New Edmonton circuit is a first for everyone
There's only one first time, which James Jakes considers a blessing.
In the Dale Coyne Racing driver's maiden voyage through the diverse IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, every race weekend is a learning experience. Such was the case two weeks ago on the Toronto circuit - a concrete canyon that demanded technical skills leavened with a deft touch in traffic.
Jakes, in the No. 18 Acorn Stairlifts car, was the lone driver of the 26 not to have competed previously on the temporary street course in either the IZOD IndyCar Series or Firestone Indy Lights.
"It's a bit of a disadvantage being the only driver that hasn't raced there," said Jakes, among the six in the running for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.
A measure of equality, however, is available in this weekend's Edmonton Indy with a new 2.256-mile, 13-turn circuit that design consultant Tony Cotman calls "exciting for everyone" being employed.
Without video of previous races or reference data, preparation for the three rounds of PEAK Performance Pole Award qualifying and the 90-lap race will be on the fly on the City Centre Airport course for the 26 participants.
"Back in Europe, a lot of people use simulators - not so much like iRacing.com but one with a platform and four-post rig - but over here it's quite different," Jakes says. "I suspect a few of the teams will have made a racing sim for it maybe, but you just have to turn up and see how it is. Like when everybody went to Brazil this year, nobody knew how bumpy it was going to be, and it turned out smoother than Toronto.
"The track walk (July 21) 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 (1:15 p.m. ET July 22) because you can lose so much track time. The track is only going to get quicker and rubber in and your setup will change quite a bit from where you were at the beginning of the weekend to where you finish in qualifying.
"Track time, making sure feedback is correct and maximizing every minute you have from start to finish of the session are important."
The circuit features two long straights with tight left-hand turns at the end (Turns 13 and 1). Some areas of the runways have been patched with asphalt, but drivers still expect a teeth-rattling experience.
"In the first session you have to try things and make sure you find your way quickly there," said A.J. Foyt Racing's Vitor Meira, who recorded his first top five of the season at Toronto in the No. 14 ABC Supply car. "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? Finding your way around the course will be key to this weekend."
Added Oriol Servia, driver of the No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing car who had three top-five finishes in four races on the 1.96-mile course: "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."