“It will be the toughest qualifying session of the year,” said the defending race champion and IZOD IndyCar Series leader who is attempting to win a rare third consecutive race in the 17-race series.
It’s not just that Edmonton has the most physical track to drive. It’s the draw.
The six drivers who have won poles on the street/road courses this year have been drawn in Group 1 of the first round of qualifying Saturday.
It was a totally blind draw.
Will Power. Helio Castroneves. Justin Wilson. Dario Franchitti. Ryan Briscoe. Alex Tagliani.
Good luck in there, Tags.
You, too, Paul Tracy.
You three Danica Patrick.
They’re among the 13 in Group 1. The other 12 are in Group 2.
There’s going to be some big names starting from well back in the pack and working their way through traffic Sunday.
And, worse, the much maligned Venezuelan traffic hazard Milka Duno is in Group 1, too.
Six advance from each group for an additional 15-minute session. The top six from that advance to the Firestone Fast Six which determines the pole and the first three rows on the grid for Sunday’s race.
If Friday’s practice session is a preview of what might happen in Saturday’s qualifying, Team Penske is going to be in position to own the downtown airport track yet again.
Assuming, that is, if they get through that first qualifying session.
Penske was 1-2-3 in practice Friday.
Power, who won the pole last year, and Ryan Briscoe, who won it the year before, would share the front row if Friday’s practice had been qualifying.
Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who has finished second here in the last two races, sits third.
Penske finished 1-2-4 in the race last year.
Power toured the 1.973-mile, 14-turn track in 1:02.0152 as the top 11 cars were separated by less than a second.
But the fastest of the 25 in the field, wasn’t doing cartwheels when the two sessions were over.
“It’s the feel. I’m not quite happy with it.”
But he was happy to see the three Penske cars roll off the transporters 1-2-3.
“It means nothing,” he said of the practice standings. “But the Penske team is very strong here again and with how competitive the field is now we have to work extra hard. We’re feeding off each other to see if we can be 1-2-3 again in qualifying.
Dario Franchitti was fourth fastest with Takuma Sato a surprise fifth.
Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson and E.J. Vision were also fast in the following position with Canada’s Paul Tracy ending up ninth fastest as a result of his last lap of the day.
“We had an overall good day today. I’m pleased with the first day of running here and the crowd looked big (Friday) and that’s great for the event,” said Tracy.
Canadian Alex Tagliano was 14th fastest with Danica Patrick, who hasn’t found any success at all here, 21st.
As usual there was no lack of incidents on the airport track.
Milka Duno, who Power suggests “should probably do junior calibre series to get experience” is in her fourth year driving IndyCars but has never tackled the course the drivers say is the most physical in the series.
She put her car in a tire wall in the 19th minute of the first session and then spun off the course in her second. She only ran nine laps and was 9.9 seconds slower than Power who pointed out he broke his back and Nelson Fillipe broke his legs racing last year and don’t need to be dealing with somebody he doesn’t feel is qualified to be here.
“She basically hasn’t got the experience,” he said of her lack of ability which is expected to be totally exposed at this track.
Rookie Bertrand Baguette, who was second slowest, made contact with a sign in the first session and made contact with front wing damage in the second session.
Tomas Scheckter made contact with a tire barrier in the afternoon practice as well.