A whole new spin

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

A week from today, when the 27 cars take to the track for qualifying at the Rexall Edmonton Indy, it's going to be an entirely different deal.

You know about the merger between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League andyou know about Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Dan Weldon, Indy 500 winner and series leader Scott Dixon and the new, improved series that will put 10 more cars on the track for next Saturday's race than in the past.

But not much has been made of the new show Edmonton is going to experience on the way to race day.

In the road race events of the new merged series, there's an entirely new qualifying process.

With the Rexall Edmonton Indy stuck with a Thursday-Friday-Saturday set of dates this year, on the surface the first day, with practice only and no provisional pole qualifying under the current set-up, doesn't have much to offer on a midweek work day when it's hard to get away.

But that's if Edmonton gets stuck with the same day every year.

Certainly not this year.

This year's practice day is going to be more interesting than the first day the cars were on the track the first year of the Edmonton stop in the Champ Car Series.

That was when 55,722 watched with great delight as cars hit the concrete walls, bounced off tire barriers and spun out with regularity.

Remember how 66,250 showed up and sat in a downpour the next day hoping they'd see more of the same? This could be the same, except with more cars.

This is the first new track for the IRL drivers to learn, and no matter how much they hear about it from other drivers, there's every evidence they're just not going to be ready for it.

Plus there's Paul Tracy on his first day in a car he's never raced before. That may be most interesting of all.

But it's qualifying day Friday that's the different deal. Now it's a shootout.

It begins with two groups of randomly selected cars - in Edmonton's case, one group of 13 cars and another group with 14.

They go out for 20-minute sessions with the top six cars from each group advancing and the others being assigned spots 13 through 27 based on their fast lap times.

The remaining dozen go back on track for 15 more minutes with the slowest being assigned spots 7-12 on rows four to six and the fastest advancing to the Firestone Fast Six.

Those six go out again for 10 minutes and the times in the final decide the pole and spots 2-3-4-5-6 on the front three rows.

With Edmonton 2006 race winner Justin Wilson on the weekly IndyCar conference call yesterday, who better to ask about what we'll be dealing with here this year?

Wilson took the pole in the final Champ Car event (counting points for the IndyCar Series) in Long Beach and qualified second and third at the two previous road races of the series (St. Petersburg and Watkins Glen) heading to the Mid-Ohio stop this weekend.

Along with Tracy, Will Power and Oriol Servia, Wilson's the only driver who is heading into his fourth Edmonton race.

He's gung-ho pro about the new IndyCar set-up.

"I really like the qualifying format," he said.

"It's new for everybody this year. With the way we have the shootout everybody goes out in two groups and it's just a process of elimination that whittles it down and keeps the action going.

"In each segment there's not too many cars in each group on the track, so you don't have all the excuses that drivers used to come up with about traffic and how their lap got ruined by somebody else going slow."

He believes the new format makes it better for everybody.

"I think the format is really good and you get to see the final six drivers really go after it and try to put their best lap together in the last session.

"I really enjoy it and hopefully they're going to keep that format for the future because I think it works well."

Wilson figures it'll work especially well here.

"It's hard to get in a good clear lap of qualifying on the Edmonton track because from Turn 1 to Turn 9, you never stop turning the wheel. You find yourself running into traffic for large chunks of time. This should result in the quicker guys getting through."

The Firestone Fast Six should be the Rexall Edmonton Especially Quick Six.


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