New Edmonton track, but some old feuds
22 July 2011
Edmonton City Center Airport has been hosting the annual IndyCar (or Champ Car) race since 2005, but drivers arriving there this weekend will find a completely unfamiliar track layout awaiting them.
After a winter off-season that saw the entire event cancelled for a time, organisers finally came to an agreement with local officials to allow the race to go ahead after all. But the track layout that has been used for the last six years is gone, with action moved to the airport's east runway and only sharing a short, twisty midfield section with the old configuration.
"It's completely different from the track we raced on here before. There will be much higher speeds. There are some tight corners," Paul Tracy said of the new-look track when he visited Edmonton a few weeks ago. "Nobody is going to complain about there being no opportunity to pass here. If you can't pass on this track ... I don't know where you're going to."
As a result of the switch of runways, the circuit will now be anti-clockwise, sending the drivers into a 90 degree left hander from the start line and with a 180 degree hairpin at the fifth turn and another at turn 13 at the end of the long straight to put the drivers back on to the start/finish straight, a total length of 2.256 miles. In the new configuration, six grandstands will be positioned much nearer to the track to make spectators feel far more part of the action.
"The new [circuit] looks really cool with some great passing opportunities, which the last configuration lacked a bit," said Tracy's fellow Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe.
"The other course was good and fast initially but it was too hard to pass on," IndyCar's track design consultant Tony Cotman agreed. "One of the big things we needed to focus on with this course was how to make the show better, and I think we've achieved that," he said, adding that the aim was that the race should be "exciting for everyone."
The challenge of learning the new circuit will be made even greater by the weather forecast, which has already delivered very wet conditions for start of the two Friday practice sessions and with persistent rain and cool conditions forecast for the weekend, which sees qualifying on Saturday afternoon and the race itself from 7.45pm BST on Sunday afternoon.
“In the first session you have to try things and make sure you find your way quickly there,” said AJ Foyt Racing's Vitor Meira. “The quicker you find your way, the more you can focus on the car. You have to figure out braking points, gears, turn-ins, which curbs to use and which ones to avoid, how much speed to carry into this corner, and what is the best way to carry speed in: braking later, or earlier?"
"It will be a new game for everybody but understanding what made a car work on the old track will definitely help to be competitive on the new one," said Newman-Haas driver Oriol Servia. Drivers are expecting a bumpy surface despite some recent re-surfacing work where the worst cases have been patched with asphalt.
"It's a bit of a disadvantage being the only driver that hasn't raced [on the old circuit]," agreed Dale Coyne Racing's rookie English driver James Jakes. "Back in Europe, a lot of people use simulators ... one with a platform and four-post rig. But over here it's quite different," he explained, saying that teams were trying a variety of strategies to cover for the lack of applicable video footage from previous years. "The track walk is important, too. You have to make mental notes and talk with your engineer. Another key is not crashing early on in the first session!"
While the track configuration is all-new, it's going to play host to some familiar ongoing resentments spilling over from the last IndyCar race two weeks ago in Toronto, with Will Power making it clear that time has not healed all wounds and he was not in forgive-and-forget mood by any means.
"I don't get riled up that often, but trust me, I'm a man on a mission to get Team Penske and Verizon another victory," said Power. "I'll be doing my best to make sure that happens in Edmonton."
His main title rival Dario Franchitti, who made mid-race contact with the #12 and spun Power to the back of the field, was still smarting at being labelled a "dirty" racer by Power in the ill-tempered Toronto aftermath.
"To say that I'm a dirty driver was not correct," said Franchitti. "I think if you asked all the drivers I have raced against ... that's not one of the reports you'll get back on me."
Franchitti suggested that Power's ongoing anger over the clash was to do with his having two DNFs in a row, seriously hitting his IndyCar title campaign. "I can understand that frustration," said Franchitti. "I understand where he is coming from, I just think it's misplaced.
"Like I said, I would have been upset, too, and hopefully when he cools down he'll reassess that. But if he doesn't, I have no control over what Will thinks or what he chooses to say," he continued. "I'm going to continue to race the same way that I've raced certainly since I've been in America. If we chat about it and he chooses to calm down a little, then OK, and if he doesn't then there's nothing I can do about it."
Power was also not best pleased with Alex Tagliani at Toronto, who collided with him a few laps after the Franchitti incident and put him out of the race. In a live post-race interview, Power had labelled Tagliani a 'w*nker' and the Canadian driver sought to make light of it: "I'm having fun with this. He called me a w*nker, I'm going to tell him he's a t*sser."
At least Ganassi team mates Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal seemed to have reconciled in the intervening two weeks.
"I'm not one that carries anything over," said Dixon. "You're always going to race people hard. There are some circumstances with your team mate that you'll probably give them a little bit more room, and in some cases that doesn't happen ... I don't think anybody holds grudges too long, but you could see something escalate if two cars get together again," he added.