Paul Tracy clinches CART championship

After 13 years and several near misses, Canadian Paul Tracy is the king of CART.

Even though rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay won the race at Surfers Paradise, Australia and Tracy finished 13th, the Toronto native won the 2003 CART drivers' championship Sunday when Bruno Junqueira, his closest challenger, crashed out of the Gold Coast Indy with 10 laps to go.

Junqueira trailed the Canadian by 28 points in the standings coming into Sunday's race, meaning he had to pick up at least seven points to remain alive in the hunt for the drivers' championship and keep the title race going until next week's final race.

"I guess this is the way God planned it out to be," said Tracy, the first Canadian to win the championship since Jacques Villeneuve of Iberville, Que., did it in 1995. "I thought it was going to be a battle to the end of the season."

"I just have to thank the team. They got the car running again and, you know, the job they've done for me this year . . . you can see how happy the guys are, they've worked so (hard)."

Hunter-Reay beat out English driver Darren Manning by 1.546 seconds for his first CART win in a race that featured crashes on the first turn and a severe hailstorm that forced a 75-minute delay and the race to be shortened to 47 laps from 65.

Jimmy Vasser was third, followed by a Michel Jourdain Jr., who led the race briefly with 20 laps to go. Patrick Carpentier of LaSalle, Que., was fifth.

Tracy, starting from the second row, was involved in an accident with three other cars and fell behind midway through the race.

Junqueira's teammate and pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais clipped Tracy's car, causing him to spin out and fall back.

After the delay due to the hail, Junqueira was leading and Tracy was in ninth, but the action the yellow flags came out again after two drivers hit a wet spot and spun out. Moments later Tracey was involved in the three-car accident that included Roberto Moreno, and the caution was out yet again.

Tracy pitted to have some repairs done, but his car sustained suspension damage when he tried to drive off and accidentally hit fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani's car. As a result, Tracy was in the pits for about 10 minutes.

"I thought it was just all starting to fall apart for us," Tracy said. "You know, things can change so quickly and momentum swings in a different direction so quick and I thought it was over for us."

"And then when I saw Bruno was out I just started to cry in my helmet."

with files from CP Online