[Images: Robert Laberge, Streeter Lecka/Getty Images, Frank Gunn, Adrien Veczan/AP]
With Justin Wilson starting on pole, it reminded fans that there are some competitive teams besides the Penske/Ganassi/Andretti juggernaut. If Wilson were to bring home the win, it would be just the fifth victory outside those top three teams in the past 43 races, however, although the third by Justin. He had won races last year and in 2008 with two different teams – Newman/Haas and Dale Coyne. This year, he is running with Dreyer & Reinbold, and despite it being his third different team in as many years, Wilson is showing he is a tough competitor with good speed and great technical knowledge and ability.
Another driver hoping to make it tough for the big three was Paul Tracy, the local boy whose dad actually painted the CN Tower looming in the distance. He was starting near the end of the field in 24th, but Paul had won here in Toronto twice before and hoped his experience might help move him up through the pack by the end of the day. Tracy actually decided to start from the pits rather than dice with everybody at the back on that first lap, where things can always get messy. In fact, when honorary starter Greg Kinnear waved the flag to start the race, Dan Wheldon was the first to find out how bad that traffic can be, as he was clipped sticking his nose in where it didn't belong and had to pit to swap in a fresh one.
Within a handful of laps, Tracy was already up to 18th, closing in on Tomas Scheckter for 17th. On Lap 10, the stewards waved the flag on Milk-And-Donuts, sending the perpetually slow driver into the pits to see if something could be done to get her back above the minimum race speed and thereby reduce the likelihood that somebody else might get sidelined as well trying to negotiate the rolling chicane that is Milka Duno. On Lap 17, Takuma Sato was taken out by his KV Racing teammate, Mario Moraes, going into Turn 3, bringing out the first full-course yellow of the race and launching the first round of pit stops. It was a madhouse in the pits and several drivers came out of it moving several positions up or down the running order.
Going back to green on Lap 22, it was now Tracy, Vitor Meira, Castroneves, Franchitti, Power, Wilson, Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Dixon and Briscoe in the top ten slots, although Tracy and Meira had opted to stay out during the yellow. As the field got back up to speed, Helio had a ton of momentum going and got caught off-guard when Meira braked early, running up and over Vitor's rear tire and launching the Number 3 car into the wall and into a long skid into the tires at the runoff outside Turn 3 – the same spot Taku had just gone into to bring out the previous yellow. Tracy was still up front, stretching his fuel even further by running so many laps under yellow, but it was going to be tough to keep that position as his tires were now just about gone.
At the restart on Lap 32, Dario was able to get by Tracy, whose strategy was to get ahead of the field by staggering his stops. A few cars back, Mario Moraes dove below a couple of cars going into – you guessed it – Turn 3, T-boning Mario Romancini and bringing out yet another full-course yellow. It was hard to say who had caused more damage so far, Moraes or Vitor Meira. Tracy finally pitted, falling back to the back of the pack again as the field was still bunched under yellow. A green-flag stop would have given him a chance to come out mid-pack or better in the stretched-out field, but c'est la vie
Back to green on Lap 36, it was now Franchitti (whose Target car was a rather disorienting green
for this race), Power, Wilson, Hunter-Reay, Kanaan (whose 7-11 car was a rather disorienting blue
for this race), Dixon, Briscoe, Andretti, Patrick and Tagliani first to tenth. Thankfully, everybody seemed to have figured out how to get back to racing without crashing on the first green lap. Tracy was back in 19th, just ahead of Meira and Moraes, who had been given a drive-thru penalty for his aggressive driving. One of the coolest new in-car camera positions we've seen in a long time was being used by the ESPN broadcast crew, showing the footwell of Danica Patrick's car so we could see her feet in action. Man, can she pump that loud pedal!
By Lap 54, the leaders were closing fast on several backmarkers, many of whom had pitted for the second time already and were coming out ahead of the front three with cold tires and slower lap times. Dario decided to pit rather than try to mess with passing Meira and the others. That gave Power the lead, making him the fourth leader of the day. Power and Wilson spent another lap on track running right up under the tail of the slower cars before they too pitted, but as they came out, the strategy appeared to have paid off – both emerged ahead of Franchitti, although the overall leader was Kanaan, who was yet to pit. When he eventually came in, Wilson, Power and Franchitti were once again the top three.
It looked like we might have a long green run to the checkers, but on Lap 62, Graham Rahal wasn't able to stop going into 3 and plowed into Ryan Briscoe. Oddly, the race stayed green, even though there were large pieces of Ryan's front wing on track and his car was facing the wrong way down the escape chute. The safety crew got it cleaned up and Briscoe was back underway quickly enough that it didn't seem to be a problem for anyone, least of all race leader Wilson, who had opened a pretty good gap over Power and Franchitti.
But alas, a lap later, there was some excitement back in the pack, with Danica sliding under Marco, which disrupted the line of Matos, who was tagged by Tagliani, spinning Rafael into the outside wall. As Matos rebounded a bit, E.J. Viso wasn't able to avoid him and both were out. That was the twentieth on-track incident for the KV team this season. About the same time, Paul Tracy saw daylight underneath Simona de Silvestro going into – yep – Turn 3, but he lost it under braking and stalled his car as it spun. No contact, but it took the crews a while to get him refired and back underway.
The field didn't return to green flag racing until there were but 14 laps to go, everybody fueled up for the sprint to the finish. Wilson was still in front with Will Power right behind him, followed by Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Just past the start-finish line on that restart, Power powered past, however, timing the flag perfectly. This could be a pretty excited finish coming for this, the tenth race of the season...as long as everybody avoided contact.
As you've probably guessed, that was not to be the case. Scott Dixon went into the tires halfway around, and then, even more shockingly, Wilson spun, dropping to the tail end of the pack. He just went in too quickly and lost it under pressure from Dario. And just like that, it was Power and Franchitti by themselves out front, with the hard-luck Wilson bringing up the rear. Dixon pitted with right front damage, and just seconds later, Tagliani and Sheckter collided and stuffed themselves into the tires as well. There were several close calls throughout the field over the final 10 laps: lapped traffic running alongside drivers on the lead lap who were trying to pass for position. It was the best racing of the race, and perhaps even the season.
At the checkered flag it was Will Power claiming the win, with Dario Franchitti in second. Hunter-Reay had taken third, Kanaan was fourth, Rahal in fifth, Danica was up to sixth, Andretti seventh, Justin Wilson, Simona de Silvestro (who was having the race of her career) and Dan Wheldon in the next three spots. While Wilson seemed to have the car to beat all day long, that crucial mistake at the end cost him dearly and handed Power his fourth win of the year, helping him to extend his points lead over second place Dario Franchitti to 42 as the IRL IndyCar Series heads to its next race in Edmonton on July 25.