If anyone knows about about being hated within the IndyCar paddock, it’s Paul Tracy.
The 2003 CART champion found himself in the center of more feuds — often of his own making — during his time in CART, Champ Car and the IndyCar Series than any of his peers. If it wasn’t taking out a teammate like Dario Franchitti or waging a years-long war with key rival Sebastien Bourdais, the ‘Thrill from West Hill’ was developing his persona as IndyCar’s biggest bad guy while motoring to 10th on the all-time win list.
After watching Alexander Rossi’s WWE heel turn at Mid-Ohio within the Andretti Autosport team, the former king of open-wheel controversy weighed in on the ugly scene where bitter rivals-turned-teammates Rossi and Romain Grosjean clashed twice before Grosjean knocked Andretti’s Colton Herta off the road and Rossi banged wheels with Andretti rookie Devlin DeFrancesco while carrying out an aggressive pass.
“If I put my entertainer’s hat on or promoter’s hat, I think it’s great,” Tracy told RACER on the way to this weekend’s SRX race in Nashville. “I think it’s great for the series. I think it’s great to promote it going into the next race, if IndyCar’s smart to capitalize on that. I don’t think there’s going to be any repercussions going forward, but it’s certainly something they can use to generate some hype for the next few races coming up.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that Rossi and Romain don’t get along at all. It goes back before they were teammates. The two are very different personalities. Rossi’s very dry, very sarcastic, a little standoffish, one of those kinds of guys who is not super friendly…unless you’re in his circle, and the bottom line is Romain has rubbed a lot of people raw this year. There’s been a few people that have been upset with him over his driving conduct. He seemed to brush it off as, ‘Too bad; this is the way I drive,” so it was like trouble was brewing.”
As expected, the 53-year-old Canadian has firm views on what took place in the Rossi vs Grosjean incidents that don’t necessarily tow the popular opinions that have been expressed.
“Now I think that first accident with Rossi [having] Romain going down the outside and trying to take a guy around the outside of the Keyhole — you’re leaving yourself in a very vulnerable position to be pushed off track,” he said. “I think Rossi took the opportunity to run him wide and not give him any room, so I can’t say it’s all on Rossi, because, if you take the chance on the outside and put yourself in the vulnerable position, you can’t expect anybody to leave you tons of room.
“Now the second one when they collided and it knocked the wheel out of Rossi’s hands — Rossi didn’t have any control over what was going to happen after that, and then everything just unraveled from there. I don’t know what happened with these guys’ psyches after that. They both lost their minds. Rossi probably got yelled at on the radio, but I think they just lost their minds.”
Tracy was teammates with Andretti for the first tine in 1995 at Newman/Haas Racing and again in the later stages of their careers in the early 2000s at Team Green. Although Andretti is far from a Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi in terms of ruling his team with an iron fist, Tracy believes the racing team mogul will be able to keep his drivers under control and avoid more implosions at the upcoming races.
“Michael is a pretty serious character when he has team meetings,” Tracy said. “If I was a young driver driving for him, he would be certainly somebody that I would not look at and say, ‘Yeah, whatever, dude.’ I would think that he would command some type of some type of respect within the drivers, but, you know, the tempers got out of control, so he’s got to stay on top of that, which I think he can. If he doesn’t, it could get real ugly, real fast.”
With Rossi headed out the door to Arrow McLaren SP after the next eight races are run, Tracy wonders if the tense post-Mid-Ohio situation between Rossi and Grosjean will also coincide with the Andretti team taking a different approach to how the final two months of his time with the outfit will be managed.
“The dynamic is a very odd situation there now at Andretti, because you’ve got Rossi — who still wants to win and his crew guys still want to win — but the team knows going forward that it has to protect their technology because he’s leaving,” he said. “So they’re not going to tell him everything that’s on the car; they’re not going to share all the information with him because he’s going he’s going somewhere else.
“He’s leaving now, not only going to a different team but also a different engine manufacturer, so you’ve [also got] the dynamic of him understanding what Honda is doing going forward. That’s all going to be protected from Alex. I’ve been in that situation before. When you’re in that situation, you just want to win races. I would imagine you’re gonna start to feel like, ‘I’m not getting everything that everybody else is getting because they’re withholding it from me because I’ve signed somewhere else,’ so you run the risk of seeing him driving out of anger or frustration that could start right now.”
The loss of Andretti’s two longest-tenured veterans in back-to-back seasons with the semi-retirement of Marco Andretti and the decision to jettison Ryan Hunter-Reay in favor of Grosjean has taken two of the team’s strongest intra-squad leaders and voices out of play. In their absence, a void has been created where, coincidentally, the team has been largely ineffective and rudderless on many occasions.
Displaced by Arrow McLaren SP in IndyCar’s “Big Three” teams, Andretti Autosport finds itself in need of rebuilding a team-first mentality among its drivers in the same way that Penske, Ganassi, and AMSP have used the same to such great effect. Whether it’s the current roster or the next evolution that’s coming when Rossi is replaced by Kyle Kirkwood, the situation would certainly be improved if one of the drivers stood up to hold each other accountable and root out the me-first mentality that broke free and tore through the team at Mid-Ohio.
“RHR was [that] kind of guy for them and I think Marco had an influence on that, too,” Tracy said. “But the lack of [a] good, reliable guy that everybody gets along with on the team is not there right now. Devlin — he’s a rookie; he’s still trying to figure all of this out, so that’s not [the role for him to be in] and he’s had his own issues trying to get past a lot of people who are upset with him because he’s had some incidents.
“Colton seems to get along with just about everybody, but he’s another guy who’s a little bit dry and a little bit quiet, so that’s not really his personality, I don’t think. The trouble spot there is the two big personalities in the team are Romain and Alex, so I can’t see a real fix for the problem until Rossi’s gone, but then who steps up to be that guy? It might just end up all on Michael’s shoulders unless Romain or Colton decide they want to be the big dog in the team.”