Track pulls no punches

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

The amazing place to hold an auto race won the day yesterday and added a bunch of new testimonials and rave reviews to the ones it had collected before.

It was the first day Indy Racing League cars have been on the only ex-ChampCar track where both sets of teams in the freshly merged series are scheduled to compete against each other this year.

"This place is awesome. And the crowd today has been unbelievable. It's nice to have so many fans here to welcome us," said two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves.

"This is completely different than anything I have ever experienced. It's an exciting circuit, to say the least. It's been a lot of fun," said Ryan Briscoe of his first day at the City Centre Airport facility.

Marco Andretti hadn't turned a tire on the track when he made the statement.

"I think this is going to be the most competitive race of the year," he said after he walked around the place prior to practice.

Andretti raved about the number of fans on the property for a mere practice day.

"To see it today, it looks like Sunday for us. You could barely walk in the paddock," he said of the crowds.

IndyCar Series officials have a policy of not announcing attendance figures at any event.

The day was highly reminiscent of the first day four years ago when the ChampCar drivers first took to the track, hit walls, bounced off tire barriers and spun out an amazing number of times.

Tony Kanaan, who said prior to the first practice session that he was just going to drive around cautiously for the first 20 minutes, put it in the weeds on his first lap.

The list of those who didn't spin out and leave the track at some point of the two practice sessions was shorter than the list of who did, some of them on multiple occasions: Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Dan Wheldon, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, Paul Tracy, Townsend Bell, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marty Roth, E.J. Viso, Buddy Rice, Mario Moraes, Hideki Mutoh, Enrique Bernoldi, Bruno Junqueira and A.J. Foyt IV.

Viso hit the wall and tore off the back end of his car, Mutoh kissed the wall and Hunter-Reay put his in the tire barrier, but mostly there were a lot of expensive lawn mowers.

While the day was meaningless in terms of qualifying, it was interesting that six of the top 10 teams came from drivers who previously raced here, including Will Power and Oriol Servia - the fastest of the day. Power won the pole here last year.

But both, as well as Canada's Tracy - who was eighth-fastest on his first day ever on a track in a IRL car - said even though the ChampCar guys know the track, it's not going to be a huge advantage.

"The tires are harder than we're used to here. The cars are moving around a lot more than in ChampCar," said Tracy, who noted if Edmonton was tough before, it's even tougher in these cars.

"It's now easily the most physically demanding track you can do in North America," said Tracy.

And speaking of Patrick, she had the 23rd fastest time of the day in a field of 27.

"This is such a different car than we are used to here. We showed up and the cars were bottoming like crazy. It was like getting punched in the face 10 times a lap and it hurt," said Graham Rahal.

But they're taking the punches.

"It feels great to be back in Edmonton and on a track I'm familiar with," said Mario Dominguez. "The fan turnout is terrific, as always, in Canada. It's special for us to run around this place in front of such an enthusiastic crowd."

Today Edmonton gets a first look at the new shootout qualifying format in which the field is divided in half, reduced to six cars each in the second round and reduced again to the Firestone Fast Six for the pole and positions on the first three rows.

There could be some big names starting way back on Saturday afternoon.


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