Castroneves in a groove

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

It can hardly be considered beginner's luck.

Not when Helio Castroneves continues to repeat the feat over and over again.

Yesterday, in the first practice session for the Rexall Edmonton Indy, the Team Penske driver posted the second-fastest time.

After the second session, he was third-fastest among the 27 drivers.

"It was pretty good," said the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2007 Dancing with the Stars winner.

"The course is definitely a challenge, it's very bumpy. It feels the same as Cleveland, except for maybe the last straightaway.

"But I think it's great. I like that we have a race here in a different place. It's more exciting for the drivers, difficult for the engineers but great for the fans. So far, so good."

Like all of the former Indy Racing League drivers, Castroneves had never been on the City Centre Airport course. Yet being new to a circuit has never stopped the native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, before.

He hadn't raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before winning back-to-back Indy 500 titles.

Castroneves, 33, has also finished on the podium on three previous occasions when racing at a track for the first time. That includes his first top-three finish in Milwaukee back in 1998.

TRY TO LEARN

"We try to learn as fast as we can," Castroneves said. "You don't want to waste too much time finding braking points, acceleration points, where to position yourself.

"After you do that, you are still learning, but now you are more focused on what the car can do to make yourself faster in your area."

Heading into the Edmonton event, Castroneves is second to Scott Dixon in the driver's standings. He has yet to win an event this season, but has 10 top-five finishes, five second-place finishes and has won the pole in the previous two races.

Despite never having raced in Edmonton, Castroneves is one of the favourites to claim the checkered flag tomorrow.

"It gives you lots of confidence, especially when we're having such an incredible season in terms of consistency," he said.

"Even though we haven't broken through with a win yet, I'm feeling really powerful.

TEAMWORK

"But we're not focusing on what other teams are doing, we're just focusing on what we can do and our teamwork so far is excellent."

Will Power and Oriol Servia, both of KV Racing, had the fastest times of the day. Both were part of the Champ Car series last season and both are familiar with the track in Edmonton.

All the former Champ Car drivers are expected to have a bit of an advantage over the IRL drivers.

"I think for the first day they do, because practice was not very long and there were a lot of yellow flags which kept the flow from going," Castroneves said. "But once you start qualifying and things like that, I hope things will be more even.

"If not, you're going to end up at the back of the pack."

Considering how well he's already adapted to the track, that's highly unlikely. Barring a mechanical problem, he should challenge for his third consecutive pole today.

"Most of it is trying to read what the car can do," he said. "You have to know your limits of the car and you keep trying to push it. You want to keep making it better and better and you're able to get faster and faster."


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