Just as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I cannot think of the Honda Indy Toronto without remembering the late Jeff Krossnoff; when I think of the Edmonton Indy, my recollections are more lighthearted but just as vivid. The first image that pops into my head is Helio Castroneves grabbing INDYCAR Chief of Security Charles Burns by the collar and shaking him in anger as Burns calmly laughed. If you’ve never seen Charles Burns in person, he resembles a mountain. Had he wanted to, he could have pounded Helio into the ground like a nail with just one move of his fist. Instead, he wisely sat there and let the much smaller Castroneves blow his top.
For those that don’t remember; Helio seemingly had the race won back in 2010, when he was charged with blocking teammate Will Power in the late stages. It was the enforcement of a rule that few understood at the time. Since then, we came to learn (if not fully understand) that drivers had to leave the inside line open and that Helio had violated the rule. Although Helio crossed the finish line first and ahead of Scott Dixon, the win was awarded to Dixon and Helio was credited with a tenth-place finish.
If I need a more “racing-related” image to recall the Edmonton Indy, I’ll go back to 2008 – the first year of the unification between the two open-wheel series. The major victim of the merger of Champ car and IndyCar was that Paul Tracy’s car owner, Gerry Forsythe, chose not to participate in the unified series and did his best to contractually prevent Tracy from participating as well. The result was that Tracy never got another full-time ride again. The only sniff at a ride that Tracy got that entire season was when Tony George gave Tracy a one-off opportunity in a Subway sponsored Vision Racing car.
For his first time to sit in a Dallara, when many of the other drivers had as much as six years experience in them – Tracy qualified sixteenth and finished fourth. I would say that he proved that he could still drive a car at that time.
When I think of this race, I think “rough track”. It is a normal sight to see cars bouncing around the airport layout. I’ll be honest, I’m not that crazy about this course. The street course races in Cleveland and St. Petersburg that also utilize airport runways and taxiways seem to be better suited for racing than this facility. I’m not sure why, but the racing there just doesn’t seem that great. Last year, they reconfigured the course to use a different part of the airport. Supposedly, next year the race organizers are going to have to find another location as this will be the last year they can use the airport.
It seems like this race has always been hanging by a thread financially. A few years back, the race even disappeared off of the IndyCar schedule before being brought back from the dead and reappearing. There has been no uncertainty in the last couple of years, but things sound a little uncertain beyond this year if they don’t even have next year’s location nailed down.
On the track, the big question is; can Ryan Hunter-Reay make it four in a row? The odds are stacked heavily against him, but momentum is certainly with him. Surely he is going to cool off at some point – right? Will Power won this race a year ago, but the pressure is squarely on him to get back on top of the point standings – a place he has been since early in the season. However, neither Power or Team Penske has won a race since April and Power is now down thirty-four points to Hunter-Reay. We are now past mid-July with only five races remaining. With four of those races being street or road courses, one would think that Power has the advantage. But when you look at Ryan Hunter-Reay’s six wins in the IZOD IndyCar Series, three of them were on ovals, two were on street courses and one was on a natural terrain road course. It would seem that Hunter-Reay can perform anywhere and is a more balanced driver than Power. It will be fun to watch this battle unfold in the remaining races.
Don’t laugh, but Helio Castroneves is only twelve points behind his teammate Will Power. He is a healthy forty-six points behind Hunter-Reay, but if Hunter-Reay cools off and Power doesn’t regain his form – Helio could still possibly slip in and steal his first championship. After winning the season-opener at St. Petersburg and finishing third at Barber, Helio hit a rough patch with finishes of thirteenth, fourth, tenth and seventeenth. But in his last four races, Helio has finished seventh once and sixth three times. That type of consistency coupled with one more win could put him in contention going into the five-hundred miler at Fontana in the season finale.
So who is my pick to win Sunday’s race? I’m going with the guy who needs it most and still feels like he won this race two years ago – Helio Castroneves.