EDMONTON, Alberta – For Ryan Hunter-Reay, Saturday’s pole for the IZOD IndyCar Series Edmonton Indy means he can proclaim “We’re No. 11.”
Although Hunter-Reay will be awarded the one bonus points for the IndyCar championship for winning the pole, he will be docked 10 grid positions for an unapproved engine change after his Chevrolet engine was switched coming into this weekend after Andretti Autosport said it had a mileage issue.
So instead of leading the field to the green flag to start Sunday’s race at 2:40 p.m. Eastern, Hunter-Reay will start from the 11th position with four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti moving over from his second-place starting position to the pole.
It’s the second time the pole winner has been penalized this year as Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe won the pole for the April 15 Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach but had to start 11th when all Chevrolet teams made an unapproved engine change to correct an issue with the engine.
With the extra bonus point Hunter-Reay takes a 35-point lead over Team Penske’s Will Power into Sunday’s race.
Hunter-Reay’s Dallara Chevrolet was the fastest in a challenging Firestone “Fast Six” qualifying session with included a dry track, then rain and then a drying track by the time the “Fast Six” was contested. Hunter-Reay lapped the 13-turn, 2.224-mile temporary street course at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport in 1:17.233 for a lap of 103.664 miles per hour.
It’s Hunter-Reay’s second-career IndyCar pole. His previous pole was at Milwaukee in a Champ Car Series race in 2004. It’s the 23rd pole for Andretti Autosport.
“It’s certainly unfortunate to be taking the grid penalty with our first pole this year and my first pole in a long time but 11th is better than starting 15th or 16th,” Hunter-Reay said. “We also saved a set of Firestone Reds so that was another bonus. It was a strange session from going from full-dry to full wet to a drying track on rain tires back to Reds again we really had to keep on your toes. The team gave me a great car and we really progressed over the weekend. We were out to lunch on Friday morning and to be on the pole is a huge testament to your team.
“That session was white knuckle, I’ll tell you that much. You constantly had to be on edge. The line from getting a lap in and throwing it off track was very, very small.”
Franchitti was second quick on Saturday but will be in the first starting position on Sunday. His lap was 1:17.244 (103.650 mph) in a Dallara/Honda for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s Franchitti’s first front row start in his fourth race at Edmonton.
“It was fairly interesting,” said Franchitti, who is fighting off both a throat infection and a head cold after a recent trim home to Scotland. “The track drying in the second session, the first session starting to rain a little bit, so made it pretty interesting. In the first session the big decision was to go with new reds or go with scrubs, so we decided to go with scrubs. I tried to get a lap there and got within a hundredth or something. Didn’t manage to put that lap together. It’s good to be starting on the front row. The Target car is good again this weekend. Be nice to have a good race this weekend. We’ve had some good qualifying performances, but the races, we’ve had incidents in all of them, all kinds of crazy stuff happening. It would be nice to have a day free of incidents tomorrow and try to get a good result.”
Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe of Australia qualified third in a Dallara/Chevrolet at 1:17.423 (103.410 mph). Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato of Japan was four at 1:17.552 (103.238 mph). Canada’s Alex Tagliani put the Bryan Herta Autosport Dallara/Honda fifth at 1:17.6139 mph and Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves of Brazil rounded out the Fast Six at 1:17.640 (103.122 mph).
Missing the Fast Six were Power, who qualified seventh at 1:27.566 (91.432 mph) for Team Penske. But late Saturday afternoon his team changed the Chevrolet engine and he will now start 17th. The reason his speed and time were drastically different is because that session was contested in the rain. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon of New Zealand was eighth at 1:27.7001 (91.293 mph).
“Certainly the circumstances were different for everyone,” Castroneves said. “I don’t know what Ryan did, but sounds like we’re similar in the setup and that help us. I don’t know what happened to them, to be honest. But we always feed from each other. Some days go to us. A lot of days it was going to him (Power). But today, you know, it’s all about each individual. We try our best to put Team Penske up there.”
Ever since the 10-grid spot penalty for unapproved engine changes went into effect this season because of competition between manufacturers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus it was designed to keep teams from changing engines every session. But in the initial season of this rule some engines have suffered issues before reaching the mileage requirement of 1,850 miles.
The intent of the rule is to keep costs down in an effort for the manufacturers to police themselves.
“You have to have something in place where you can’t just change engines every session,” Briscoe said. “Comparing to other series, like Formula One, they have a five-spot penalty. Comparatively, five there is like 10 here. It’s easier to pass here. Seems to be very mixed up all the time. I think it’s been working well, honestly. We’ve probably seen more penalties than everyone would like to see. That will come with experience and reliability down the road. But I think you need to control it somehow for the cost and development.”
Briscoe’s teammate admits it might confuse many of the fans that come to Sunday’s race expecting to see Hunter-Reay on the pole and will instead see him 11th.
“As long as it is explained well to the fans because sometimes people don’t realize that there is this type of rules,” Castroneves said. “We understand. As Ryan said, it keep the costs down, competitive, all these things. Manufacturers actually are the ones that asked for these types of rules. It wasn’t even the series or the drivers, so I think it’s fair.”
Franchitti, however, does not like that some of these engines are also used in testing and the extra strain on those engines sometimes comes into play with this rule.
“The only modification I’d like to see is if you break your engine in testing, I don’t think it’s really fair,” Franchitti said. “There was a point in the middle of the year, Scott Dixon had a blow-up. A bunch of other guys had penalties like James Hinchcliffe. That I would like to see taken away. But if you blow an engine up for practice or qualifying, I think it’s a fair rule.”
Tagliani believes the rule is necessary, especially this season.
“If that rule would not be there, I think we would see a lot more engine changing and the costs would skyrocket,” Tagliani said. “It’s a good point that Dario is making. You need to go testing. Right now with the rule the way it is, everybody is afraid of testing, because if something happens in testing, you get penalized in race weekends.”
And the driver that suffers the biggest penalty this weekend is Hunter-Reay, who goes from pole to 11th but understands the reasons why.
“Everybody here has swallowed that pill,” he said. “It’s part of it. It’s just the way the series is this year. New engine manufacturers, or new engines I should say, coming in. It’s a new formula. We’re going to have some of that. We can argue all day if 10 spots or five spots is right. It definitely hurts when it happens, that’s for sure.”
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