While Helio Castroneves’ victory and a tightened points championship dominate the headlines after Edmonton, kudos should be given to a pair of one-car teams that not only impressed, but also nearly stole the show.
There aren’t many times when a crowd can actually drown the sound of engines. But, when Alex Tagliani snatched the lead from Dario Franchitti at the start of lap two, the eruption from the stands bordered on deafening and was, in fact, louder than the engines, with the crowd fully behind the French Canadian driver. Tagliani joked afterward that he actually felt concern for the fans in attendance. “I was a little bit concerned at the beginning because the fans were screaming so much on the opening lap. I thought, 'It's a long race. They're going to be running out of lungs by the end.'”
Tagliani held his lead through the race’s first two stints, leading 49 laps and keeping Castroneves at bay while on the slower, black primary tire (Castroneves was using the softer red tires at that point).
But Tagliani’s day came undone during the second round of stops, when a clever strategy ploy by Castroneves’ team allowed him to beat Tagliani out of the pits. When it was the clear the French-Canadian’s final set of tires was falling off, the goal then became to simply make the finish. Ending the day fifth is a season best for Tagliani and the BHA Barracuda Team, but it looked like a victory was within reach. Still, Tagliani was gracious afterward and confidently believes a win is not out of the question. "I'm so proud of Team Barracuda - BHA. It was our third Firestone Fast Six in a row and I believe we don't have to change anything,” Tagliani explained. “Bryan [Herta] and Steve [Newey] are running a really great team, and the guys are doing fantastic. We had a pretty clean race and at the end, I just didn't have the pace on used reds that the other guys had. Since we switched to Honda, we're showing speed and it's coming bit by bit. We're just knocking at the door and one day it's going to come."
Though he still only sits 18th in the standings, Tagliani and the Bryan Herta Autosport team have dramatically improved since acquiring Honda engines, not missing a single Firestone Fast Six session (as he indicated) and claiming pole at Texas Motor Speedway.
Along with Tagliani, Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato nearly stole the show, making a charge to the front during the closing laps. The Japanese driver made quick work of Tagliani after their final pit stops and quickly closed on Castroneves for the lead. But, with Sato having less “push-to-pass” time at his disposal, he was never able to get close enough to attempt a pass.
Still, as Bobby Rahal said afterward, it was a fine effort that showed improved patience for the aggressive driver and illustrated what the team is capable of. “Takuma did a very good job and the whole team did a good job. It just shows you that if we can help him in the races, the guy has got the speed. It’s just a matter of us collectively understanding the flow of the race. The pit stops were good, he drove well and we’re obviously very pleased with the outcome. It looked to me like Helio was a little stronger than we were under braking. Either he was able to put the power down a little bit better, or something, to gap us enough that we couldn’t really get close enough on the straight. It was a great battle though.”
For his part, Sato acknowledged that the results have not been coming since his near-win at Indianapolis and admitted that a second-place finish will be a good shot in the arm heading into the final four races. “After May we had some difficult races and came back very strong and made good progress and shall keep our head down and do the job for the next four races which will be very exciting. I’m very happy for second place today.”
Though neither Tagliani nor Sato could capture victory, but made it known that they could be major spoilers down the stretch and should not be taken lightly.