Penske off and roaring

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

First place and $18 will get you a margarita at the Rexall Edmonton Indy.

Second place and $8 will get you a can of beer.

There's no prize for being fast on the first day of the event other than a trip to the interview room.

Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves recorded the best time of the day on his last lap of the second session with a time of 1:01.5467. Last year's pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe was a split-second back.

"This place is amazing and you learn something every time you go out on the track. It's a great start for Team Penske," said Castroneves, the third driver to win an Indy 500 to come to Edmonton the same year he won the race.

The other two, Mark Donohue in Can-Am in the '70s and Scott Dixon last year, went on to win Edmonton.

Castroneves said they came here with a special strategy.

"It's an airport track. We tried to fly as low as possible," he said on a day where the mercury reached 32 C and was 44 C on the track.

"We didn't try to pound around all day. There was no need to waste rubber. The cars came out of the truck feeling good. It's one of those weekends where we feel like we need to take care of the tires. We need to save them for the race," said Briscoe who said last year the times dropped by two full seconds in qualifyng.

"It shows what we can do as a team," said Castroneves. "But it's just Friday. We need to keep it up for the qualifying and the race."

Asked if yesterday's practice times might carry over throughout the field for today's qualifying, Briscoe said: "We hope so. It's a great start to the race weekend."

Canada's Paul Tracy was happy with his day. Alex Tagliani, driving the Rexall Edmonton Indy-sponsored car, not so much.

Tracy called it "a pretty good day."

The Thrill From West Hill who is in his fifth Edmonton race and has finished in the top five every time here said "We were in the top five for the first session and the top five for most of the second session. I think we have a car capable of qualifying in the top five."

Tagliani, who would have been 18th if this was qualifying, said his car was crap.

"We were all over the place," he said. "It's very frustrating."

Dan Wheldon, who had an adventure of a day, driving into the weeds four times in the first session and then crashing and taking Danica Patrick out of the second session before she'd completed a lap, will be forced to qualify today in a back-up National Guard car after recording the 22nd best time in a field of 23.

"I hit a curb which sent me to the other side of the track and a wheel went into the grass and I ended up spearing it into the wall. It was driver error. Unfortunately I took Danica with me which is a shame for her."

Patrick didn't have a hissy fit even though she ended up with the 23rd fastest time.

"I think we'll be back on track (today)," she said.

Much of the focus of the session was on series leader Dario Franchitti who has never run the Edmonton race before. He ended up with the 13th best time of the day.

"Knowing Dario's experience, he'll be in there," suggested Briscoe.

The Indy cars have one more practice session this morning before the qualifying race from 3:20 to 4:50 p.m. with the same Firestone Fast Six format introduced here last year. It begins with two segments with 11 cars in one and 12 in the other, each group getting 20 minutes of track time. The fastest six cars from each group advance to the next round. Positions from 13 to 23 will be assigned starting positions according to time for Sunday's race.

The top 12 cars receive 15 more minutes of track time with the fast six advancing to the final and the others slotted in spots seven through 12 on the grid.

The top six then shoot it out for the pole and positions in the first three rows.

It's a format which is a tough test on such a physical track, said Briscoe: "It was pretty tough last year."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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