[Images: Robert Laberge, Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images, Jeff McIntosh, John Ulan/AP]
Although Simona De Silvestro, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Justin Wilson and Raphael Matos posted times within a second of the leaders, it was Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Will Power and E.J. Viso who made it into the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying – the fastest six qualifiers who earned the right to fight for the pole. Power was the only driver to have made it into that final round of qualifying every race this season, a season that has seen him dominate just about every statistical category.
Besides claiming five poles already this year, Will also won the 2009 race from the pole. It's amazing considering his points lead this year, but Power's first IZOD IndyCar Series victory was that 2009 Edmonton win. Teammate Helio Castroneves was second and Scott Dixon was third in that same 2009 race. And guess who qualified in the top three spots for Sunday's race? Yep – Will, Helio and Scott. Dario Franchitti, who was starting fourth, was hoping to close the gap to Power in the season standings. The 43 point gap between them seeming even greater with Will on pole again.
Good news for the drivers heading into race day was that the stewards finally sat down with Milka Duno and put her on probation for her slow driving. Should she fail to meet the minimum speed standards in Edmonton, it was likely she wouldn't be back anytime soon. Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon got an extra bit of good news as well – Team owner Chip had completed the first ever team Triple Crown when his driver, Jamie McMurray, won the Brickyard 400 earlier in the day. McMurray had won the Daytona 500 earlier in the year and Dario had filled in the middle jewel by taking the checkers in the Indy 500 a few months ago. No other team has won all three in the same season. Kudos.
From the waving of the green flag, the front five got away in order and began to pull away from the pack. Milka was bumped on the first lap and spun off track, ending her day even earlier than anticipated. Another gal having a much better season, Simona de Silvestro, was at the front of the peloton in sixth after working her way past E.J. Viso at the start.
One thing was becoming very apparent – the airport taxiways of Edmonton were not very forgiving. Several small incidents through the field were mainly attributable to the bumpy surface chucking the cars about. An amazing stat about Edmonton is that during the one-minute laps these Dallaras are capable of, the drivers only have 7 seconds of sub 1g running. It's all corners, sweepers, hard braking and hard acceleration. Coupled with the rough surface, there was sure to be some more attrition during the race's 95 laps.
Paul Tracy, the Comeback Canuck, started fifteenth but was up to tenth after less than 20 laps, thanks in part to his usual aggressive driving techniques. Just ask Rafael Matos about those techniques – he got punted off track and went a lap down repairing his car. Another hard charger was Tony Kanaan, who once again had started at the back of the field with no qualifying time and who seemed to pass cars two at a time. At the front of the field, it was Ryan Briscoe who was on a tear. He picked off Franchitti, then Dixon to move into third just as the cars started entering the first pit window.
On Lap 33, the leaders started pitting. When Tracy pitted, it left Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh to fight amongst themseleves, as the three competitors had put on quite a show for the previous several laps in their battle for tenth. After everybody cycled through, very little changed.
Justin Wilson's bad luck looked to continue, as he had a pretty spectacular spin after something in the right rear suspension appeared to break. No contact, but a couple of quick 360s caught everybody's attention. He limped back to the pits and went down several laps while getting repairs. Danica Patrick was a bit luckier in her off-track foray. She lost it over one of the bumpier sections and once she was in the grassy infield, the shortest path back was another 100 yards across the lawn. Amazingly, her suspension seemed to handle it with aplomb and she re-entered in 17th.
On Lap 47, all hell broke loose as Marco Andretti's damaged front wing finally snapped, nearly causing a four-car pileup. Tomas Scheckter's simultaneous car trouble forced him off-line just as the pack of cars was set to clear Andretti. And to complete the trifecta, a few turns ahead, Alex Lloyd was doing his best Danica impression on the turf. Unfortunately, he wasn't nearly as good off-roading as Patrick and his car came to rest in a dangerous enough spot to bring out the first yellow of the day.
On the restart, it was Power, Castroneves, Briscoe, Dixon, Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, de Silvestro, Viso, Tracy and Mario Moraes completing the top ten. The field was bunched up and everyone's tires were cool. It wasn't an ideal situation, especially with some of the backmarkers mixed in with the leaders. And perhaps predictably, this green light session didn't last a full lap. E.J. Viso overcooked his brakes, pushing Simona into the tires and nearly taking out P.T. as he tried to clear the melee. The Pace Car returned and bunched the field once again. A lap later, they were back to green light racing... but not for long.
It's been said that "Yellow breeds yellow," but this was getting ridiculous. Just like last week in Toronto, three successive yellows flew when T.K. sideswiped Alex Tagliani who in turn t-boned Mario Romancini. The replay appeared to show that it was actually E.J. Viso who indirectly caused the incident when he cut across traffic just as the field went back to green. Needing to serve a drive-thru penalty under green, he had cleverly decided to do it just as the field went back to racing so he wouldn't lose as much ground. At the last second, he dove into the pit entrance causing everyone behind him to flare out – Kanaan and Tagliani included.
Lap 68 kicked off the final round of pitstops, and when they were completed a few laps later, only ten cars remained on the lead lap – and just about everybody was on the red-stripe sticky tires for the run to the checkers – except Power. Was he just giving himself a bit of a handicap to give everyone else a chance at catching him? Well, Helio was going to take advantage of the situation if Will opened the door that much. He slipped past Will as they worked their way around some lapped traffic and started to pull away. Scott Dixon smelled blood as well and started to close on Power.
After a nearly heroic run, Simona de Silvestro brought out another caution as her car came to rest seemingly far enough into the infield to be out of harm's way. Perhaps the stewards wanted the field bunched again for the final sprint to the checkered flag. The running order with six laps to go: Castroneves, Power, Dixon, Franchitti, Briscoe, Tracy, Hunter-Reay, Sato, Moraes, Viso, Andretti, Patrick, Kanaan, Baguette, Matos, Meira, Mutoh, Lloyd, Scheckter, Wheldon and Wilson.
The final restart came on Lap 92 and Castroneves tried his best to hold off his teammate. While Will went to the outside at the 100-foot wide entrance to Turn One, Helio protected the inside. Helio got on the power on the exit, forcing Power a bit wide. That caused Will to check up and allowed Dixon to slip underneath Power. Shockingly, the stewards called a foul on Helio and charged him with a drive-thru penalty. That would have cost him more than just the win, so Helio chose to stay out and fight the decision later. It was a close call if you took the rules literally, but on a late-race restart it, was typical straight-up racing.
Dixon headed towards victory lane as Helio spent some minutes "discussing" the decision with IRL officials. The ultimate decision would rest with Brian Barnhart, who wasn't making any quick decisions. It was a terrible way for the race to end, but Dixon certainly deserved some credit for his persistence. Helio certainly didn't deserve a penalty that would have cost him a dozen spots or more after staying at the front all day long. We'll update you with the official results when it's all decided, but for now, it was Dixon, Power and Franchitti finishing on the podium.
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