EDMONTON, Canada - Skating away/On the thin ice of a new day - Jethro Tull
Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) took his Rahal Letterman Racing teammates to one of his old haunts on a beautiful Thursday afternoon, as the Ohio-based team journeyed to Edmonton's City Centre Airport for the first time in their 16-year history.
But the trip to the 1.973-mile airport road course for the first day of practice for the Rexall Edmonton Indy was more ice hockey than auto racing as the 650hp machines of the IndyCar Series spent most of the day spinning off into various corners than they did racing wheel to wheel.
The combination of 27 cars trying to learn what was a new track for most of them, and a dusty, gripless race circuit made for a trying day for many teams, but Hunter-Reay was able to us some of the experience gained here in 2005 to post the 12th-best time of the day. He carded a best lap of 62.9355 seconds (112.851mph) despite the fact that there were more guys, and girls, off track than at an Alcoholics Anonymous social.
There were nearly two dozen cars that either spun, made wall contact or ripped through the grass during the two practice sessions, including 10 in the second session alone. The IndyCar Series has made a concerted effort to use more local yellow flags on their road-course events instead of shutting the course down with a full-course caution for every spin, and the teams and drivers put that philosophy to the test today.
"It was a very strange day overall and had a lack of flow, which the IndyCar teams really needed," Hunter-Reay said. "You can tell by the speed and the top 10 that the Champ Car teams have their stuff sorted out over the bumps here and are turning some quick times."
Hunter-Reay carded his best lap of the day on the 13th of his 21 trips around the 14-turn course in the afternoon session, as the team decided to save an extra set of Firestone Firehawks for tomorrow's qualifying and the race instead of bolting on a fresh set to go for a quick time like a handful of the fastest squads did today.
The qualifying format puts a premium on tires and a team needs to ensure that it has enough shoes to carry it all the way to the Firestone Fast Six if necessary. The field is split in half for the first session, while the top six in each session move on to a second outing. The top six out of that dozen drivers moves into the Firestone Fast Six, where times are erased and the six pilots have 10 minutes to post a polewinning time. Hunter-Reay is looking to get back in the Firestone Fast Six after missing last week's session at Mid-Ohio, the first time this season that the Floridian missed advancing to the final qualifying round.
"Qualifying is always super important on the road courses in this series, and maybe even more so here," said Hunter-Reay. "If we can get the high-speed corners dialed in tomorrow, I think we'll be really fast. We need to make up for some of the shortcomings we had at Mid-Ohio and get the Ethanol car in the top five for the race."
The Ethanol machine will be on track again Friday morning for a 30-minute practice beginning at 11 a.m., leading into Firestone Fast Six qualifying at 4:45 p.m. Fans can follow all of qualifying now on www.indycar.com and on ESPN360 at www.espn.com. Saturday's race begins at 5 p.m. Eastern Time and can be seen live on ESPN.