Paul Tracy with former nemesis now good friend Sebastien Bourdais earlier this year in Phoenix. IndyCar

Paul Tracy has no taste for ‘vanilla’ IndyCar racing, wants drivers to get nastier

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul Tracy wants drivers to get a little nastier.

Back when he was racing, Tracy was famously involved in dustups, notably with fellow drivers Alex Tagliani and Sebastien Bourdais, going so far as to criticize them for keeping their helmets on during confrontations.

Tracy won 31 times in IndyCar and has no regrets about how he handled himself on the track. In fact, the 49-year-old Canadian believes the series’ current drivers are too “vanilla” and “corporate,” unwilling to stir up the rivalries he says are necessary to market the sport.

“I was OK with being the guy that wore the black hat in this series for a long time,” Tracy told The Canadian Press by phone this week.

“That’s kind of what the series is lacking, I think, in terms of trying to promote the series. Everyone wants to be the good guy and no wants to be the bad guy.”

Tracy, an NBC commentator for this weekend’s Toronto Indy, says a few clashes involving driver Alexander Rossi, including one with Robert Wickens, haven’t been properly tapped for their entertainment value.

“(Rossi has) made some aggressive moves, he’s pushed and shoved some guys around,” Tracy said. “But he doesn’t want to wear the black hat. He wants to be a good guy, but on the race track he’s pretty tough.”

Wickens was leading after 69 laps during his IndyCar debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March until Rossi’s attempt to overtake him sent him spinning. Wickens downplayed it all, saying he should have foreseen the maneuver.

A second run-in with Rossi at Road America last month prompted a harsher response, with Wickens calling him “ruthless.” But Wickens maintains that even though they are friends off the track, they don’t need to hate each other enough to have a rivalry.

“We’ve had on-track incidents. We’ve spoken our minds in the press, but we kind of get on with life and move on,” he said Wednesday.

Tracy said he spoke to Wickens last week and suggested that the IndyCar rookie adopt a more vigilante approach to injustices on the track.

“I said, ‘Listen, if you’re tired of getting pushed around, you’ve got to push back,”‘ he said. “Doesn’t matter what sport you’re in whether you’re playing football, basketball or hockey. If a guy is going to shove you around and you let them, they’re always going to shove you around.”

Wickens says drivers today are forced to be a “little more vanilla.” He adds that when Tracy was driving, North American racing had higher budgets and he was given more rope to express himself.

“If one sponsor doesn’t like what you do and they pull out, you don’t have a ride anymore,” Wickens said.

“Back then he had all the tobacco money and they had like unlimited budgets,” he said. “You could be different, you could be the person you want to be. And I’m not saying I’m not the person I want to be – I’m still being who I want to be – I’ve never fought anyone in my entire life. I think I’ve sparred a couple times at the gym with the helmets and stuff on, but I think that’s as far as I’ve ever gone.”

Tracy, pointing to NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Formula One’s Michael Schumacher, insists a driver’s performance alone isn’t enough to generate fans.

“This is more than just racing around the track. A lot of these guys need to realize some of this is entertainment and . you’ve got to play up on that to create interest,” he said. “And I think a lot of these guys just don’t want to do that.”

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.