Helio Castroneves denied Takuma Sato his first IndyCar victory in a close-fought battle around the Edmonton airport circuit.
Castroneves and Sato had made the lead contest their own in the final stint, but the Brazilian was forced to work hard to keep Sato behind him. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver was the quickest driver on the circuit toward the end of the race and closed down a gap of more than three seconds to get close enough to have a couple of lunges at his Penske rival.
Both drivers leaned heavily on their push-to-pass during the last six laps, and the defensive benefit to Castroneves was enough for him to secure his second win of the season.
"What a great strategy," Castroneves said of his crew. "Those circumstances are best, because you can't miss concentration, you have to be good at every braking point. I was like, 'Come on Takuma, keep coming.'"
Sato, who still recorded a best career finish and his second podium of the season (third in Brazil), had fewer seconds available in the last stint and while consistently close to Castroneves, he was never able to put in one of his trademark last-minute passing attempts.
"No, I mean, I couldn't push him any harder than that," he admitted. "To be honest, simply there was not enough opportunity. He was obviously saving the tires, waiting for the moment that I'm catching up.
"I had about 50 seconds to of the 'push to pass'; he had about 70 seconds. I knew it was always a difficult battle, indeed it was getting close, but every time he was using it for the defensive. It did work really well. We both drove absolutely on the limit. There simply wasn't opportunity."
Will Power put in the drive of the day to go from 17th to third. One of the keys to his progress was a strategic one; the Penske driver staying out a lap or two longer than his rivals, and gaining an advantage each time. But mostly, he did it by simply being quick – during the middle of the race, he was lapping up to 0.8sec quicker than the cars around him, although his challenge faded toward the end.
The only controversial moment of his day came when Power exited the pits on his last stop, and championship rival Ryan Hunter-Reay felt the Australian had impeded his progress and crossed the blend line directly into the racing line. The move was ruled by race control to have no further action taken.
"It was an awesome day – I passed cars and had a lot of fun," Power surmised. "It's great to have a good day with the Verizon car again. It was still a tough race. I thought in the driver's meeting, if you're not cutting someone off, you can take the apex. Of course, if I was in his position, I'd scream too, if it was good for points. If it was my deal, my mistake."
Graham Rahal backed up his early weekend claims of having a better car than his qualifying performance suggested by finishing 1.5sec behind Power in fourth, ahead of Alex Tagliani.
For much of the race, the Canadian had been in charge. He passed polesitter Dario Franchitti shortly after the start, and continued to lead right through the first two cycles of pit stops. But his speed fell away in the third stint, and with it went his hopes of a win on home soil.
Hunter-Reay overcame his grid penalty to climb from 11th to seventh, finishing just down the road from Franchitti, while the Ganassi driver's team-mate Scott Dixon worked his way into the top 10 after starting 17th.
Unusually, the race ran its full distance without a full-course yellow. Two cars failed to make it to the finish, with James Jakes and Oriol Servia both being sidelined by mechanical problems. A third was nudged on the final lap when Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud collided at the final hairpin, Pagenaud unable to restart. Kimball was issued a 30-second penalty added to his time at the end of the race.
With both Castroneves and Power on the podium and Hunter-Reay seventh, the Team Penske pair each closed to within 23 and 26 points of RHR with four races remaining – the next of which is at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in two weeks.
Results – 75 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy 1h38m50.9294s
2. Takuma Sato Rahal Dallara-Honda + 0.8367s
3. Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy + 5.3697s
4. Graham Rahal Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 6.9481s
5. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda + 15.2358s
6. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 15.8757s
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 21.5357s
8. Ryan Briscoe Penske Dallara-Chevy + 23.5311s
9. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda + 26.3280s
10. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 26.6481s
11. Mike Conway Foyt Dallara-Honda + 27.0458s
12. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 31.4527s
13. Rubens Barrichello KV Dallara-Chevy + 35.1256s
14. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 39.8669s
15. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 40.8154s
16. EJ Viso KV Dallara-Chevy + 55.1028s
17. Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda + 56.0449s
18. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy + 57.0272s
19. Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 1m04.8947s
20. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 1 lap
21. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy + 1 lap
22. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy + 1 lap
23. Simona de Silvestro HVM Dallara-Lotus + 2 laps
Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy 65 laps
James Jakes Coyne Dallara-Honda 43 laps