Anticipation for race building

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

Been here.

Done that.

Can't wait to do it again.

As the IndyCar teams arrive, take their positions, roll out the cars and create the sounds and smells of race weekend in the mobile version of Gasoline Alley today, it'll be with a sense of familiarity.

It's a complete contrast to last year when 19 drivers and the vast majority of teams were getting their first look at the City Centre Airport track in the new merged series after three years as a Champ Car Series stop.

And as good a show as the Rexall Edmonton Indy was last year, get ready for an even better one this year, says Rick Mears, the third of only three drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four times.

"All it can be is better! It was a heck of a race last year, but I think it's going to make it a much better, more competitive race this year," said Mears, who was here last year in his job as adviser and spotter for Team Penske and returns this year in a dual capacity -- here for the first time as the driver coach/consultant for the debut of the Firestone Indy Lights event.

TEN LEAD CHANGES

Having six drivers involved with 10 lead changes and a plethora of passing all over the place last year made for a pretty good race.

Having been here before should make coming back even better for a couple good reasons, says Mears.

"It should close the gap some in a couple different areas. Some of the Champ Car teams or drivers might have had a better shot last year," he said of Justin Wilson and Paul Tracy finishing third and fourth, respectively, and four Champ Car drivers in the top eight.

"On the other hand, the Champ Car guys were all in new equipment last year. Now they're getting it all sorted out, so that side of it will be different. This year, just about everybody is really looking forward to coming back here.

"I'm really looking forward to it. It's a fun track. It's open and it's fast and you can really let it hang out. A driver can even overdo it a little bit and get away with it.

"It's not just the drivers. It's the spectators. It's the only type of road race course in the world where you can watch all of it," said the spotter who appreciates that more than anybody.

When we last left most of those 19 first-timers last year, they raved about the place -- none more so than runner-up Helio Castroneves, who would go on to win his third Indianapolis 500 this year.

"I can't wait to come back here next year," said Castroneves after the experience on the 1.96-mile 14-turn track with Edmonton's skyline in the background and all those fans in the stands in the foreground.

"I was having so much fun driving out there. Definitely this track seems to be my style. That was awesome. I mean, I think it was everything. The track was fun. This track was great."

This year there are only four drivers who have never seen the place before. Even the top two rookies have been here before.

Rafael Matos won two Formula Atlantic races here.

"I like the track in Edmonton, it's very challenging. It is fast and wide open and quite bumpy. The last chicane is one of the fastest corners of all the tracks we've raced. Turn 1 is probably the most challenging part of the track. It has a very fast entry and a big bump in the middle of the corner. It's a very wide entry as well, not a lot of references," said Matos, one of the early arrivals yesterday.

Robert Doornbos, second in the rookie standings, raced Champ Car here two years ago.

FOUR FIRST-TIMERS

The four first-timers are Richard Antinucci, who will be in only his third IndyCar race, South African Tomas Scheckter, England's Mike Conway and series leader Dario Franchitti of Scotland who took a try at NASCAR last year.

On the other hand, if you kind of like the idea of a whole field of first timers, then Saturday's 16-car Indy Lights race is the event for you.

Mears, in his job as coach/consultant is also looking forward to that.

"It's a pretty wide open track. It's a good track for first-timers to run on. There's room to run off. They'll have fun, too."


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