Paul Anthony Tracy (born December 17, 1968) is a Canadian-American former professional auto racing driver who competed in Formula One, International Formula 3000 and the CART IndyCar World Series. He is known by the nicknames "PT" and "the Thrill from West Hill". Since 2014, he has been a color commentator on NBC's IndyCar coverage.
Fascinated by cars since boyhood, Tracy raced go-karts at Goodwood Kartways near his hometown until he was 16. At age 16, in 1985, he became the youngest ever Canadian Formula Ford Champion. He was also the winner of the final Can-Am race in series history at the age of 17; in that same race he achieved the record of the youngest winner in Can-Am history. He also appeared in the 1988 Watkins Glen 250km in the World Touring Car Masters, driving a Ford Escort 1600i for Horst Kroll Racing.
Tracy worked his way up through the North American open-wheel feeder series' culminating with winning the 1990 Indy Lights Championship, and in the process set a record for single season wins with nine.
1990: Two promising cameos
In the middle of the 1990 Indy Lights season, Tracy received an offer from International Formula 3000 team FIRST Racing, after team founder and boss Lamberto Leoni saw him race in the Meadowlands round while he was on a scouting trip to find a replacement for recently-released Josephine Aarseth. Impressed with the young Canadian's talent, Leoni saw huge potential in PT, and the latter accepted to drive for the Brands Hatch and Hockenheim rounds only, so as to not disturb his Indy Lights title bid.
Despite the big differences between American and European open wheelers, Tracy did well in Hockenheim, Qualifying and finishing in 5th, finding the high-speed track suited to his style of driving. At Brands Hatch, starting 8th, a rocket start propulsed him up to 5th, but he unfortunately suffered a puncture a while later, forcing him to retire from the race.
1991: Moving to Europe
After Wrapping up the 1990 Indy Lights title, many teams in the PPG CART Indy Car World Series showed interest in the incredibly quick young Canadian. However, they were in for a nasty surprise, as Lamberto Leoni, satisfied with Tracy's performances in his cameos, called him again to offer him a full time seat with FIRST. Feeling adventurous, and sensing this as an opportunity to go to Formula 1, Tracy accepted and moved to Europe to race in F3000 full-time.
Alas, Tracy found it hard to adapt to life on the old continent and in Italy. Completely out of his element, his first 2 races as a full time F3000 driver saw him struggle at Imola and Silverstone, doing no better than 12th at the former, but scoring a top 10 finish at the latter. At the Pau Grand Prix, however, Tracy showed a glimpse of his potential, driving a solid, if unspectacular race and running as high as 5th when, at the tail end of the race, a costly mistake ended his race in heart-breaking fashion.
After even more disappointing performances and bad reliability, Lamberto Leoni had enough and sacked the young Canadian, who returned home ashamed and disappointed, not knowing what to do next.
1991: Test Driver at Benetton Arrows
Tracy would find part-time work as a cashier at a local branch of Tim Horton's during the 1990-1991 offseason, whilst negotiating with IndyCar team owner Pat Patrick for a drive. However, not long after starting at the Ellesmere Road restaurant, Tracy received a phone call from none other than Benetton Arrows boss Flavio Briatore, who was impressed by the youngster during the F3000 Race at Mugello. Turning down a promotion to shift manager at Tim Horton's, Tracy became the official test driver for the team, and he says of his time there that Briatore really showed him the ropes as to how to make his way in top level racing. He also became friends with future world champion Michael Schumacher, whom he raced agaisnt in F3000 in 1990.
For 1992, however, Tracy moved to Brabham to become their test driver. Eventually, the team offered him an unexpected promotion to second driver, replacing the outgoing Roberto Moreno, after the team failed to pay the Brazilian veteran. Making his debut at his home Grand Prix in Montreal, Tracy became the first Canadian driver in Formula 1 since Gilles Villeneuve, outqualifying his more experienced teammate JJ Lehto by over six tenths of a second on debut.
Alas, the Brabham team in 1992 was a fading shadow of the once great team it used to be and was heading for collapse. Driving a slow, unreliable car, Tracy failed to finish either of his two race starts; suffering an engine failure at the Canadian Grand Prix and a water leak at the French Grand Prix.
Tracy's valiant, but ill-fated efforts would all be eclipsed, however, by an event that would cement his future reputation as a hot-headed driver. During Friday Qualifying for the British GP, Tracy was stuck behind the Arrows of Michael Schumacher for two laps. Wanting a clear road to set up the best lap he could register, Tracy became impatient and dive bombed into Copse, ramming into Schumacher's Arrows and sending both young drivers off track. The resulting impact meant Schumacher required medical attention and had to withdraw from the race on Sunday. Tracy was summoned to the steward's office and earned a 2 race suspension from the sport after punching one of the stewards. He was replaced by Geoff Brabham for the duration of his ban but would not return to the cockpit, as the Brabham team had folded and withdrawn from participation after the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Silverstone incident was a huge black eye on Tracy's reputation, and many experts and motorsports publications wondered if he will ever make it back to top level racing following that debacle.
Rest of 1992: Stint in CART with Walker Racing
Having no reason to stay in europe, Tracy returned to North America, where, through his contacts, he managed to sign with Indycar team owner Derrick Walker, who sought drivers to fill up the second car of his namesake team for the Molson Indy Toronto. Happy to be back in his home country, Tracy proceeded to impress mightily in his indycar debut, qualifying 13th and finishing the race in 8th in front of fellow rookie Robby Gordon and two positions behind his teammate and countryman Scott Goodyear.
Satisified by the young Canadian's performance, Walker hired him to driver the #17 car for the rest of the season. Tracy would continue impressing at the Marlboro 500 at Michigan, where he finished behind Goodyear as Walker racing scored an extremely impressive 1-2 victory, tracy finishing in front of none other than Ayrton Senna in the Penske. Two retirements at Cleveland and road america would follow, however, but Tracy would bounce back at Vancouver, where he would finish 8th again as well as 4th at mid-Ohio, before ending his stint with a retirement at Nazareth and yet another 8th place finish at the final round at Laguna Seca.
Following his spectacular part-time stint at walker racing, many thought Tracy would find himself a permanent ride in Indycar, with Chip Ganassi, jim Hall and Walker being rumoured as the strong favorites to secure the young Canadian's services...however, Benetton Arrows boss Flavio Briatore, from out of nowhere, announced that Tracy has Signed a lucrative deal to make an unexpected return to Formula 1 as teammate to Michael Schumacher. It would be later revealed that Briatore and the Tracy family met in secret during the off-season, with the Benetton boss being said to have offered the ontarian family an offer they couldn't refuse.
This news came as a huge surprise, especially in light of the Silverstone incident. Although there were rumours that Schumacher was extremely displeased at this signing, the young German downplayed them, stating that what happened at Silverstone was simply a racing incident, and that he is happy to work alongside PT...