22 July 2011

New Layout, High Tempers Promise Excitement at Edmonton

A week off is not likely to cool the tempers resulting from the highly entertaining (and controversial) Honda Indy Toronto two week ago as the IZOD IndyCar Series continues its Canadian foray, heading west to Edmonton for the Edmonton Indy.
As much controversy as there was at Toronto, with three separate incidents not being penalized (to the chagrin of Tony Kanaan, Will Power and others), it was at Edmonton in 2010 where controversy reigned.
Leading in the closing laps, race officials ruled that then-leader Helio Castroneves came off his line to defend first place against teammate Will Power. Power had to check up, allowing Scott Dixon to pass; when officials ruled a drive-through penalty in the waning laps against the Brazilian, handing Dixon the victory.
Indycar Series 2010 Edmonton Controversial Finish (via Motorsports45)
While Canada is known as a relatively gentile country, fuses were short in Toronto, where Power repeatedly criticized points leader Dario Franchitti for triggering Power's spin on Lap 56. A wreck later in the race had Power fuming with Alex Tagliani, as well. Whether Power has cooled in the time off remains to be seen, but now trailing Franchitti by 55 points in the championship, Power will need to be nearly flawless the rest of the way if he wants to dethrone the two-time defending champion.
A new course awaits drivers at the Edmonton City Centre Airport; with some runways being shutdown, NZR Consulting drew up a new circuit on the airport land, a 13-turn, 2.3 mile course with plenty of opportunities to carry speed into turns and set up passing. Already, Tagliani has predicted multiple wrecks on the new venue. While drivers continue to whinge about the double-file restarts, the fact remains that only one of the several incidents at Toronto was in relation to the double-file restart, coming on Marco Andretti's admittedly shaky move at the end of the race.
Still, with the cars racing in close quarters and desperation growing in the heat of the summer, expect some fireworks at Edmonton.
What to Watch: Our words from the Toronto preview:
After five consecutive races on ovals, we may have forgotten how treacherous double-file restarts on the street circuits can be. Power lost valuable ground at Long Beach when taken out, while contact between cars at St. Petersburg, Barber and Brazil left tempers short.
Midway through the year, you mix in the emotions of drivers who are beginning to feel the pressure, whether to move up through the pack in order to possibly save a job or to challenge for a podium, and toss in the close-quarters of Toronto, it's a recipe for flared tempers and choice words.
'Wanker' qualifies as a choice word, correct? I'd say we pegged that one (about time we got something right this year). The same would still apply this week, as emotions are still high and each driver's level of desperation ebbs and flows depending on their spot in the points.
After a week of coming under fire from drivers and fans for a lack of penalties, keep an eye on race control; an early penalty for blocking or avoidable contact could be thrown to send a message that drivers' complaints were heard and that the stewards are keeping a close eye on the racing.
Who to Watch: A week after blasting Franchitti and Tagliani, keep an eye on Will Power. The Australian is always a treat to watch on road and street courses, but this week, I have a feeling Power is going to push the envelope more than usual. Whether it results in him blistering the field or spinning off course remains to be seen, but his expected on-track battles with Franchitti and possibly Tagliani will be highly entertaining. 
While none of the three are native to Alberta, the home crowd will once again be pulling for James Hinchcliffe, Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani. Hinchcliffe and Tracy were on to solid runs at Toronto before contact hurt both drivers, while Tagliani suffered the slings and arrows of Power after punting the No. 12 Verizon car. To add to the fracas, Tagliani was on his side just laps later, rolling on two wheels along the catch fence following a late wreck. 
Championship Race: Eight races left, and for the first time in recent memory, Dario Franchitti is threatening to make the championship run an afterthought. Franchitti's left front tire helped him turn a 20-point lead into a 55-point cushion over Power in the World Championship standings. While Scott Dixon is in third, 83 points back, the closest battle is for fourth, where Oriol Servia leads Tony Kanaan by a scant 11 points. In fact fourth through 10th in the standings are separated by as many points (39) as Servia is to Dixon.
Franchitti's efforts over the last half decade have the driver climbing open-wheel racing's all-time wins charts in a hurry, and the the Scotsman is beginning to cement a legacy that would put him in the company of some of the all-time greats. A fourth series championship rests in his hands, and were he to pair that with another Indianapolis 500 (he shows no signs of slowing down), Franchitti could begin to make the case for the most versatile driver in the history of Indycar racing. 
Picking a Winner(s): We backed Power in Toronto, and there is no reason not to pick the Aussie at Edmonton. Two years ago, he thoroughly dominated, setting the stage for a full-time ride with Team Penske. Last year, he arguably should have won the race. This year, the angry Power fuels him to the checkered flag.
On the TV: IZOD IndyCar Series continues on Versus this week, with qualifications airing at 6 p.m. ET Saturday night. Versus will bring all the emotion and excitement to air on Sunday afternoon, when coverage of the Edmonton Indy starts at 2 p.m. ET.

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