Caastroneves leads Sato - IZOD IndyCar Series photo/LAT USAEnlarge Photo
The lack of caution periods stopped 11th starter Ryan Hunter-Reay from earning his fourth race win in a row and put Helio Castroneves, winner of the first race of the year, back in the winner's circle after the Team Penske driver brought his No. 3 Penske Truck Rental Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car to the finish line a scant 0.8367 seconds ahead of Takuma Sato's No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda-powered machine.
Will Power, who started 17th came home third to keep his championship hopes alive.
For Castroneves, this race came down to a call from strategist John Erickson to come to pit road two laps before then-leader Alex Tagliani. "I was a little concerned, to be honest, because I had to make a big 'out' lap," he said. "I was so focused and I forgot actually to use the push to pass, which you could make a little bit comfortable, but in the end what a great strategy."
Battling at the end with Sato, who scored his best Indy car result on the track where he held pole position last year Castroneves said that battle was "actually best because it brings the best out of me so you can't miss concentration - you have to be on every step of the way with every braking point, every downshift… "
This win was vindication for the Brazilian who's finished second at Edmonton three times since 2008 and was stripped of a win in 2010 with a blocking penalty on teammate Will Power after the final restart. It was his 27th career victory, passing Rodger Ward on the all-time list.
Sato's best career IZOD IndyCar Series result "wasn't an easy race. The first and second stints was all about saving fuel but driving as fast as possible. It was a very controlled race for us," the former F1 driver explained. "After May we had some difficult races and came back very strong and made good progress. We'll keep our heads down and do the job for the next four races, which will be very exciting. I'm very happy for second place today."
Power was plenty pleased to race his way from 17th to seventh place, leading twice for three laps. "We made the choice to use the harder compound black tires in the first stint,' Power explained. "We made good ground in the first stint and were able to save fuel and go a few laps longer than everyone." He did the same in the second and third stints as well. "It was a good car we had and a good day all around. If I thought that the race would go full green starting 17th, I would have taken third any day."
As expected, the field was jammed at the beginning of the race with nose-to-tail battles, but after a while became a bit more strung out. Tagliani took the lead at the start from fourth on the grid and held it for the first 25 laps before he stopped for fuel; the No. 98 Team Barracuda-BHA Honda driver would lead the most laps, 49 in the contest; winner Castroneves led the final 22 laps after the round of pit stops and the only other lap leaders were Power and the third Penske driver, Ryan Briscoe, who started on the front row next to reigning champion Dario Franchitti, who assumed pole with Hunter-Reay's 10-spot penalty for an unapproved engine change.
There was plenty of action throughout the field as drivers battled for position, each trying to take advantage of whatever weakness he or she could find in the grueling contest. In fact, there were only three retirements in the race, as James Jakes (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda) went out after 43 laps with a right-rear suspension problem and Oriol Servia's race in the No. 22 Panther/DRR Chevy ended 10 laps early with a clutch malfunction. Rookie Simon Pagenaud was running at the finish at all 10 Indy car events before this one but was spun on the final lap by Charlie Kimball and stalled, unable to make the checkered flags.
There were 19 cars on the lead lap, with Kimball the final car before Pagenaud. The balance of the top 10 included a very happy Graham Rahal in fourth with his Service Central Honda, Tagliani, Franchitti, Hunter-Reay, Briscoe, Justin Wilson's Honda and two-time champion Scott Dixon, who celebrated a birthday today in 10th place.
Hunter-Reay maintains the point lead with 362 to Castroneves' 339, while Power is third with 336 points. Dixon is fourth with 301 points and Hinchcliffe holds 286 fifth-place points. Chevrolet continues to lead the manufacturers' championship over Honda 90-75. The Indy cars are back in action at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 on August 5, with a live broadcast by ABC TV at 12:30 pm EDT.