Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pocono passes its test

Teams flock to Long Pond to prepare for Pocono IndyCar 400

June 26. 2013 1:26AM

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LONG POND — The sound was distinct. A high-pitched wail unlike the throaty growls produced by stock cars.

It could mean only one thing Tuesday — the IZOD IndyCar Series was at Pocono Raceway and open-wheel racing was on its way for the first time in more than two decades.

“Coming in here, I saw NASCAR on both tunnels (to enter the track) and I didn’t know if we were allowed in here,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport.

“But it’s great to be at Pocono. This place is a lot of fun. It’s a new challenge, and I really enjoy new challenges. I really like it when everybody has to start from a clean sheet.”

Thirteen drivers used the test session to prepare for the Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco on July 7. They sounded a lot like their NASCAR Sprint Cup counterparts who have been racing at the 2.5-mile tri-oval since 1974.

“It’s different. For sure it’s different,” said points leader Helio Castroneves, who pilots the No. 3 Chevrolet for Team Penske. “For sure we’re going to have four wide on the front straightaway. Or five wide probably, no question about it.

“It’s different. Here there are three corners and they don’t look similar.”

There was also the obligatory comparison of Pocono to Indianapolis, something that is often heard throughout the Sprint Cup ranks.

“This track relates to Indianapolis in a couple of aspects,” said E.J. Viso, another Andretti team driver. “The speeds that we run, the tires we use, the downforce levels are a few factors that correlate with Indianapolis. So it was a good starting point for most of the teams to put some of the setup from Indianapolis on the car and do tweaks.”

Adjustments might be the battlecry for the IndyCar drivers. Like their Sprint Cup brethren, they found Pocono’s three different straightaways and three (some say four) different corners incredibly challenging.

“It’s a very impressive place,” Viso said. “It’s pretty fast. And just by the fact that each corner is different, you definitely have a different reaction in the car. So we really needed to be extremely proactive with all the tools.”

One thing is for sure, the IndyCar drivers will be going much faster. A couple hand-held timed laps on Tuesday were in the 42-second range. When Cup drivers tested at Pocono prior to their June race, their hand-held times were just under 53 seconds. The fastest lap in practice before the Cup race was 51.257 seconds by Jimmie Johnson.

“We only did like a high of 213 (mph), but we ran early and never ran new tires at the end,” said Graham Rahal, whose father Bobby won the 1988 Indy car race at Pocono. “To be honest, my best lap was my last lap so we’re not too unhappy with that.”

Many of the current group of IndyCar drivers were kids when the country’s top open-wheel series last raced at Pocono in 1989. The Indy cars’ last race in the region was in 2004 at the since-closed Nazareth Speedway.

“Dad’s not here today,” Rahal said, “but he’ll be here when we come back next week. I’m sure he’s looking forward to it. This track is a hell of a lot of fun, that’s for sure. It keeps your attention.”

Qualifying will be 1:30 p.m. on July 6, with practice taking place at 10 a.m. that day. The 160-lap race begins at 12:15 p.m. on July 7.


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