WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — If you finish 12th in any kind of sporting endeavour, it generally isn’t considered good form to be celebrating.
Unless, of course, your name is Paul Tracy and your first qualifying effort in almost a year in an IZOD IndyCar event is way beyond even the most optimistic expectations.
Tracy stunned observers at the Camping World Grand Prix on Saturday at Watkins Glen International by making it through to the second round of qualifying with a time of one minute, 30.841 seconds.
That was an improvement of 2.45 seconds over Tracy’s fastest lap in practice on Friday.
Such a huge jump under similar conditions a day apart on a road course like Watkins Glen isn’t unheard of, but it is certainly rare.
Tracy tried valiantly not to act surprised, but he admitted he was “very” happy at what he was able to accomplish in such a short time in the No. 24 Dreyer and Reinbold Dallara.
A week ago, the 41-year-old Scarborough native wasn’t even listed in the starting lineup.
His first start of the 2010 season was to be at the Honda Indy Toronto July 18, but when Dreyer and Reinbold went looking for a driver to fill in for the injured Mike Conway, Tracy’s name, with sponsorship from Motegi wheels and the Honda Indy, was thrown into the mix.
“I didn’t come here with expectations of wining the pole,” Tracy said. “But I have worked my nuts off to stay in shape enough to put myself in a position where I can compete with the best. And I think I showed (Saturday) that I still can.”
Tracy’s feat stole some of the limelight away from Penske Racing which will start 1-2-3 on Sunday after Saturday’s qualifying.
Will Power nailed the team’s ninth consecutive pole with a lap of 1:29.316. And to top that off his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves will start on the outside of the front row on Sunday after throwing down a time of 1:29.460.
Third place went to the third member of the Penske powerhouse, Ryan Brisco who turned a lap of 1:29.934.
Power, however, tempered his excitement about wining the pole, warning that without a race win on Sunday to go with it, starting first doesn’t matter much.
“We’re certainly racking (poles) up, but we’ve got to get the race win,” he said. “It’s such an advantage to get a win with the way the points are structured. We’ll focus on tomorrow and see if we can get it done.”
He has a point, so to speak. Even though Penske has won the pole in every race so far in this season, it has only translated into three wins and as a result Power’s lead in the championship standings is a slim 11 points over Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who will start seventh.
Power admitted winning Saturday’s pole was a chore.
“It was hard. I was on it,” he said. “I was a little worried. I was thinking: ‘Man, it’s going to be tough to get pole.’ ”
Meanwhile, Montreal’s Alex Tagliani had an unusually poor qualifying effort for him.
Tagliani will start 19th on Sunday after being unable to advance out of the first round on a lap of 1:31.521 seconds — 2.2 seconds back of Power.
“We feel the pain of having our testing at the Glen cancelled because of rain (earlier this season),” Tagliani said. “Now we just have to regroup and make changes on the car for tomorrow after warmup. We know where we need to be and what the car likes on this track.
“So if we have a good car for the race the rest won’t matter. We’ll have to go out and have good strategy, fight to move up front and have a good result.”
Results: Page S35