- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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Over the past two months, Andretti Green Racing's drivers and management have tried hard to dispel the notion that there is friction and dissension in what was once the IndyCar Series' most close-knit team.
On Saturday at the Rexall Edmonton Indy, the stress and unhappiness were clear for all to see.
ESPN's race broadcast reported several times that Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti were asked by the team to move over and allow teammate Tony Kanaan past, in an effort to keep Kanaan in championship contention. They steadfastly refused; Patrick claimed that she lost radio contact with the pits about a third of the way into the 91-lap contest.
Andretti didn't have that excuse. After repeated requests by the team for him to allow Kanaan past, Marco screamed into his radio, "If you don't stop telling me that, there is going to be big problems!"
Kanaan started last at Edmonton due to a prerace engine change but charged quickly toward the front -- until his progress was impeded by his teammates.
Kanaan, who is a distant fourth in the IndyCar Series standings, wound up as AGR's top finisher at Edmonton in a desultory ninth place. Had Patrick and Andretti let him past when requested, TK could conceivably have finished as high as fourth.
Making matters worse for AGR's beleaguered management team of Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, Marco Andretti locked up his brakes and speared Patrick's car into a tire wall with a few laps to go. Given that Danica seemed to have been holding Andretti up for several laps, Marco's move looked retaliatory.
For once, team owner Michael Andretti appeared to come down against his son. Witnesses at Edmonton reported a heated, profanity-laced argument in the pits between Marco and Michael immediately after the race, and AGR management hastily called a postrace driver's meeting that lasted about an hour.
AGR brass immediately went into damage-control mode, blithely claiming that nothing was seriously amiss.
"I told them we have to do a better job," Michael Andretti stated to SI.com. "We just didn't perform as a team, and we want to make sure everybody is working together.
"I'm most upset about our results. We weren't good all weekend and we have to work together more. We have to get it back on track again."
Marco Andretti departed after the AGR "group hug" without comment, while SI.com described Kanaan's demeanor after the meeting as "angry-looking."
The Web site quoted the Brazilian as saying: "You can ask but I'm not going to talk. That's our personal stuff and it's nobody else's business."
Kanaan did not immediately respond to ESPN.com's request for comment.
But since Kanaan's three veteran teammates were replaced over the past couple of years by the less-seasoned Andretti, Patrick and rookie Hideki Mutoh, the happy, team-oriented atmosphere that was the group's trademark has all but disappeared.
AGR insiders privately admit that many crew members adore Kanaan and share a deep disdain for Patrick and Marco Andretti. Yet as reported several times by ESPN.com over the past 60 days, Kanaan increasingly appears to be the odd man out. This is the final year of Kanaan's contract with AGR; he joined the Indianapolis-based team in 2003.
Patrick is AGR's golden goose, drawing attention and big-money sponsors to the team, while Marco Andretti's position in the organization is secure due to his familial relationship with his father Michael.
Perhaps the most significant thing to come out of AGR's Edmonton dustup is the fact that Michael Andretti, for the first time, appeared to take a stand against his son.
But it might have happened too late to prevent Kanaan from leaving at the end of the season.
PT makes his point
The highlight of the Edmonton weekend was Paul Tracy's superb drive to fourth place in his post-unification IndyCar Series debut. The Toronto native qualified only 15th, but proved that his practice pace -- he was seventh-fastest -- was no fluke despite the lack of racing miles under his belt this year.
Driving a car provided by Vision Racing and prepped and crewed by Walker Racing, Tracy drove a mistake-free race and was rewarded with a solid top-five finish. He's optimistic that the encouraging run could result in some additional IndyCar starts in the final four races of the season.
"I'd be surprised if that didn't happen after how I showed this weekend," Tracy said. "But, you know, nothing surprises me in motor racing. A lot of people were saying, 'Don't do this, it's going to be a bad deal. You're going to be set up to look bad. They're only using you to sell tickets.'
"But Derrick [Walker] was trying to get back in the game and he said, 'Look, I'm going to give you the best, everything I've got, to make us look good this weekend. So just believe in me.' That's why I took the chance on doing this.
"It was difficult to hear people say, 'Well, Paul should just have to come out and pay his dues again, run around at the back, and show that he can drive,'" Tracy added. "I showed today what I can do if we got a proper deal. Hopefully, we can continue."
It was difficult to hear people say, 'Well, Paul should just have to come out and pay his dues again, run around at the back, and show that he can drive.' I showed today what I can do if we got a proper deal. Hopefully, we can continue.
-- Paul Tracy
Tracy won the 2003 CART series championship and is American open-wheel formula-car racing's most successful active driver with 31 Champ Car wins. But he was forced to the sidelines when team owner Gerald Forsythe inexplicably refused to field a car in the consolidated IndyCar Series this year.
PT made one final start for Forsythe in the Champ Car finale at Long Beach in April, but he had basically been inactive since then. Tracy gained a release from his contract with Forsythe prior to the Indianapolis 500, but he was unable to come to terms with an IndyCar Series team until Vision Racing owner Tony George put together the one-off Edmonton run with support from Subway restaurants.
"The last couple years for me have been frustrating and we really struggled," Tracy said. "I came into this weekend and learned that guys that were my crew guys and engineers from last year were making bets that I wouldn't crack the top 20 because they felt it was me that was the problem at Forsythe.
"So that definitely gave me some extra motivation, to prove that I can still do this. I can run up front with these guys that are a lot younger than me.
"I'm not ready to retire. I want to do a few more years of racing and try to help the series and help it grow in Canada. That's what I've stated all along since the merger. So hopefully I'll get the opportunity to do that."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.