Canucks threaten IndyCar elite

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the #06 Sprott Newman Haas Racing Dallara Honda, on track during the...

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the #06 Sprott Newman Haas Racing Dallara Honda, on track during the practice for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15, 2011 in Long Beach, California. (DONALD MIRALLE/Getty Images/AFP)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:47 PM ET

One thing that came out of the IZOD IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was that Canadian open wheel race car drivers are -- and belong -- among the top performers in North America.

How else can you explain that James Hinchcliffe, in just his second IndyCar ride, puts the No. 06 Newman Haas Racing Honda-powered Dallara a breath away from a podium finish.

His fourth place at Long Beach deserves to be celebrated.

And veteran Alex Tagliani, who bears the burden of being part of a one-car effort at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, brought home the No. 77 machine in fifth place in a field of 27.

Then there was Paul Tracy, making his season debut at Long Beach for the No. 8 Dragon Racing team of Jay Penske. While at first glance Tracy's 16th place finish may not look impressive, it indeed was.

After all, Tracy hasn't been behind the wheel of an IndyCar in almost a year -- dating back to the Edmonton Indy last July.

To finish on the lead lap is, in fact, a huge accomplishment under such circumstances.

The performance of all three sets up both the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy -- both temporary courses like Long Beach -- for some great home-grown racing this summer.

Listening to Hinchcliffe after the race, you could just see him licking his chops as he looks ahead to the Canadian events.

"The Sprott car was awesome, it was really consistent," Hinchcliffe said of his Canadian-based Sprott-sponsored car.

"This finish speaks volumes for what this team can do and the car they are giving me."

Except for a messed-up re-fuelling stop, Tagliani could well have left Long Beach with a podium finish.

"We had our share of moments out here," Tagliani said. "We had one refuelling problem. Other than that, I think we executed our race well."

Tracy clearly was using Long Beach as more of a test than anything else as he looks ahead to five more starts -- four with Dragon and the Indianapolis 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

"The weekend as a whole was a warm-up for Indy, getting my head back in the game," Tracy wrote in his diary for Racer Magazine. "Obviously, what we learned this weekend won't have much of a bearing on my next two races -- the Indy 500 and Texas -- because they're ovals. But I think then, my engineer Eric Zeto and the team can think hard about Toronto so we can make a better stab at getting the overall balance of the car right for the different tires."

Finish lines

There wasn't a better feel-good story all weekend at Talladega than Dave (Buckeye Bullet) Blaney driving the wheels of the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Ford. Blaney has been a "start and parker" for most the past two seasons so it was great to see him with the reins off and racing at the front of the Aaron's 499 right up until the final few laps ... Roush Fenway Racing can now set its sights on signing superstar Carl Edwards after locking up teammate Greg Biffle for the next three Sprint Cup seasons. Edwards will clearly br the most sought after free agent this season if RFR doesn't get his signature on a contract. ... As mentioned here last week Scotland's Paul di Resta is turning heads big time in Formula One with his results so far in the Force India Mercedes. So much so that Mercedes racing boss Norbert Haug is singing his praises. "I think it is exceptional and remarkable," Haug told Autosport.com about di Resta's performance. Could the 25-year-old di Resta be a candidate to replace Michael Schumacher should the seven-time world champion not improve this season? ... And his first cousin, IZOD IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, isn't doing too badly over on this side of the ocean either. In the first three IndyCar events Franchitti has a win, a second-place finish and a third-place finish. ... Speaking of IndyCar I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the Penske Racing transporter after the race when Will Power confronted teammate Helio Castroneves. Castroneves punted Power aside in Turn 1 on a restart on Lap 66 costing the Australian a chance at a win.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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