Hand it to Helio

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Will Helio Castroneves win the Rexall Edmonton Indy?

Hey, you win Indy, you win Edmonton. That's the deal. It's the way it works. Every time.

Okay, there's only been two times. But ...

Only twice before has an Indianapolis 500 winner come to Edmonton to race the same year and both - 1972 winner Mark Donohue in the Can-Am series and Scott Dixon last year - went on to win here. Both drove for Roger Penske, who won a record 15th Indy 500 yesterday.

Whatever, Castroneves will sell tickets - in Edmonton. And in Toronto, where after leaving Edmonton alone as the only Canadian Champ Car event to survive the merger last year, they have a race again.

Northlands spent money to put Rexall Edmonton Indy sponsorship on Canadian driver Alex Tagliani's car for the race, but the race is, in itself, a five-hour commercial on ABC for your event.

It's the big bonus of being on the Indy Racing League schedule instead of the Champ Car sked.

Just as big a bonus is the fact that the Indy 500 winner comes to race in your event. And it doesn't get much better than it being Helio Castroneves with the story he wrote yesterday at the Brickyard.

Castroneves is the highly likable Brazilian who gives himself to the fans like few who have ever sat in a race car. He's the guy who climbs the fence in front of the fans when he wins. He's the guy who won Dancing With The Stars. He's the guy who was looking at serious jail time before being acquitted of IRS charges of tax evasion. And he's the guy, with the season already started, who Penske gave new life by giving him his ride back after the court case, as Castroneves, sobbing, put out after he slurped the milk.

Yesterday, he became only the first non-American driver to win three Indy 500 races.

If you can't sell Castroneves coming here, you can't sell beer at a ball game on a hot summer evening.

Not that selling tickets has been a problem for the Edmonton race, which has been a fabulously well-attended event. It's selling sponsorship that's been the problem.

It's mind-boggling, however, that neophyte Northlands would put single-day tickets on sale before the Indy 500 is even held. Especially when the idea is to sell as many three-day passes in the prime seats as possible until about a couple of weeks before the race.

As for the money they spent sponsoring Tagliani, the Canadian driver gave them their money's worth in performance. After failing to qualify, the move to put Tagliani into Bruno Junquiera's qualified car with Edmonton Rexall sponsorship on the side, paid off in results. Starting in 33rd, the outside car on the back row as a result of the switch, Tagliani ended up in 11th, which made him the highest finishing rookie in the race.

Unfortunately, not for one single second did anybody get to see Rexall Edmonton Indy on the side of the car on the network telecast. And only for five seconds all day did you see the car at all, along with the very first mention of him after he'd made up five spots on the pit stops after lap 110 of the 200 trips around the 2.5 mile track. It was a hurried reference just as they were going back to green. Even in the official results list, where sponsorship of others is listed, Tagliani was listed only as Conquest Racing.

In defence of Northlands, the Tagliani sponsorship included the St. Petersburg and Long Beach events to start the season as well as the Toronto and Edmonton races to come, and that performance makes him much more promotable now.

The only reference to the Edmonton race on the telecast, however, was made by commentators talking about Canada's Paul Tracy, pointing out he'd finished fourth here last year.

Other than next week's Milwaukee Mile, which ABC is telecasting, that was the only reference to any of the coming IndyCar races on the entire telecast.

Tracy was ninth and that's a finish that will make him value-added for the Toronto and Edmonton races as well, not that Tracy needs to be sold.

The spectacular crash involving Vitor Meira and several other incidents had to rev up fans who are attracted to that side of the sport. The second biggest bonus of the day was Danica Patrick proving again that she could run with the boys and finish third.

If the Indy 500 is a five-hour commercial for future races in the series, it's also about an hour of commercials featuring Patrick.

All in all, it was just a great advertisement for the Rexall Edmonton Indy.


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