Harris: New Shape, New Momentum For PT

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 17 2010

Paul Tracy has a new look as he attempts to keep his IndyCar career moving. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Having fought the battle of the (stomach) bulge most of my life, I sympathize with any athlete who reaches middle age and suddenly finds out how the rest of us feel about staying in shape.

Paul Tracy is 41 years old now, approaching middle age and definitely considered elderly in his chosen field, i.e., racing IndyCars.

The transplanted Canadian ace, who makes his year-around home in Las Vegas, hasn’t had a full-time ride since 2007, when he and longtime CART/Champ Car team owner Gerry Forsythe parted company.

When Forsythe chose not to join his Champ Car colleagues in being absorbed by the Indy Racing League’s IndyCar Series in 2008, the always colorful Tracy – super-aggressive on the track and frank and colorful off of it – found himself on the sidelines.

Since then, he has picked up occasional IndyCar rides, that latest filling in for the injured Dreyer & Reinbold driver Mike Conway  on the road course at Watkins Glen two weeks ago. Tracy acquitted himself well, starting 12th and finishing 14th.

Now Tracy is preparing for a pair of important drives with the KV Racing Technology team that could set the stage for a full schedule in 2011 and possibly double as a farewell tour. He will race for the team co-owned by old friend and longtime competitor Jimmy Vasser and former Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven on Sunday in his hometown of Toronto – where he qualified 24th Saturday – and a week later at Edmonton.

Tracy has always stayed in shape, working out and spending hours on his bike. But, knowing he is now racing against drivers half his age, Tracy knew he needed to make a special effort this year.

“Jimmy (Vasser) told me that I can race with kids,” Tracy explained. “But I needed to be shape and losing weight would help my speed with the car. So I began a strong fitness program right after the first of the year.  I admit I was pretty much a couch potato through the holidays.”

Tracy went full out on his new physical fitness program, working with personal trainer Jonathan Vose, who also designed a special diet menu. Tracy rode more than 30 miles on his $8,000 Cervélo carbon-fiber road bicycle each morning and worked with a variety of calisthenics including P90X, sit-ups, pull-ups and stretching.

“I work in the gym in the afternoon after my morning rides,” explained Tracy, who has lost nearly 40 pounds since the first of the year.  “I really haven’t been lifting any weights.  But now I work for about 90 minutes in the afternoon.  I feel much better and ready to race.  At Indy, I was able to ride right with TK (Tony Kanaan) and Vitor (Meira) in training.”

Unfortunately for Tracy, the great fitness regimen didn’t help him make the 33-driver Indy 500 lineup. In one of the most disappointing moments of his career, PT was bumped from the field on the final day of qualifications.

But Tracy was very happy to get some time in an IndyCar at Watkins Glen.

“It was a good experience for me at Watkins Glen,” he said. “We had a huge understeer problem early in the race. But the car was good later and I wish the race was longer.

“I was happy with my own performance – I wasn’t fatigued, and The Glen is a tough racetrack because of all the long corners, and it was pretty hot. But, compared to last year, when I was carrying a thermal jacket of fat, it was a night and day difference for me. I’ve been doing my training in and around Vegas, so I’m pretty used to the heat. It’s been over 100 degrees out there for a while.”

A year ago, Tracy came out of a long, idle period at Toronto and drove from 15th to third with 20 laps remaining. His hopes of a spectacular finish there ended when he collided with Helio Castroneves.

At Edmonton, however, Tracy drove a solid race all day, finishing sixth and drawing raves from the fans and the media.

Now he’s hoping to take it a step further.

“I’m in good shape and feel ready to challenge again this year,’’ Tracy said this week. “I believe we can be right in the thick of things at the end of the race at both events.”

And maybe somebody will be willing to take a chance for next year on an older guy who is in better shape than some of the kids.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 17 2010
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