Expected winner Bourdais stalls on the 67th lap and finished 12th.
Paul Tracy has never been one to take the easy road.
The 17-year Champ Car World Series veteran overcame two early collisions and went the final 26 laps without a pit stop Sunday to win the Grand Prix of Cleveland.
Most of the 65,000 in attendance at Burke Lakefront Airport were expecting to crown a three-time winner.
Just not the guy who took the checkered flag.
“I guess this is why the series pays me to stay here — to create some excitement,” Tracy said.
Three-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais started from the pole and ran first or second throughout before stalling on lap 67 of the 89-lap race. He had looked in position to add to his 2003 and 2004 Cleveland titles but never got restarted and finished 12th.
“All of sudden, (the engine) just let go, and that was it,” Bourdais said.
Bourdais still leads the series with 117 points but saw his margin narrowed to 3 ahead of Robert Doornbos, who finished just over a half-second behind Tracy for second. Doornbos’ Red Bull teammate and fellow rookie Neel Jani was third.
Cleveland rocks for Tracy
Tracy ended a 23-race losing streak, winning for the first time since 2005 in Cleveland. The hard-charging Ontario native who now lives in Las Vegas is known for his aggressive passes and all-out racing. He also won here in 1993 to join Emerson Fitipaldi and Danny Sullivan as the event’s only three-time winners.
Tracy collided with Graham Rahal on lap 4 and Bruno Junqueira on lap 6, both times losing a front wing and forcing him to the pits. Last year, his car went airborne on lap 1. He was OK, but one of his tires struck Bourdais’ helmet, knocking Bourdais unconscious and out of the race.
This time, Tracy fell as far back as 15th, but the early troubles proved a blessing. He was able to ride out the end while others needed to stop for a final splash of gas.
“My spirits were down for six or seven laps. I kind of stayed in the back and didn’t do anything,” Tracy said. “The team really rallied and said, ‘Alright. Come on. Let’s go.’ ”
Betting on strategy
Tracy took over the lead for good when Will Power blew a tire on lap 75. Rahal then challenged Tracy through lap 86 before running low on fuel.
“I can honestly say our finishing position wasn’t for a lack of effort,” said the 18-year-old Rahal, who wound up eighth. “We weren’t in a position to make it on fuel at the end. It’s unfortunate but that’s just how it goes, so we had to push Tracy as hard as we could. Unfortunately, he had enough gas to keep going.”
Tracy said his tires were weak at the end and he had trouble coming out of the hairpin Turn 1, where Rahal seemed to have chances to pass. The youngster had a different opinion.
“The problem was that once I got behind Tracy, he’s wild and he’ll put you in the fence and doesn’t care about it,” Rahal said. “I had a good move on him, and then he came down on me, and I had to back off. Otherwise, I would have hit him.”
For just the second time in eight years, the field got off to a clean start with no lap 1 accidents. Going from a standing start for the first time in Cleveland, Tracy said the potential for disaster was still there.
“It was pretty close,” he said. “There were plenty of cars with interlocking wheels. A lot of cars were on the verge of running into each other, but they managed to avoid each other.”
Doornbos overcame an early penalty for blocking to earn his fourth top-three finish in five races. The 25-year-old from Monaco slowed in front of Rahal around turn 3, leading to the crash with Tracy.
“When he did that, I had to check up, and Tracy just punted me,” Rahal said. “All I know is that I got thrown up in the air, and it’s a good thing this car is strong, because otherwise we would have been done for the day.”
Still, Rahal battled back, as did Doornbos, who took over second position when Rahal dropped back.
Doornbos couldn’t get around Tracy, though, settling for second.
You can reach Canton Repository Assistant Sports Editor Joe Frollo Jr. at (330) 580-8564 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org