Pocono Preview

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By the time you read this, I will be well on my way to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500. My trip will pretty much mirror what we did last year. I’ll leave Nashville around 4:30 am and head to Indianapolis where I’ll meet up with our good friend Paul Dalbey, formerly of More Front Wing and currently doing photography work for 16th and Georgetown. Last year we left his car with a friend and took my car to Pocono. This year, mine gets left behind. If everything goes according to plan, we should arrive at our hotel near the track at around 6:00 this evening.

Susan will sit this trip out, just as she did last year. Her vacation days are dwindling and she wants to be able to go to Gateway next weekend, so she decided to knock out the one that required so much driving. Paul’s fiancé, Kelli, is not going either so this will be a guy’s road trip. Unfortunately, at my age that really means nothing except two grumpy guys spending four days cooped up together.

Anyway…there is one part of last year’s trip that I’m hoping does not repeat itself – the rain. If you’ll recall, last year’s race was a complete washout on Sunday. Last year, we both had the luxury of being able to stay over an extra day and attend the race on Monday. Due to our work schedules, neither of us have the ability to stay over an extra day this year. Fortunately, the forecast for Sunday has been improving as this week has gone on and Sunday looks to be sunny with a high of 79°.

When the race ran on Monday last year, it was sunny but a high of only 65°. The high blustery winds all day made it seem a lot cooler than that. My windbreaker was of little help in the openness of the track that day.

Surprisingly, the wind didn’t seem to have that much effect on the drivers. Takuma Sato found the Turn Three wall nearing the end of Turn Three, which may or not have been caused by wind (probably not), but the other mishaps had nothing to do with wind. Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves tangled in the pits. Well really, it was Rossi and Charlie Kimball that got together as Rossi was leaving his pit. Castroneves was leaving his pit when the car of Rossi was launched over Helio’s. Rossi’s tire missed Helio’s head by mere inches, but the cars of Rossi and Castroneves were unable to continue. Kimball was able to keep going but ultimately ended up a lap down.

The only other mishap involved Simon Pagenaud, who crashed in Turn One on Lap 157 not long after a pit stop. The crash was costly because Pagenaud was leading the points at the time and his nearest rival was Will Power, who won the race. And made up significant ground on Pagenaud, who did ultimately go on to win the championship.

Last year’s race will also be remembered for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s performance. After crashing his car in the Saturday morning practice, Hunter-Reay had to start from the back of the field. He ended up leading thirty-one laps. On the restart following Pagenaud’s crash, Hunter-Reay actually took the lead from Will Power. But his Honda engine faltered and he coasted into the pits. Whatever they did when he pitted was successful. When he rejoined the race, he was passing everyone in sight. A timely caution allowed him to get back on the lead lap. He continued his charge and finished the race in third place. I’m convinced that had the race gone just a little longer, Hunter-Reay could have won. He just ran out of time.

Last year was my first time to visit The Tricky Triangle. I liked it because it was a lot like me – out of date and old-school. But I say that in the most complimentary fashion. Quaint is sometimes an overused word, but it applies to Pocono raceway if that word can be applied to a two-and-a-half mile superspeedway. Let’s just say it harkens back to yesterday when things were simpler. That’s what appeals to me.

The track itself is not that old. It opened in 1971, but what makes it so special is that it was designed and built with Indy cars in mind – not stock cars. It also reminds me of my youth, when I was just becoming a teenager. Pocono was part of the Triple Crown of USAC Champ cars, along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway, which was an IMS clone. The only driver to ever win the Triple Crown was Al Unser in 1978, by taking wins at all the 500-milers.

Drivers that have won at Pocono reads like a Who’s Who of past and current drivers. Names like Mark Donohue, Joe Leonard, AJ Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Scott Dixon, Juan Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power have all visited Pocono’s victory lane.

Another thing I like about Pocono Speedway is the uniqueness of the track. First of all, there is no Turn Four. Turn One is a very sharp turn that appears to be about 130° with 14° banking. That turn was modeled after Trenton Speedway. Turn Two is patterned after IMS and is a 90° turn with 9° banking. Turn Three resembles The Milwaukee Mile and is banked at 6°. The long front straightaway is very wide. So wide that cars can run seven and even eight-wide at some parts before they have to funnel down to head into Turn One.

Track Map

The uniqueness of the track makes for some very close and exciting racing. The track is so different from Indianapolis that very little data from one track can be applied to the other.

There will be a couple of new faces this weekend. Sebastian Saavedra will replace the departed Mikhail Aleshin, who is now done at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Saavedra will drive the No.7 entry at Pocono this weekend and at Gateway next Saturday night. Gabby Chaves returns to the cockpit of the Harding Racing entry that performed very well at Indianapolis and Texas earlier this season. The plans still stand for them to move into the series on a full-time basis next season, so I hope to see another good run out of that fledgling team.

Some say that Honda will have the edge this weekend at The Tricky Triangle, just as they did at Indianapolis. But I think it would be unwise to underestimate the four Penske drivers with Chevy engines in their cars. They have really hit their stride this summer. The championship battle has come down to three of the four Penske drivers (Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud) along with Scott Dixon, although Will Power and Graham Rahal aren’t too far behind.

Will Josef Newgarden win three races in a row? Can Scott Dixon regain his form after his disappointing weekend at Mid-Ohio? Will Simon Pagenaud do just enough to stay in the hunt? What about Graham Rahal? Can he produce a win on a big track like he did at Fontana in 2015? All the answers to these questions are a definite “maybe”.

My heart may creep into this prediction a little bit, but my money is on Helio Castroneves to win this weekend and put himself into the points lead of this championship. Everyone says that Castroneves can’t pull off this championship because he never has done it before. But I think that makes him want it even more. He knows he is most likely headed to IMSA next season and he wants to prove the naysayers wrong. I think this weekend starts his run for the championship. We’ll see.

Beginning Saturday morning, I will be posting from the track, so please check back here regularly throughout the weekend also follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog for photos and comments.

George Phillips

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5 Responses to “Pocono Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Andretti’s team needs some good news, so I’m going with them.

    • IndyCar needs some good news so I am going for any driver, maybe a local favorite (Marco Andretti maybe?) that can lead the time sheets in practice and create some buzz so people will get off their lazy asses, drive to Pocono and put those lazy asses in a seat at Pocono Raceway. If I was anywhere within 6-8 hours of there I would be there but I can’t so I will watch the empty grandstands on t.v. instead.

  2. Here’s looking forward to your coverage of Pocono, George.

    Looking at the stats of this race in IndyCar history, only series champions and future series champions and Teo Fabi have won it, which is quite an outstanding resumé for an IndyCar event.

    That’s why I feel the winner of this race will also fit this criteria. We might even see a dominating performance from a driver which is going to be worthy of getting him a championship.

    Here’s wishing you guys a good and safe trip to get there and a good and safe race to watch trackside.

    And now, let’s take a moment to remember “Mr. Spatial Awareness” himself, Justin Wilson (RIP).

  3. I cannot ever think about Pocono without remembering Justin Wilson. Certainly Marco winning or Helio winning would be popular wins IMO, but I am going with “slick Willy P” . Enjoy the race slick oily G.

  4. Wish I could be there too. I thought the track and atmosphere was amazing when I attended two years ago. I would love a ride in the two seater, so I can experience all three unique turns. RIP Justin. The series is not the same without you.

    Happy trails, George and Paul.

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