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A new Player's on the scene

Team, teammate are new to Paul Tracy, but not the Lola chassis.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- The switch is on for Paul Tracy and the Player's/Forsythe Racing Team.

New driver, new chassis, new engine, new teammate ... new chance at a Champ Car Championship?

"It's nice to come into a change of environment," Tracy said of Team Player's and new teammate Patrick Carpentier. "I know I'm coming to a great team. They finished third in the championship last year. They're very motivated to do well. I'm motivated to do well."

Motivation and results are often two very different things and Tracy, who ran 10th in Friday's provisional qualifying, has a couple of circumstances working against him. Or for him, depending on how you look at it.

First, Player's switched to a Lola chassis this season after running Reynards for the past seven years. There was a brief period before the 1997 season when Player's tried a Lola but the team went back to Reynard by the time the season started.

The biggest difference between the two is the Lola's packaging around the gearbox and rear suspension tends to be much tighter than the Reynard's, which should affect the mechanics more than the driver. Especially since Tracy drove and loved a Lola last season, which may have contributed to his victory and four podium finishes after a dreadful 2001 season.

Tracy, 34, said he feels more comfortable in a Lola and that it allows him to drive more his style. In fact, part of Tracy's deal to join Player's was the guarantee that they would switch chassis this season.

"It's like the difference between a Ford and a Chevy," Tracy said, comparing the Lola and Reynard. "The way they are assembled is completely different. Understanding all the little tricks of how to put it together and not have it fall apart during a race weekend is important. We've only had the cars for two months now and these things take a little bit of time."

On top of that, all CART teams are using the same engine, the spec Ford-Cosworth XFE. That regulation, however, keeps Team Player's chassis change from being a problem.

Because every CART team is using new engines, they all have to figure out how to fit their chassis around it, putting Player's on equal footing with the rest of the field.

None of that will matter if Tracy can't find the form that ranks him first among active drivers in career wins (19) and poles (13). He has finished third in the championship standings three times, including back-to-back in 1993-94, and fifth twice. But he was relegated to 14th in 2001 and 11th last season.

Another change has taken place at chief engineer, where Mike Pawlowski takes over for Kelly Loewen, who departed over differences with team management. Pawlowski takes over this weekend.

Then there's Carpentier, a Player's driver and Tracy rival since 1998, and now Tracy's teammate.

Off the track the drivers are similar. Both reside in Las Vegas. Both enjoy all forms of transportation. Both are driven to win.

The differences come in how they win.

Tracy is more renowned as an aggressive driver; he was banned from the 1999 opener after an on-track incident with Michael Andretti in the last race of the 1998 season.

"It's going to be interesting. ... We'll see," Carpentier said. "Outside the track I think he's a good guy, really calm. We've even been training together this winter. He's kind of the same type person that I am. I think it's going to be a good mix.

"On the racetrack he's pretty aggressive. We drive (differently set up) cars, but we're going to work together. He's very straightforward in telling me what he thinks and what he does with the car, and I do the same thing."

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