The NTT IndyCar Series is back in action this weekend at the Pocono Raceway. After two weeks off, it’s time for what will be a pivotal race in the hunt for the championship. It’s also a race that some people have varying opinions on. I get the aesthetics by it.
When you have 22 cars circling a 2.5-mile track for 500 miles and all 22 drivers are worthy to be there, the race can at times get rather redundant.
While the track is the same size and the race itself the same length as the Indianapolis 500, we have 11 fewer cars racing, which means the obvious – less action. Plus, these drivers are just so good now a days that you don’t see many mistakes being made. That can lead to a lot of single file racing.
Last year, we had just four cars on the lead lap and 14 running at the finish. But, if you really take a look at what Pocono is all about, you’d see that Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network) is a race about driver vs. car vs. track vs. setups.
The common words with the drivers ahead of this weekend’s race is “difficult” “challenging” tricky” long race” etc.
“Pocono is a difficult track, and it takes the right pit and fuel strategy to do well with any 500-mile race,” said current points leader Josef Newgarden. “We have a pretty good plan in place for the Hitachi Chevy, so we’re ready to put it into action.”
See, Pocono may be 2.5-miles and have just three turns, but all three turns are different. Turn 1 is modeled off of the old Trenton Speedway with 14 degree banking. Turn 2 is modeled off the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 9 degrees of banking. Finally, Turn 3 is a carbon copy of the Milwaukee Mile at 6 degrees of banking. That’s a gradual decrease in banking the more you go around the track on each lap. You can’t get a car set up to handle right in all three corners. It’s impossible. You have to give up in some areas to gain in others.
So, who ever can get the right balance correct for all 3 turns will be better than the rest. That’s why winning in 2013 was so rewarding for Scott Dixon.
“The Tricky Triangle… Pocono is really fast and produces great Indy car racing,” Dixon said. “It’s such a unique challenge to get everything right. The team swept the podium in 2013 and that is a perfect example of things going your way here when you get everything right. It’s a long race and it’s now time to roll the dice and take chances.”
The Andretti Autosport duo of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti agree.
“It’s an extremely challenging track,” Hunter-Reay said. “The difference between Turn 1 and 3 presents a whole host of issues that you have to resolve setup-wise. It’s all about a compromise between those two (turns) that allows you to have a good race day.”
“Pocono is a fun superspeedway for me,” Andretti said. “Like everyone says, you have to get the balance between Turn 1 and (Turn) 3 – and then Turn 2 in traffic isn’t easy either. The race-ability of the track is great. I think the restarts with how wide the front straight is get crazy which is fun for the fans.”
What about another driver in Sebastien Bourdais. He too echoes what those others say about Pocono.
“Pocono is a very unusual oval,” Bourdais said. ‘It has some very unique characteristics, with three drastically different corners, and that’s why it’s called the ‘Tricky Triangle’.”
Ed Carpenter puts a different twist to it, not only is it tricky, it’s a long race. You have to get it right for 500 miles.
“I am always excited to get back to Pocono Raceway,” Carpenter said. “It is such a unique and challenging track to drive on, plus it is another 500-mile race which adds a special dynamic.”
Graham Rahal also calls it difficult to get right.
“I always look forward to the challenge of racing at Pocono,” Rahal said.
“Challenge.” “Difficult.” The drivers aren’t lying. Then you have drivers like Matheus Leist who struggled last year. When you struggle, you’re just holding on to your car, not driving it.
“Pocono is a tough place,” said the second year driver. “Last year I never felt very good in the car there, but by the fact it is a very challenging track, it makes things very interesting.”
That leads to a wide eyed experience for another rookie this year in Felix Rosenqvist who is open about him not being very good on ovals in his rookie campaign.
“When you go to Pocono, I think it doesn’t matter if it’s Pocono or Indy or Texas – I just have a huge respect and you take more time,” said Rosenqvist. “You allow yourself to just go up to speed more slow because, we all know what happens when you crash at 220, 230 mph. Physically and car-wise, it’s never a good thing. So I believe that everyone has to respect and give each other room. I’m very much aware I’m not a pro at the ovals yet. I think, though, we’ve made really good progress with the NTT DATA car. I tested at Gateway and I have to say I feel more and more confident every lap I turn on an oval. I still have much more to learn, but I’m sure my first good result on an oval is just around the corner.”
If that’s not all, you have another wrinkle in this weekend’s race – PJ1. The NASCAR race was held on the Long Pond oval a couple of weeks ago and the track had the sticky material to help in creating more grooves put down in all three corners. How much will that play a role in Sunday?
“It will be interesting to see how different Pocono is this year with the changes they made to the surface for the NASCAR race; hopefully it has a positive effect on the show,” James Hinchcliffe said. “Five hundred miles is a long race, and I think we have good Arrow SPM cars in race trim, so hopefully, we can close out the speedways this year with a podium.”
So, while watching from home or in the grandstands may see drivers going by you in speeds in excess of 215 mph, the drivers and teams are racing with their handful. They’re just so good it looks easy.