IRL: Round 14 – Rexall Edmonton Indy, Canada – July 26

Any one of a number of drivers cold have won the first Indy Car road course event at Edmonton: would it be the car with the best raw speed? The driver with the most inventive pit strategy? A driver who gets lucky and wins by a fluke? Of the one who goes softly, flies under the radar and suddenly appears in the lead at the critical moment?

The car with the best speed had to be that of Helio Castroneves, who took the lead early on after his team mate and polesitter Ryan Briscoe gave him the opportunity by locking up his brakes on lap 3. Once in the lead, the likeable Brazilian shot away into a commanding lead, emphasising his sheer speed.

Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan took the lead for AGR on lap 22 after Vitor Meira went into the tyres barriers on the final corner and brought out a full course yellow, giving most of the teams a chance for an early yellow – which Marco and Tony declined. Since Kanaan had started from dead last after his engine change following a crash on Friday, going off-sequence was the only chance he had.

Wheen the two AGR cars eventually came to their own stops, Helio resumed the lead on lap 34; and then Kanaan popped back in front again on lap 54. But he fumble the ball by spinning while in the lead and gifting the position to AJ Foyt IV for three laps, which rather ruined his plans.

Ryan Briscoe was the victim of bad luck again when he got clipped into a spin by Ed Carpenter, himself struggling with being overtaken on the inside by Scott Dixon who was working his way up through the running order. He came in for a precautionary pit stop with 37 laps scheduled to run and looked have suddenly been given the perfect position – he was the first car on track with enough fuel to go all the way to 95 laps. Had his misfortune been his making?

Ahead were the drivers who had pitted under the yellow brough out by Townsend Bell’s impact with the tyre wall on lap 49: Scott Dixon, Castroneves, Justin Wilson, Paul Tracy (both showing excellent form here on a course he knows well, having win here in 2006 – for once, the transitition drivers had the whip hand over the IRL regulars), Bruno Junqueira, Dan Wheldon, Oriel Servia and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Behind Briscoe the chasing pack was led by Tony Kanaan on his odd-ball strategy, then the cars that pitted under the final yellow of the day caused by a collision between Graham Rahal and EJ Viso on lap 61 – Viso trying an absurdly late overtakeing move in turn 10 (he got a stop-and-hold penalty for his rash movies, and a barrage of criticism from Rahal in the TV interview.)

Unfortunately for Ryan the situation changed when the race became a lime- limited event, which meant it only ran to 91 laps. That meant that the 8 cars in front of Ryan would be able to make it to the finish without a third pit stop after all. Ryan managed to get past Hunter-Reay and then Wheldon (who was struggling after being rear-ended by Servia in the closing laps), and Junqueira’s dropped off int he closing laps and dumped him down to 14th by the chequered, but Briscoe could do nothing about the remaining 5 cars.

Up ahead, therefore, it had become a battle for the lead between a hard charging Castroneves and Scott Dixon, whose Ganassi crew had performed a minor miracle in getting Dixon out ahead of Helio in that batch of pit stops. Dixon hailed the team’s perfect play”, and there was no arguing: they hadn’t been featured for much of the race, but they had put Dixon in front on lap 62 and won the race in doing so.

Kanaan finally managed 9th, but it appears all is not well at AGR. Twice, his team mates (Marco and Danica Patrick) were instructed by the team to let Kanaan pass because of his different fuel strategy; both times, the drivers refused point blank, Marco even going so far as so say “you tell me to pull over once more and we’ll have a real problem”. Whatever happened to the close-knit driver line-up they had in the Kanaan/Franchitti/Wheldon days? Ironically, Marco proceeded to hit the back of Danic in the closing laps, putting Danica 3 laps down and himself 1 lap down as he pitted for a new front wing. With the quiety spoken Hideki Mutoh crashing out into the tyres on lap 29 it was a pretty miserable day for the team as a whole.

Results:

 Pos  Driver             Team                    Time
  1.  Scott Dixon        Ganassi                 91 laps
  2.  Helio Castroneves  Penske               +   5.9237
  3.  Justin Wilson      Newman/Haas/Lanigan  +  13.4009
  4.  Paul Tracy         Vision               +  28.1462
  5.  Oriol Servia       KV                   +  28.7132
  6.  Ryan Briscoe       Penske               +  36.8816
  7.  Dan Wheldon        Ganassi              +  41.8281
  8.  Ryan Hunter-Reay   Rahal Letterman      +  42.1294
  9.  Tony Kanaan        Andretti Green       +  43.0732
 10.  Darren Manning     Foyt                 +  43.3363
 11.  Buddy Rice         Dreyer & Reinbold    +  48.3526
 12.  AJ Foyt IV         Vision               +  50.1271
 13.  Ed Carpenter       Vision               +  57.5967
 14.  Bruno Junqueira    Dale Coyne           +1:01.1000
 15.  EJ Viso            HVM                  +    1 lap
 16.  Enrique Bernoldi   Conquest             +    1 lap
 17.  Marco Andretti     Andretti Green       +    1 lap
 18.  Danica Patrick     Andretti Green       +   3 laps
 19.  Vitor Meira        Panther              +   6 laps
 20.  Mario Moraes       Dale Coyne           +   6 laps
 21.  Marty Roth         Roth                 +   7 laps
 22.  Will Power         KV                   +  19 laps
 23.  Jaime Camara       Conquest             +  23 laps
 24.  Mario Dominguez    Pacific Coast        +  40 laps
 25.  Townsend Bell      Dreyer & Reinbold    +  43 laps
 26.  Graham Rahal       Newman/Haas/Lanigan  +  47 laps
 27.  Hideki Mutoh       Andretti Green       +  64 laps

Potential winner Will Power (KV) fell out of contention early on with bent suspension – with the same problem afflicting Graham Rahal on the opening lap. Both rejoined after repairs, although Rahal later had that incident with Viso and was out for good the second time around.

Other notable incidents in the race included crashes for Vitor Meira, Townsend Bell and Hideki Mutoh, while both Jaime Camara and Mario Dominguez lost wheels as they rejoined after pit stops under yellow.

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