After a three week break, the Verizon IndyCar Series got back on the track today, as drivers turned laps at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA. It was Charlie Kimball who turned the fastest lap, at 221.373 mph. He was followed by teammate and Pennsylvania native Sage Karam. Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and points leader Juan Montoya followed them, and Takuma Sato rounded out the top five. Kimball was the only one to reach the 221 mph barrier, and six other drivers were able to eclipse 220 mph during practice.
Montoya enters this weekend’s race with a nine point advantage over Graham Rahal. He’s looking for a repeat performance of last year, when he won the race from Pole position. It would go a long way in increasing his lead heading into next weekend’s final race. Rahal was 11th fastest in this morning’s practice. Scott Dixon is third in the championship, and was 16th fastest in practice. Expect both to be near the top of the chart when qualifying gets underway this afternoon.
There were 1,081 laps turned during practice, with just one incident. KV Racing’s Stefano Coletti made light contact with the inside wall late in practice.
It’s been 91 days since Team Penske has won an IndyCar race. Since that last win, the four Penske drivers have combined for 0 wins, five podiums, and six DNF’s. In fact, over the last eight races, Montoya and Power have a combined 0 podium finishes. In five of the last six years, a Penske driver has led the standings with two races to go. Only once did that driver hold on to win the championship.
Some noteworthy facts heading into this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway:
- Since the first Pocono IndyCar race in 1971, the race-winning driver has won the championship six times – Joe Leonard (1972), A.J. Foyt (1975 and 1979), Tom Sneva (1977), Rick Mears (1982) and Scott Dixon (2013)
- AJ Foyt has won the most races (4) at Pocono, with Rick Mears (3) just behind him
- Five drivers have won the race from Pole position (Donohue, Foyt, Bobby Unser, Mears, Montoya)
- Dixon has finished in the top-five in both of his starts at Pocono, while Andretti, Castroneves, Newgarden, Pagenaud and Power have finished in the top-ten in both starts
- Only twice has the race been shortened due to rain (1975, 1981)
- The race with the most lead changes occurred in 1973 when there were 29 passes for the lead
- Montoya owns the two-lap track record of 223.871 mph, which was set last year
Single-car qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 is up next, which begins at 2 PM ET on NBC Sports Network. Click here for the qualifying order. Following qualifying, there will be one final 30-minute practice session at 5:30 PM. The race begins at 2 PM tomorrow on NBCSN.
Will Power: “Pocono Raceway is a track that I have really enjoyed since it returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2013. It came along at a time when I was starting to round myself into a much better oval racer and I just took to it. Although it is an oval, it drives much like a road course because each of the turns is much different than the others in both banking and radius. The speeds are much higher but you have to pay attention to each corner. The Verizon Chevy has always been quite fast at Pocono and we need that speed again this year. With only two races left in the season, every position on the track counts. You can’t have any mistakes and you have to capitalize.”
Juan Montoya: “It’s unfortunate that we have given back some points over the last few races. Our results at Iowa and Mid-Ohio weren’t anything that we could control. The No. 2 Verizon Chevy team gave me good cars and we had ourselves in decent positions to have good finishes. At Iowa, we went out of the race early but we were starting in the top five and had the speed to contend for the win. At Mid-Ohio, the race was playing out perfectly for us until the last caution. It is what it is, but we know that we can go to Pocono and win the race. It’s going to be very special to go back there as the defending winner and to the place where we were able to validate Roger’s (Penske) belief that I could come back over to the Verizon IndyCar Series and win after being away for so long.”
Helio Castroneves: “I’ll tell you, we’ve had some really good runs at Pocono over the last two years. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to seal the deal with a win yet, but I believe it is just around the corner. Maybe having Shell V-Power Nitro+ on the car this week will give us the boost that we need. You know, Pocono is similar to Indianapolis but it’s not as close as some may think or I hope I would have won a race there by now. But we are very close to going to Victory Lane this season. Even without winning, we are still in the thick of the championship race once again. Now is the time for us to break through with a victory and go to Sonoma – where anything can happen – with some momentum.”
Ryan Briscoe: “I’m optimistic for a strong showing in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car for Pocono. It’s a fun and technical track, and I’m hoping our strong form on previous ovals will translate into a good result this weekend.”
Sage Karam: “This is a huge race weekend for me. It’s my first time in an Indy car at my home track. We have tons of people coming in town, both friends and family. I would say, outside of the Indianapolis 500, there is no race more important to me than Pocono. I hope we can finish up the season strong here and put on a good show for the fans. Pocono is such a cool track that produces great racing and I hope we keep coming back for years to come.”
Scott Dixon: “The Tricky Triangle is a tough place to get right. It’s definitely tricky and I think for us, the first time going there in 2013, and having a podium sweep with myself, Dario (Franchitti) and Charlie Kimball was huge for the team. It was huge for Honda at that time as well, as it marked our 100th win (for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in all forms of motorsports), their 200th win (for Honda in Indy cars). Pocono actually kicked off our run for the championship that year so our first time there will always have a special place in my heart. Turn 3 for me is definitely one of the toughest corners on any of these circuits we go to all year. It’s always exciting for me to race there. This season there is going to be a lot of pressure as it’s now the second-to-last race coming down for the championship.”
Tony Kanaan: “My results don’t do any justice to how strong I’ve felt at Pocono, especially last year’s race. We led most of the race and then just missed out on finishing by a few laps and had to come in for fuel. These types of tracks are definitely my favorites and I generally have solid results, so I’m very optimistic about this weekend. The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet has been really strong the second half of this season and I’m ready to get back out on the Tricky Triangle.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “There is a reason they call Pocono the Tricky Triangle. It is an unusual oval with some very unique characteristics. Last year we made progress with the car from qualifying to the race and actually had a competitive car in traffic. We got ourselves into the top 10 and were looking good, but things just didn’t go our way. We have worked very hard on our oval setup this year. Chevy has given us great power and the best aero package. We just have to keep our nose to the grindstone and put up a good result this weekend if we are going to have any chance to finish in the top five in the championship.”
Takuma Sato: “I like Pocono Raceway. The venue is set up in a great natural environment that I always enjoy and the track is very challenging. The characteristic of this Tricky Triangle is so much fun that every corner is totally different and feels like an ultra-high-speed road course. I always enjoy driving here, especially since we were able to find a good setup for the last two races here. Having 1,300 guests from ABC Supply (for the race) is massive and it is very impressive. Hopefully they enjoy watching us have a strong this weekend.”
Graham Rahal: “We’re in a good place and we’ve got momentum on our side for sure with four top-fives in a row. It’s been a record-breaking season for me, so at this point I’m just going to go out there and try to have fun and do the best we can and hopefully everything will take care of itself. If we put ourselves in a good position and we’re smart throughout the race and weekend, then hopefully we’ll be in a place where, come the end of it, we can go for it and go for a win. The contenders at Pocono are the obvious ones: (Will) Power, Helio (Castroneves), (Scott) Dixon, myself and obviously (Juan Pablo) Montoya. I would expect (Marco) Andretti and the whole (Andretti Autosport) team to be good at Pocono, so they are going to be tough as will the rest of the Ganassi cars, too. There are a lot of good guys out there right now, but the guys we are racing against in the standings really, like Dixon and Montoya, we have to stay close to those guys and they don’t have any weaknesses. Montoya won (at Pocono) last year and I fully expect him to be pretty strong again. Different aero packages were run at the other 500-mile races, but I do think that we have learned a lot since we first ran the aero package on an oval and I think that lately we have been able to get some work done to close the gap even further to where we ultimately want to be. This is a big race for us from many different perspectives and starting up front is going to be very important, particularly if Pocono goes as it did last year where it was pretty green the entire race. I think we are starting to figure out the aero kit, we’re starting to get in a better place here and become a little more competitive. Hopefully this will be the next step and we will be able to show that this weekend.”
Ed Carpenter: “It’s always important to finish the year strong. It makes the off-season a little less painful if you go out with a strong performance. With the No. 20 car, especially when I’ve been driving, we really haven’t gotten the results we’d hoped for this year. It’s our last chance to kind of right that wrong and go out with a little momentum for the off-season. As the year has gone on, the team has been getting stronger and stronger on all circuits, especially ovals. I’m excited to get another shot at Pocono, a 500-miler. The last oval of the year is definitely a big race for us.”
Simon Pagenaud: “I love the history when it comes to Pocono Raceway. It was such a mainstay on the schedule for a number of years that I think we were all excited when it returned in 2013. Running at Pocono gives us an opportunity to race on the same track as some of the legends of the sport. In the last two years since the series has gone back to Pocono, I feel like I have been very competitive and I really enjoy superspeedways. I’m hoping that the test we had last week at Indianapolis will help us as a team this weekend. They are not the same track but they are both fairly flat and two-and-a-half miles in length. (Team advisor) Rick Mears is someone that had a lot of success at Pocono as a driver. I like to lean on him a bit. He has been awesome to have by my side on ovals. That’s one of the things I love about racing for Team Penske – everyone has all of these great resources available to them.”
Carlos Munoz: “After two weekends off, I had some time for preparation and some rest, but finally it’s Pocono race week. It’s my favorite track of the year – I have good memories from Indy Lights and last year in IndyCar where we had a nice podium finish with all the amazing Colombian fans in the stands. I’ve been really competitive at this track and I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s hope for a good result this weekend.”
Marco Andretti: “This weekend’s race is a must-win event if we have any possible championship title hopes. We’ve had a consistent season but need a win. Pocono is a real unique track with the challenge of finding the balance between Turns 1 and 3. Being my home track, it will be an exciting weekend … and will be nice to have a race weekend where I get to say I sleep in my own bed!”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We are looking to continue our oval form after winning the last event at Iowa (Speedway). We’ve been very competitive in the past at Pocono, consistently running in the top five, however circumstances out of our control have forced us to retire early. Hopefully this is the year we put it all together for the DHL Honda team.”
Josef Newgarden: “Pocono is a huge event for INDYCAR, not just for heritage but also the way it showcases what Indy cars can do. The great thing about INDYCAR is we’re the most diverse championship on the planet with the types of racetracks that we race on. Pocono is probably one of the most diverse ovals you can get. We’ve been able to get a top five and a top 10 there, so we’ve been in the mix. Our goal this year is to go and try to move that needle up a little bit. It would be nice to get in the top three and maybe win the race this year.”
Practice Photos via IndyCar