EDMONTON – Australian racer Will Power led from the pole and won under a caution flag at the Rexall Edmonton Indy Sunday in a race marred by a pit fire that burned driver Tony Kanaan’s hands and face.
It was the first IndyCar series win for the 28-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, in his first season with Penske Racing.
“That’s close to a perfect weekend – a pole position and a win. I’m just really happy for the guys,” said Power as he climbed out of his No. 12 yellow Dallara Honda.
“When you are knocking on the door every week, eventually you are going to have a win.”
Power finished 1.094 seconds ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves.
Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon was third, 1.321 seconds off the pace, but reclaimed first place in the overall IndyCar driver points race.
The race featured few lead changes and hard-charging one-on-battles for position. Dixon, Castroneves and Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who finished fourth, spent the afternoon trading spots behind Power for 95 laps on the 1.96-mile airport/road course.
Kanaan, the Brazilian driver for Andretti Green, was injured on his first pit stop on the 34th lap when the ethanol fuel pump failed to shut off properly, showering him and his car in fuel.
Kanaan said he pulled out to protect his crew members from a fire, but seconds later his cockpit was in flames. Nearby Penske crew members hopped the wall to spray the car with fire extinguishers and dump a bucket of water on Kanaan.
“I do have second-degree burns on both of my thumbs and a little bit on my face,” said Kanaan, who waved to the fans as he was driven off for medical tests.
He said more tests have to be done and wouldn’t say if the injury will cause him to miss time in the car.
“I have raced with broken ribs and broken arms, worse than that. We’ll see.
“I have never had a burn before in my life. But right now I don’t plan to step out of the car.”
Target Chip driver Dario Franchitti, who was new to the Edmonton track and began the weekend in first place in the driver standings, started and finished fifth.
“We just didn’t really have the pace. It is a physical track. I was pretty happy to see the end of it,” said the 36-year-old Scotsman, who dropped to second overall.
He saved some venom for Andretti Green driver Marco Andretti, who had already been lapped late in the race yet still refused to yield position.
“I didn’t get much help from Marco when I was coming up to lap. I helped him out at Watkins Glen (earlier this month) when I was a lap down and he totally screwed me for about 10 laps. I will remember that one.”
Toronto’s Paul Tracy, in the No. 15 KV Racing Technology car, started ninth, moved up three spots in the first three laps, but could go no further.
“It’s the Penske’s and the Ganassi’s show and I was the first of the rest so I think a pretty good effort,” said Tracy, showing off hands blistered from the rough track and the constant green flag racing.
“There was no attrition today. Nobody made mistakes. There were no yellows, there was no opportunity to make positions.”
Tracy’s KV teammate Mario Moraes was knocked out in the first lap when his car and Tracy’s came together in a fight for position.
“I just feel terrible for that,” said Tracy. “He’s been going through a hard time and his father is very sick and I feel really bad about that.”
Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., in the No. 34 Conquest car, was never a factor. He started 17th and finished 13th and said the car wasn’t running properly.
“We’ve been struggling pretty much the whole weekend with a really unbalanced car, a lack of grip, and that carried on all the way through the race,” he said.
“We were not competitive.”
The race, under bright skies and 26 C temperatures, was one lap away from becoming the first in IndyCar history to run without a caution flag, until Tomas Scheckter hit the wall with one lap remaining.
It’s still the fewest caution laps ever in an Indy race, beating the previous record of two.
The win was vindication for Power, who joined Penske this season when Castroneves was going on trial for tax evasion and there was concern he wouldn’t return.
Castroneves was acquitted, leaving Power a part-time third driver for the team.
Nevertheless, in five races this year, the former Champ Car veteran has never been out of the top six. He took the pole and finished second in Long Beach, Calif. in April and was third two weeks ago in Toronto.
“One thing I have learned this year is just to be patient, and never look ahead because it seems too bad when you think ahead that you might not have a ride,” said Power.
“But I am loving every moment of this.”