Indy a good deal for Edmonton

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:54 PM ET

EDMONTON — The Indianapolis 500 has been run. And still no deal has been done.

If it isn’t done in the next day or two, you have to figure Dario Franchitti will be the last race car driver to win the Indy 500 and later the same season drive in Edmonton.

Today would normally be the beginning of the big sell for the Honda Indy Edmonton, launched by the biggest race of them all with the Indy 500 winner and all the top cars and drivers headed here again this year. But until city council votes and a deal is done with the Indy Racing League to keep the event here past this year, it’s a tough sell.

Long-term, big-time Honda title sponsorship has been assured. More sponsorship is supposedly waiting in the wings pending approval. Major financial backing by the federal and provincial governments is in place. A group of business leaders is working on several other value added aspects.

And work has allegedly been done figuring out a way to keep a corner of the downtown airport in play to hold the race, perhaps even with cost-saving permanent stands in place.

But negotiations can’t be completed with the IRL until they get that green flag from city council. And you’d have to figure Edmonton is now down to mere days if this city wants to keep the prize date on the IndyCar schedule.

The Indy 500 is a free four-hour commercial for the two Canadian stops in the series, the July 16-18 Honda Indy Toronto and the July 23-25 Honda Indy Edmonton with their perfect two places on the schedule.

This one started with the Edmonton race getting a huge hit for at least 30 seconds on national TV in the U.S. as a commentator chose to do a pre-race stand-up in the pits of Canada’s Alex Tagliani where the logo of the Honda Edmonton Indy was a prominent part of the backdrop behind him.

The Edmonton race received a big boost this year with the surprise of Canada’s Tagliani qualifying on the second row. While Tagliani, with Edmonton race sponsorship on the car, moved up to third at one point, he ended up finishing 10th.

Franchitti, the personable Scotsman, was a popular second-time Indy 500 winner and the sight of his wife Ashley Judd running down pit row in her bare feet to greet him will be remembered from this race as vividly as her husband.

The horrendous crash at the end of the race involving Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay was one of the most spectacular in Indy 500 history. Like it or not, that crash will sell more tickets for the rest of this season than the man who won the race.

But there is more involved in watching the Indy 500 when you are from a city with an annual race in the series because you’ve shared moments and know the stories of so many of the people involved.

Everybody who watched Tony Kaanan here last year had to be riding with him as he made his remarkable run from 33rd, last on the starting grid, to second place ahead of all the Penske cars, until he had to pit for a splash of fuel late and ended up 11th.

Here, last year, the teams of the three Penske cars saved the skin, if not the life, of Kanaan. When Kanaan’s car caught fire leaving his pit area, the Penske crews came over the wall to extinguish the fire and pull Kanaan out of his car before suffering more than minor burns to his hands and chin.

To watch 2006 Edmonton race winner Justin Wilson lead 11 laps late (second most to Franchitti) and end up seventh with Edmonton defending champion and series leader Will Power eighth, Tagliani 10th and Graham Rahal 12th also provided rooting interests dating back to the ChampCar Series races.

Owner Dale Coyne, ending up in third with Alex Lloyd behind the wheel proved to be the same sort of story. Coyne came here as a small-time operation when Edmonton took over the ChampCar series stop from Vancouver.

You even had rookie Ana Beatriz who raced in the Indy Lights series undercard event here last year. As a rookie, she drove a solid race, finishing 21st.

And, hey, Danica Patrick was sixth. With the way the sport’s top ticket seller struggled going into Indy, that doesn’t hurt the series either.

The series point standings became much closer with Power (227), Franchitti (216), Scott Dixon (203) and Helio Castroneves (199) now all bunched up.

But none of it matters much unless there’s word sooner than soon that there’s IndyCar racing again here next year.


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