Roger Penske’s IndyCar team has been off its game in recent months.
Will Power and Helio Castroneves swept the opening four races of the season for Penske but over the last three months the team has failed to win. That is, until Helio Castroneves drove a smart to race at Edmonton last Sunday to score his second win of the year, with team-mate Power coming through from a midfield starting position to finish a strong third. The result means Castroneves has moved past Power for second in IndyCar’s championship battle with both making some ground on point leader Ryan Hunter-Reay who finished eighth in Edmonton.
Castroneves started fifth at Edmonton’s rough airport circuit and ran fourth in the early going, running on Firestone’s hard tyres while most of the other leaders were on the softer compound. Castroneves also resisted using any of his ‘push-to-pass’ squirts, saving them for the race’s late stages. Changing to soft tyres during the first round of pitstops, Castroneves passed Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti in quick order, then beat early leader Alex Tagliani out of the pits from the second and final round of pitstops.
Driving faultlessly despite constant pressure from Sato over the final laps Castroneves came through to win by a few car lengths, making the Brazilian a serious championship contender. It was the 27th win of Castroneves’s IndyCar career, moving him into a tie with Johnny Rutherford for twelfth on IndyCar’s all-time winners list. Castroneves has been racing Indy cars for fifteen years – thirteen of them with Penske -but despite winning three Indy 500s he’s never won a championship.
Team-mate Power drove an excellent race to finish third after starting seventeenth, following a ten position grid penalty imposed for an unauthorised engine change. This was Power’s best result since winning his third race of the year in San Paulo at the end of April. “It’s great to have a good day,” Power remarked. “We haven’t had that for a long time. We passed cars and had a lot of fun. Helio did a good job and we’re definitely tightening up the championship.”
Sato has been very competitive in many races this year, his first with Bobby Rahal’s team, and finishing second in Edmonton was his best result in three years of IndyCar racing. “After a couple of difficult races we’ve come back strong, showing our determination,” Sato grinned. “I’m just so happy for the boys and for myself.”
Hunter-Reay qualified on the pole in Edmonton but, like Power, Scott Dixon and a few others, the championship leader had to accept one of those dreaded ten-place penalties for changing an engine before IndyCar’s mileage limit. Hunter-Reay made progress but nothing like that of title rival Power. Ryan eventually finished seventh behind Graham Rahal, Tagliani and Dario Franchitti. After winning the previous three races it was a little disappointing for Hunter-Reay.
“It wasn’t very spectacular,” Hunter-Reay shrugged. “Finishing seventh when two of the guys you’re fighting for the championship finish on the podium is not very satisfying. But we have a lot of racing to go and we need to be strong across the board. This was definitely a bit of a bruise today, but it didn’t knock us down by any means. Congratulations to Helio and Penske on the win, but I guarantee you it’s going to be a tough fight to to end.”
With only four races remaining Scott Dixon is fourth in points, 61 behind Hunter-Reay. Dixon started 18th after the penalty and did a fine job to finish tenth after struggling with his engine which cut out three or four times during the race. Team-mate Dario Franchitti qualified second and started from pole thanks to Hunter-Reay’s penalty. After losing the lead to Tagliani on the opening lap Franchitti slowly slipped down the order eventually finishing sixth so that he’s now eighth 104 points behind Hunter-Reay and seemingly out of championship contention.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the race in Edmonton was refreshingly clean, without a single full-course yellow, a first for IndyCar this year.