Finding order in Edmonton's chaos

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

It's confusing. It's confounding. And in Edmonton, it's excruciating.

But if you can figure it out, it's fascinating fun.

Combine yesterday's 32 C temperatures -- which hit 45 C on the track -- with the physical nature of the City Centre airport track, and it's under-the-gun fun in the complicated shootout format of qualifying.

"It was hot, man. It was burning hot. It was a lot of fun. I was having a ball," said Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves, who was second here last year and will start third in this afternoon's Rexall Edmonton Indy.

How is it that for five straight years the hottest race weekend of the year is here in northwestern Canada?

"For a while there, I forgot how much fun it was to fight for a pole position. But let me tell you, it was fun today. There were three or four laps where I probably wasn't breathing at all," said Castroneves.

"It's hard work. The qualifying sessions here are almost more gruelling than the race," said Scott Dixon, the man who won here last year and will start fourth on the grid today.

Yesterday's crowd was as big as the race day throng at the Honda Toronto Indy, but the fans didn't see any of the kind of carnage that disrupted Friday's practice day.

INTERESTING

And if they could figure out what was going on, it was an interesting day.

"I like it," said Ryan Briscoe, last year's pole winner, who will sit beside Penske teammate Will Power on the front row after qualifying second.

"I think for the fans, as long as it's explained to them in a good way, it's fantastic. It's a huge challenge for us in the car. It's hard work but it's fun as well.

"I mean, I'm not sure if it's explainable to fans or not. But if it's explainable to the fans ...

"At the end of the day we're just qualifying, setting up for the race. If we can put on an extra show for the fans, that's what we need to do."

It's the Firestone Fast Six qualifying procedure in play for the second year here.

It's not qualifying like at the Indy 500, where there's one car on the track and you go out for four laps. It's kind of a three stage tournament with the field divided into two groups from which six cars emerge to advance to a 12 car playoff, followed by the fast six final.

The most complicated part is the use of the soft compound red rim tires, which can't carry you through all three qualifying sessions should you make the final. So there's all sorts of tire strategy involved as well.

And to make the 14 turns on the 1.96 mile airport layout at 1:01.0133 to win the pole is a test.

"It's tough qualifying here. I'm physically exhausted," said Power.

"To do that lap, I'm very tired at the end of it."

Today, they'll do 95 laps in the 186.2 mile race.

STRESS TEST

But that's a different deal. Qualifying was more of a stress test.

And this one was easy compared to the last one, suggested Power.

He also won the pole here in Champ Car in 2007.

"Actually, the Champ Car one was even more physical. It was flat though the last chicane and you were going a lot faster. I'm just giving you an idea. It had a lot of downforce. My Champ Car lap time was faster but a very similar driving style. The way the series is, it's super competitive here. I love it. This is how racing should be."

Series leader Dario Franchitti is in his first year here, and he's still getting used to the track.

"It's very physical. A lot of fast corners. A lot of flowing corners. I think it's a place where experience counts because it's very difficult to pick your line," said Franchitti.

"When you come off that big wide runway, you have to pick the exact apex point into the lane. When there's only six or eight feet of curb,it's difficult to pick out in a number of places."

And he's not knocking the Edmonton experience so far.

"To come here on qualifying day and see that the stands are pretty much full ... that's one of the reasons why."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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