Ryan Hunter-Reay in Edmonton qualifying - IZOD IndyCar Series photo/LAT USAEnlarge Photo
How crazy is this? The top qualifier for the Edmonton Indy, three-consecutive-race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 11th in Sunday's race, thanks to an unapproved Chevrolet engine change after his most recent victory at Toronto in the No. 28 Team DHL/Dr Pepper Dallara/Chevy/Firestone IZOD IndyCar Series race car.
In the third, Firestone Fast Six part of qualifying, Hunter-Reay duked it out with Dario Franchitti's Honda, Ryan Briscoe's Chevy, Takuma Sato's and Alex Tagliani's Hondas and Helio Castroneves' Chevy. He won that battle with a 103.664-mph lap around the 2.224-mile Edmonton Airport circuit, while the best Franchitti, looking for his fourth pole even as Hunter-Reay tries to go for four wins in a row, could manage was 103.650 mph). Darn close.
The weather played a role in this outcome, as the first group of qualifiers waited until nearly half their 20-minute time was done before going out on the track. As storm clouds moved into the Edmonton area, the second group took to the track much quicker, giving the fans some very intense competition. The round of 12 was damp but not overly wet while the final Firestone Fast Six was held under drying conditions with most teams using scuffed Firestone alternate "red" tires.
"It was a strange session - with going from the dry track to full wet and then to a drying track," Hunter-Reay explained. "You really had to keep on your toes. We really progressed this weekend, starting out to lunch yesterday morning (no Chevy-powered Indy car was in the top eight in the first practice) and to be on pole is a huge testament to the team. That session was white knuckles, I tell you that much."
Franchitti was in the first qualifying group and was the final driver to take to the track. "It was fairly interesting," he said of the entire session, "just dealing with the track drying in the second session. We decided to go with scrubs (used Firestone alternate tires) and was just really trying to put a lap together there. It would e nice to have a dent race because we've had some good qualifying performances; it'd be nice to have a day free of incidents and try to have a good result."
The balance of the Firestone Fast Six finished in the order noted above with Will Power, second in points coming in seventh. But no! He's moving 10 spots back too because his Chevy engine was changed, just like Hunter-Reay's, after Toronto. Scott Dixon, on his sixth Honda engine gets his own 10-spot penalty after qualifying eighth, will rookie Simon Pagenaud (Honda), Rubens Barrichello (Chevy), Graham Rahal (Honda) and James Hinchliffe (Chevy) completing the group that made it out of their initial qualifying trysts.
Briscoe will end up next to Franchitti on the front row, barring some calamity in morning warmup as he leads the Team Penske trio. "We had to do our best in Q2 in the wet and I wish maybe we would have waited a little bit longer in Q3 with the sticker tires," he said. 2011 pole man Takuma Sato couldn't quite to the deed on this day, while Alex Tagliani's qualifying adventures now that he's Honda-powered have been on the positive side. Castroneves was quickest in Friday practice, able to translate that speed into a Firestone Fast Six berth, 0.4053 seconds behind RHR.
The only other driver subject to a ten-place penalty is Simona de Silvestro, who's on her sixth Lotus engine. She qualified 23rd of the 25 starters, with Mike Conway's A.J. Foyt Honda-powered Indy car the last of the qualified cars, thanks to a fuel pressure problem.
The Edmonton Indy race, scheduled for broadcast on Sunday from 2PM to 5PM EDT on NBC Sports. It's nowhere certain what the weather would be, but it's been cool, overcast and with further rain threatening. The final grid will be posted in the morning.