LONG POND — It took less than 82 seconds Saturday for Pocono Raceway to win Marco Andretti’s heart.
That’s the amount of time in which the grandson of Mario Andretti and the son of Michael Andretti drove his RC Cola Chevrolet around Pocono twice while capturing the pole position for today’s Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco during a couple of electric qualifying runs.
“It’s just tremendous,” said Andretti, 26, who lives near his grandfather in Bushkill Township. “I’ve taken a huge liking to this place the second I rolled off here at the first test. I really think the IndyCar was built for this track.
“It became my favorite track.”
In the blink of an eye, it’s easy to see why.
Andretti zipped around Pocono in 40.6547 seconds during his second time around the track Saturday, giving him the day’s fastest lap and solidifying his No. 1 start spot for today with a cumulative time of 1:21.3437. His average speed was 221.273 mph, the fastest among the field of 24 cars.
“It’s so different end to end and lap to lap,” Andretti said of the Pocono track, which will welcome back IndyCar racing today for the first time since 1989. “You really have to chase the tools in the car. And that was on my own, without any other cars on the track.”
A couple of his Andretti Autosport teammates will be chasing the leader at the start.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe joined Andretti for a sweep of the three front-row starting spots for today’s 160-lap race, which begins at 12:15 p.m.
Golfing great Fuzzy Zoeller will serve as the race’s grand marshal and honorary starter, trading fairways for the Pocono straightaways for a day.
“I am looking forward to that,” Zoeller said. “As far as this grand marshal stuff, what are my duties? It’s ‘Drivers, start your engines,’ right? I can do this.”
Hunter-Reay did a credible job in qualifying, as he finished with an average speed of 220.892 mph, while Hinchcliffe averaged 220.431 mph.
“I always know my teammates are going to be strong,” Andretti said.
Some guys came out a little too strong.
E.J. Viso, who’s also a member of Andretti Autosport, wiggled midway through Turn 1, did a half-spin and struck the SAFER Barrier.
“The rear of the car stepped out,” said Viso, who climbed from the car without assistance. “I controlled it for a little bit and it stepped out again. The second time, there was nothing I could do. I would like to review what happened.”
Alex Tagliani of Bryan Herta Autosport also crashed on Turn 1, brushing the SAFER barrier first before spinning and hitting it with the back of his Barracuda Racing Honda.
Herta was helped from the wreck, but cleared to drive today. He’ll start at the back of the field along with Viso.
“They don’t call it the Tricky Triangle for nothing,” said driver Tony Kanaan, who wll start fifth in his Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
The Andrettis conquered it long ago.
Mario Andretti actually ran the first lap in an Indy car at Pocono Raceway long before it was paved for racing, taking the contractor for a ride to point out some problems that needed to be fixed. The racing legend also ran the first lap of the first paved race at Pocono and won the Pocono pole in 1987 at 200.915 mph.
Michael Andretti won the Pocono pole in 1986 at 205.724 mph.
Now Marco Andretti keeps the family tradition of pole position alive at Pocono.
“I’m sure it’s going to help,” said Pocono Raceway president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky, expecting a boost in attendance for the race with Andretti leading it off. “We’ll definitely see a spike. That name in this part of the woods means a lot. Knowing his grandfather was the first person to turn a lap here, it’s pretty exciting.”
Not as thrilling as a victory today would be to Marco Andretti.
“It means a lot to me,” Marco said of continuing the Andretti legacy at Pocono. “This is the first place where, besides Milwaukee, I was able to get a pole where they did. But (today) is the one we want.
“That would be icing on the cake.”