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Indy’s rivals gear for weekend race

May 23, 1997

MADISON, Ill. (AP) _ Paul Tracy goes for his third straight CART victory on Saturday, and there are absolutely no regrets the attempt is not coming at Indianapolis.

Tracy is where the real action is, at the new Gateway International Raceway just outside St. Louis. The Motorola 300, set for Saturday, has almost all of the best drivers, all of the best teams, most of the money.

Everything, it seems, but the tradition. Of course, some would say Indy doesn’t even have that anymore.

``They’re changing the thing as it goes along,″ he said. ``It’s just ruining the whole thing. It’s turned into kind of a joke.″

In the second year of the CART-Indy Racing League impasse, Indianapolis has Arie Luyendyk and a supporting cast of unknowns that Tracy likens to Triple A baseball. The Motorola race has the Penske team of Tracy and Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Scott Pruett, Bobby Rahal, Alex Zanardi and more.

Until last week, Indy guaranteed up to 25 of its 33 starting spots to series regulars. It has backed off that stance, but still will require all teams to use chassis and engines built by Indy Racing suppliers, which would force CART teams to either replace their entire fleet or buy extra cars to use only at Indianapolis.

For CART teams and drivers, that’s not nearly enough movement from Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George.

``It’s disappointing, but the guy has made a lot of money and the track has made a lot of money,″ Tracy said. ``He can afford to float the thing until he realizes where the bread and butter is, and that’s having the best drivers and the best teams racing there.

``Hopefully, he’ll come to his senses and we’ll get back together.″

In the meantime, CART and Indy are going head to head, with the Motorola 300 on Saturday and Indy on Sunday. Gateway International has a four-year deal with CART, and if the squabble continues next year’s race also likely will be held on Memorial Day weekend.

The Motorola race will draw a sellout crowd of 45,000, although there are plans to expand Gateway seating to closer to 100,000. Indianapolis, even on a down year, will draw upward of 350,000.

``No one has any pretenses of replacing Indianapolis with any other event,″ said Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy 500 winner who is at Gateway helping his son, Michael. ``Those are not the objectives.

``We’re here because at Indy things are different, and the philosophies are too far apart. We were almost driven out there, only to satisfy one man’s ego.″

Tracy has raced three times at Indy, but he doesn’t miss the so-called ``Greatest Spectacle in Racing.″ He said he’s been too busy trying to stay in first place in the PPG World Series standings, testing wherever he can get on a track between races.

Tracy ended a 20-race winless slump for Marlboro Team Penske when he won the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix on April 27. He followed that triumph with a victory in the Rio 400 on May 11 for his 12th career victory and the 98th for Penske Racing, and has led in four of the five series races this year.

``Even when you’re on top, you still don’t get any rest,″ he said. ``It’s been really hectic. It doesn’t end.″

Drivers were hampered on the first day of practice Wednesday on the 1 1/4-mile oval by swirling dust and slippery conditions. That stemmed from the lime poured on the track to close surface pores after paving was completed a month ago.

But the dust was mostly gone Thursday and speeds picked up 5 mph on the high end just in the morning practice.

``It’s getting faster and faster every time out,″ Bobby Rahal said. ``Every time we run we focus in on more and more solutions and the track gets better and better. You can already see quite a line starting to develop.″

Tracy had the top practice time of the day at 187.539 mph, followed by Greg Moore at 186.696 mph and Andretti at 186.620. Andretti blew his engine with about five minutes to go in the afternoon session, but had planned on changing the engine anyway.

The only crash of the day came when Paul Jasper hit the wall in turn two and spun out during the afternoon practice. He was not injured.

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