there, so even a top-six finish here will be a huge boost for his future plans.

"I feel like the more time I'm spending in the car, the more I can show my full potential," Tracy said. "I am convinced (the talent) is still there."

One of the things he is counting on this weekend is a payoff for the extra conditioning work he has been going through.

"Doing the race in Watkins Glen (the extra workouts) really helped bring back the muscle memory -- the sore neck, the sore back. Now I'm back driving on a track I know and my muscles are back," he said. "I feel that I'm back in a place where I can compete at a high level."

In yesterday's afternoon session, Tracy dropped to 13th fastest, but neither he nor the team were too worried.

"We used the afternoon practice to work on a race setup," he said. "We still have some rear grip issues to work on, but we'll get another shot at practice (today) before qualifying. So, overall, I'm as happy as I can be at this point in a race weekend."

He may not be the same Paul Tracy who last won here in 2003, but it would be mistake to count him out.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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