Whilst most of America spent Thursday the 4th of July relaxing and celebrating Independence Day, IndyCar teams and drivers were busy on track preparing for the series return this weekend to the historic Pocono oval circuit for the “IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco.”
All 24 cars that took part in Thursday’s test day posted lap times better than the track record of 42.510 seconds (211.715 mph) set by Emerson Fittipaldi back in 1989. Marco Andretti, driving for his father’s Andretti Autosport team, set the pace with a lap of 220.963 mph (40.7308 seconds) in the No. 25 RC Cola car.
Pocono is almost a home circuit for the Andretti family who live in nearby Nazereth, as Marco’s Grandfather, former F1 and IndyCar champion Mario acknowledged with delight.
“We’re the ones the track was built for, and now we’re back. Basically, it’s our home track. It’s a great venue. What they’ve done recently with resurfacing the track and the safety is phenomenal.”
Marco, who set his best lap during a qualifying simulation run was equally thrilled and predicted an exciting race come Sunday.
“I think this just became my favorite racetrack. I have to give credit to IndyCar, they did a great job with the aero (package) and also Firestone with the tire choice. I think it will produce good racing because it’s going to put guys on the opposite ends of the downforce level, which is the risk you run.”
Tony Kanaan, who can continue on the path to a $1 million bonus by winning at Pocono, the second of the three legs of IndyCar’s Triple Crown, was second (219.802 mph; 40.9460 seconds) in the No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” car for KV Racing Technology-SH Racing.
Championship points leader Helio Castroneves (219.123 mph) was third in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car, and Ed Carpenter fourth (218.788 mph) in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car. Reigning IndyCar champion, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth (218.293 mph) in the No. 1 DHL car as the field was separated by a mere 1.1 seconds.
Combined times from Thursday’s session can be seen here:
See a virtual lap of Pocono Raceway here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xmF-sfndLA
THURSDAY TEST NOTES:
Graham Rahal was seven months old when his father, Bobby, won the Quaker State 500 at Pocono Raceway in 1988, providing Truesports its final IndyCar win. This weekend will see the second generation Rahal try to claim the family’s second victory at Pocono as he drives for his father’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.
“(In ’88) to be honest, we weren’t the fastest although we qualified well (third),” said the senior Rahal, who earned a total of six top-five finishes.
“The Chevys were much more powerful than the Judd was at the time, but it was a battle of attrition and in the end Al (Unser) Sr. and I had a fight. In the end we were the last ones standing so to speak. What made that race even more special was that earlier in the week we had broken ground on my first automobile dealership in Mechanicsburg, Pa., that started the Automotive Group we’ve got going today.”
Britain’s Pippa Mann returns to IndyCar this weekend driving for Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Mann previously raced for the team at Indianapolis and Texas.
“The deal happening this weekend to put me back in a car really does come down to Dale Coyne,” said Mann. “Since the schedule was first announced, I’d wanted to run here if possible, especially with the Open Test which would hopefully give me the opportunity to learn the track.
“The goal was to find a way for me to get in the car, and Dale worked tirelessly with us to make this race weekend happen. I’m incredibly grateful to him for the opportunity to get back in the No. 18 car, and I’m looking forward to carrying the Cyclops Gear colors again.”
SELECT DRIVER TEST QUOTES.
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” KVRT-SH Racing Chevrolet):
“We did test here last week so we came back with a solid setup already. We worked on race (set up) a lot, I’m happy with the car so we’ll see. We have a day off tomorrow which is very unusual for a race weekend for us. I’m happy, It’s going to be a close race, I think everybody is running pretty close together so we’ll see.”
(On what he learned at last week’s test): “Of course, we tried a bunch of things last week. We used last week’s test for the things I call the big things. Things that will take a long time to change. I can’t get into much detail but they’re changes in the car that will take a couple hours sometimes for you to figure out. And we had a list of three of those that I went through during that day and then we went back to the shop to evaluate those and chose the best that we thought when we came back. It was definitely helpful.
The biggest thing I would say for me is it took me, you know it’s funny I have been in America for so long now and racing in INDYCAR for 14 years, you figured you have learned every single track and you’ve been to every single track. And all of the sudden we came to a track that I hadn’t raced yet. It took me a little while to learn the track. They don’t call it the tricky tri-oval for nothing. I got here, I drove my rental car around and said ‘Eh, it’s not that bad.’ And then I got in my Indy car and I’m like ‘OK.’ So it took me a few laps to get the confidence and to learn a lit bit about this track.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet):
“The Hitachi Team Penske boys did a hell of a job today. We got a lot accomplished over the full day of testing and, I have to say, the car is fast and really smooth. It feels good. It’s great to be back here racing at Pocono and it was awesome to see some fans out here today just watching testing. Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd for the race. I think we will be in good shape for qualifying on Saturday. The Hitachi car is ready to go.”
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet):
“We were pretty decent this morning, but we tried some things after lunch that didn’t work as well. So we went back to other settings and the car was better. I wasn’t too happy with changes but the ECR/Fuzzy’s team did a good job to get us back in line. We ended up finishing strong. I would have liked to have gotten in a little traffic driving today. Many guys were getting in group running and we had to get the car back the way I liked it.
I do think we learned a lot today. I think we can be in the mix but there are some very fast cars out there. Like all season long, the competition is tough. Pocono is definitely like Indianapolis in that the conditions really change a lot. Sometimes the heat or wind can affect the car. You don’t have to change much to give you a different feel. We are trying to figure out how the place changes. We are trying to adapt to the changes quicker too. And those things come with the new track for us and the new racing surface.”
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet):
“Overall, I thought it was good day of testing. We focused on improving the Verizon Chevy and at the end of the day we felt good about what we got accomplished. I’m really looking for a good result this weekend.
We’ve run well on the ovals this year and it would be great to come out of Pocono with a solid finish and some good points before we shift back to the road and street circuits. It was a good job overall by the Verizon team today and now we’ll turn our attention to Saturday and get ready for practice and qualifying.”
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet):
“The Panther crew has done a good job and we’ve had a productive couple days here in the National Guard Chevy. The car is feeling really good and very consistent as we go through a run. It’s solid all the way around the track and seems to get better as the fuel load burns off.
Obviously you never want to start last, but I’m thankful Panther gave me the opportunity to run here this weekend and the car is good enough that we’ll be OK. I think the Fourth of July livery looks really sharp too, and it’s an honor to represent the National Guard on such an important holiday weekend.” By james Foreman