Will Power wasted no time in giving the local fans in Australia a reason to cheer as they enjoyed the sights and sounds of the IndyCar Series first visit to the Streets of Surfers Paradise in Queensland on Friday. Driving the Aussie Vineyards Team Australia Dallara to a best lap of 1:34.808 (106.130mph), Power felt right at home in the open-wheel car from the KV Racing team on the 4.498km (2.795 mile) temporary circuit.
"It was a very good day for the #8 KV Racing Technology -- Team Australia car," Power said. "It's still early and qualifying isn't until tomorrow. That and Sunday are all that matter to me. I am glad we are quick, but we still need to improve the car a bit tonight. This is a very competitive field and we will have to be faster tomorrow."
While it is IndyCar's first visit to the Gold Coast, several of their drivers have competed at the venue under the CART and Champ Car banners. The event is a non-points-paying race under the 2008 unification of American open-wheel racing. The 2008 IndyCar season ended at Chicagoland, with Australian-born Scott Dixon, who calls New Zealand home, taking the championship.
There are 24 drivers here with half the field having experience on the challenging street circuit. Besides Power, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Bruno Junqueira, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson have turned laps at the Australian street race. Past winners at the venue are Hunter-Reay, Franchitti and Junqueira.
During the IndyCar season this year, Dixon's teammate was Dan Wheldon but for this event, the Brit is in the No. 10 car for Panther Racing -- his new team in 2009. Former Panther driver Vitor Meira signed with A.J. Foyt Racing for next year. Returning to IndyCar racing after racing in NASCAR for Chip Ganassi Racing this year is Franchitti. The 2007 IndyCar champion is still with Ganassi, now partnering with Dixon for the 2009 season.
Power's flying lap was 1.353 seconds over Castroneves. The Team Penske racer's best was 1:36.161 (104.637mph).
Third belonged to Franchitti, who apparently was right at home back in an IndyCar, which he admitted, "I realized I wanted to get back to IndyCar when I saw them on track in Detroit." Franchitti clocked off a lap of 1:36.171 (104.626mph), one-hundreds of a second off the pace of Castroneves.
KV Racing's Oriol Servia was 0.268 seconds slower than the Scotsman. The Spaniard turned his best lap of 1:36.439 (104.335mph). He was followed by the two Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing teammates, both close in his time and to one another.
Graham Rahal hit his best at 1:36.496 (104.273mph) to best teammate Justin Wilson, who had a 1:36.513 (104.256mph).
Champion Dixon was seventh in today's two practices, the Kiwi laid down a 1:36.581 (104.182mph). He was followed by Rahal Letterman Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay by three-tenths of a second slower with a time of 1:36.886 (103.854mph).
Tagliani had free time and Conquest Racing took him along to a place he knows well and he proved them right by placing ninth fastest with a fast lap of 1:37.062 (103.665mph) which he laid down in the first practice.
Tenth was Kanaan for Andretti Green Racing. Kanaan's best was 1:37.065 (103.662mph), also in practice one.
The teams and racers have one more practice Saturday morning before making the run for the pole. Qualifying will be a different format for the fans, it will not be an all-skate; it will begin with two groups taking to the track and then the weeding down to the final six will begin in segments.