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Hunter-Reay wins, loses Edmonton pole

21 July 2012

Dario Franchitti wasn't able to win his fourth consecutive pole position of the season for tomorrow's Edmonton Indy, but he will nonetheless still start from the top spot in the race thanks to an engine change penalty that will demote the fastest man in qualifying - Ryan Hunter-Reay - out of the top ten.

Increasingly gloomy skies and strengthening winds around Edmonton City Center Airport made it plain going in that rain was not far away from the 2.24-mile, 13-turn temporary circuit, as qualifying got underway for Sunday's race. While the first round of qualifying escaped the showers, the rain came down before round 2 and was a big factor right through to the end - throwing up a number of surprises along the way.

The session followed the standard road and street course format, which saw half the field running in the first 15 minute Group 1 and the other half in Group 2. After a five minute pause, the top six from each group progressed to the ten-minute Top 12 session, with the top six from that round then going through to the pole shootout Firestone Fast Six round.

Full qualifying times from all three rounds are available.

Round 1 - Group 1

The first part of qualifying featured Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Alex Tagliani, Justin Wilson, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Marco Andretti, Ryan Briscoe, Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand and Simona Silvestro.

As is usually the case in IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying, there were no takers for a completely clear track for the first five minutes of the 15 minute session. In the end, Simona de Silvestro was the first car to break cover and head out, and it was more than another two minutes before she was joined by the rest of the field.

Will Power went top with his first flying lap, setting a time of 1:16.9588s that was quickly beaten by Josef Newgarden's response of 1:16.7646s and then by Ryan Briscoe moving the goalposts up to 1:16.4518s. Power responded with the quickest laps of the weekend including a phenomenal 1:15.9508s to put him a quarter of a second ahead of local hero Alex Tagliani, and was w whopping 2.6 seconds quicker than the 2011 pole time set by Sato.

Both Power and Tagliani understandably felt safe with those performances and came back into pit lane with a minute left on the clock, leaving the rest of the field to carry on without them. Sato and Briscoe also soon booked their way through to the next round while Scott Dixon was also safe in fifth, leaving Simon Pagenaud to narrowly hold off Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden for the final spot.

Round 1 - Group 2

The second group featured Helio Castroneves, Mike Conway, James Hinchcliffe, Dario Frachitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rubens Barrichello, Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, EJ Viso, James Jakes, Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia and Ed Carpenter.

This time, in stark contrast to the leisurely start of Group 1, there was a scramble by all the cars to get out on track as soon as possible - reinforcing the expectation that rain was looking imminent on the radar and putting a premium on an early banker lap in the dry. Even before the session was five minutes old, all the drivers had been in action and set fast laps, although technical problems for the AJ Foyt car meant Mike Conway only had a couple of runs before being sidelined in pit lane with fuel pressure issues.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was on top with a lap of 1:16.3047s just ahead of James Hinchcliffe and a third of a second faster than Dario Franchitti in third. Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais all moved into top six spots with five minutes remaining as a few isolated rain drops started to make their presence felt.

Rubens Barrichello bumped Bourdais out of the top six with a lap of 1:16.9090s, at which point most cars had done their qualifying rotation and were heading back to pit lane early, making it a quiet end to the session as the rain started to really come down and make a wet Round 2 inevitable.

Round 2 - Top 12

Through to Round 2 were Will Power, Alex Tagliani, Takuma Sato, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud from Group 1; and Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Rubens Barrichello from Group 2.

The brief but substantial shower had left large sections of the track far too wet for slicks, but not quite wet enough to bring out the best in the intermediate rain tyres either. Understandably in the circumstances, everyone held fire in pit lane hoping for someone else to go out and sample the track on their behalf an for the track to drain off as much as it could; and when they did go out and sought a fast lap, it was a question of being able to stay on the track and not do a 360 degree spin off, as Scott Dixon did on his sighting lap.

Takuma Sato made the early running, with the first laps a full 13s off where they had been in the opening round on slicks. Will Power was able to improve on Sato's time and went to the top with a lap of 1:28.4500, but Sato's next effort was a full second faster at 1:27.2904s showing just how quickly the track was drying off and conditions improving.

Sato pushed his time even lower with a 1:26.7542 and Helio Castroneves punched out an impressive 1:27.1590s for second ahead of Alex Tagliani, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. But it proved to be those cars timing their runs for the very last moment across the chequered flag that then delivered knock-out blows in the final seconds, with Will Power shockingly on the losing end of the reshuffle and stuck in seventh place after a minor error on his final flying lap opportunity.

When the dust settled, Sato, Castroneves, Tagliani were joined by Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay in progressing through to the top six pole shootout.

Round 3 - Firestone Fast Six

With the track still damp, it was a tricky tyre decision for the six drivers who had made it through to the final round of qualifying since they were obliged by the rules to stick with whichever tyre choice they started with. Were the conditions now good enough to return to the red (soft) compound slicks, or would not running the rain tyres end up in disaster?

The call was to go with the red-walled slicks, for better or for worse: Sato put in the first flying lap without incident and clocked a 1:19.6370s, almost half a second ahead of Ryan Briscoe's first effort. But Helio Castroneves' first lap advanced the goalposts to 1:19.0150s and then Ryan Briscoe's first flier was a gamechanger as he went top with a stunning 1:17.9336s.

Each of the top three improved their times still further with their next lap, but it wasn't good enough to prevent Alex Tagliani jumping briefly into provisional pole with a lap of 1:176139s before Briscoe was able to responded with a 1:17.5177s.

Ryan Hunter-Reay ran a slightly contrary strategy by leaving it especially late to come out and start his run, but it worked beautifully and he was rewarded by a provisional pole time of 1:17.2338s on only his second effort with just 90s remaining in the ten minute session. Dario Franchitti came close to matching him and was just a hundredth of a second off with his best lap, before then running off at turn 1 as the rain started to pick up again in that part of the course.

Hunter-Reay is recorded as the polewinner and has a bonus championship point and a $10,000 oversized cheque to prove as much, putting an end to Franchitti's run of three consecutive official pole positions; but it's the Scot who will nonetheless lead the field to green alongside Ryan Briscoe on Sunday because of Hunter-Reay's ten-place staring grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change post-Toronto.

Most weather forecasts have been promising a dry race day, but a worrying trend has seen increasing chances of more showers start to factor in to the outlook for the Sunday race that gets underway at 12:45pm local time (7.45pm BST, shown live in the UK on Sky Sports.)

Full qualifying times and unofficial provisional starting grid available.


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