Takuma Sato on Pole at Pocono

They call it the Tricky Triangle for a reason.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Long Pond, Pennsylvania this weekend, for the ABC Supply 500. There was plenty of action on Saturday, that ultimately saw reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato earn pole position in dramatic fashion. It’s the second pole of the season for Sato, as he claimed the top spot as the final car to leave pit lane.

Sato knocked Simon Pagenaud from the top spot, who is seeking his first top-five finish at Pocono. Starting behind them in Row 2 are a pair of Ganassi drivers in Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan. Row 3 includes last year’s winner Will Power, and Alexander Rossi. Graham Rahal, Gabby Chaves, Scott Dixon, and Max Chilton round out the top ten in qualifying.

Qualification Results for the ABC Supply 500

There were quite a few incidents on Saturday, with two big names making hard contact during qualifying.

Helio Castroneves lost control of his Team Penske machine during his run, and he will start the race from the back of the field. He has crashed out of the last two Pocono races, but he is capable of charging to the front. The last time Helio started this far back in the field was Milwaukee in 2015. He started 24th and finished 2nd in that race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in the first practice session, but as he came out of Turn 3 during his run, he lost control of his Andretti Autosport machine. He made hard contact with the outside wall, and then hit the inside wall with the same side of the car. The team asked him on the radio if he was okay, and “my hip” was his only reply. The Holmatro Safety Team was quick to the scene, and took their time getting him out of the car. He was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest for injuries to his left hip and knee. He was released, but has not yet been cleared to drive.

Practice before qualifying also featured a couple of incidents, with both Ed’s making contact with the wall. Ed Jones had just a light brush, but Ed Carpenter’s crash destroyed the entire left side of his car. The ECR team was able to repair the car, but missed the tech line by six minutes, and he was unable to qualify for tomorrow’s race.

Gabby Chaves had a great qualifying effort, and will start 8th tomorrow. The last two races at Pocono were won by the driver starting in 8th position. Though the Harding Racing team is only doing a few races this year, team owner Mike Harding told RACER that they will 100% will run the full season next year with Chaves, and sponsorship for a second car is looking good. He said they have one Leader’s Circle for next year, and is working on a second.

Championship points leader Josef Newgarden had to back out of the throttle a few times on his run, and will start 14th tomorrow. Still, he has won the last two IndyCar races, and his four results at Pocono are 5th, 8th, 2nd, and 4th. He is also one of just three drivers (Dixon, Power) to have finished in the top ten in all four races here.

The race distance is 200 laps, which is 500 miles around the 2.5-mile triangle. Mikhail Aleshin won the pole for last year’s race, and Power is the defending race winner. Coverage for the ABC Supply 500 begins at 2 PM ET on NBCSN.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Simon Pagenaud: “Almost. We were just a little short. Actually, the DXC Technology Chevrolet was very enjoyable. The balance was perfect. Ben (Bretzman), my race engineer, and the whole crew have worked very hard on this car and it’s great when that pays off. Starting position here isn’t quite what it is at some other places since the race is 500 miles. A lot of things can happen. But the good thing is that the car has good balance and worked well in traffic during the morning session. I think we’ll have a good car for the race. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Josef Newgarden: 
“We had a decent run, but not what we were looking for. The No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits team is going to be working hard on the car to try and gain some more speed. We’re going to try out a few things in the next practice session and see what happens.”

Helio Castroneves: “That’s really disappointing. The Hitachi Chevrolet was good this morning and I really thought we had a chance. Certainly it (the crash) is a mistake, no question. With something like that, you should know a little bit better. But I’m not worried about where you start; the good news is it’s 500 miles. Last year (Ryan) Hunter-Reay actually started last – probably where I’m going to start – and nearly won the race. It shows that if you have good balance, which we do, have a good team and everything, we should be able to overcome this obstacle. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Conor Daly: “We had a lot of understeer this morning, and now we have a lot of oversteer. I was basically driving off the right rear at the end of the last lap there in Turn 3. It was a little bit too sketchy for not a lot of speed, so we’re still in the same position. The more and more laps we do here, the more and more stuff we find out about this car this car and how to run it, so we’ll see. Carlos (Munoz) is really good here, which is really nice. He’s had a lot of success here. I have his data to look at, for sure. I still have a lot to learn about this place myself, as well.”

James Hinchcliffe: “The No. 5 Arrow Electronics car was pretty solid, so I wasn’t having to do too much inside the car. This (Pocono Raceway) is one place where you end up working a lot with the tools just because both ends of the racetrack are so different. I think we maybe went a little bit conservative on the downforce for this afternoon… We had an electrical issue during our qualifying sim this morning so we didn’t really get one. Not really sure what to expect out of the car and the track, so just maybe a bit conservative. It’s a 500-mile race, and obviously this is a big, long racetrack and a place you can pass… We didn’t want to risk it too much and break anything before tonight’s practice because that’s what matters – making sure the car is good in traffic.”

Sebastian Saavedra: “I’m satisfied with our run knowing that there was a lot of unknowns for qualifying. To have only one practice session and then straight into qualifying, adding a bunch of downforce, it’s not the most assuring for a driver (laughter). I have to give it to the team – they gave me the confidence, together with (James Hinchcliffe) Hinch, and we had a car that was able to commit. I guess we just didn’t have it out there. I think we could have had added a bit more downforce as well, but we’ll see what the data says. We gave it a try… tomorrow’s race is what’s most important.”

Max Chilton: 
“I just didn’t get the laps we needed for whatever reason. I had a snowplow moment and was trying to do everything I could do to get our Gallagher car right. I was adjusting the car, but when you have to make that many adjustments in one lap, something is off. Luckily for us it’s not terrible and it’s a long race here at Pocono tomorrow. You can win from any spot on the grid.”

Scott Dixon: 
“We had the same problems we had this morning in practice where we just couldn’t finish turn one correctly. But we had to go out first in qualifying and you just never know what you’re going to get with the track and conditions. All in all it was an average run and qualifying isn’t that important here with 500 miles ahead of you on Sunday. It’s a long race and hopefully we can keep the NTT Data car up front when it counts.”

Tony Kanaan: 
“I’m pleased with our run – I think we were pretty competitive. That’s the fastest we’ve gone all weekend, so I’m happy. I think the NTT car was really balanced and didn’t have anything more for the setup we had. It’s one of those things we did everything we could and left it all out there. I like qualifying sessions like that regardless of the outcome. It was a good one.”

Will Power: “Qualifying was pretty good for the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team. We definitely were fast but a few cars definitely had a little more than us. We are going to work on the car a bit before the next practice and will spend the session trying to find more speed.”

Carlos Munoz: “We had a mechanical problem. The car wouldn’t downshift. For sure that cost us some time. It is what it is and we have to have a good car for the race. The race here at Pocono, I always love it. It’s one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been doing well here. You just need a good car to be in the front. It would have been nice to be good. For sure we’re going to have some work to do tomorrow.”

Graham Rahal: “It was a good, solid run for us, but we’re obviously very lucky because we had a pretty bad puncture. You can hear the air coming out from the puncture from here, it’s so big. The car balance wasn’t bad in Turn 3, but I noticed in Turn 1 that there was a lot of bottoming, which was upsetting the balance on entry. We have a right rear that’s flat, so we’re just lucky the tire didn’t go and the car is in one piece. It looks like by the time I finished the run it was down six pounds on air.  We didn’t have the easiest run of it in the first practice, but we found some things that helped us late in the session. Now we can turn our attention to putting a good car on the track tomorrow and trying to get a win. This is an important race for us, a huge race for us in the championship.”

Esteban Gutierrez:
 “This was my first qualifying on a superspeedway, and after only a 75-minute practice, so it’s been quite tricky to understand how to follow the grip level. It was also quite windy, so it was quite challenging on that side. I did my best. We were a bit on the conservative side, but still quite on the limit.”

Ed Jones: “I think qualifying around this track isn’t one of the biggest factors for the race, as we’ve seen in the past. Going into the weekend our plan was always to run conservative in qualifying because there can be a lot of consequence for not a lot of gain in the long term of the race. As long as we’re here in a decent position to start, we should be able to have a decent race car and able to race forward.”

Ed Carpenter: (Crashed in Practice 1, did not qualify) “I don’t know (what happened). The car had felt pretty good. Graham (Rahal) was coming in the pits in front of me and slowing up. I don’t know, I maybe lifted a little bit for him slowing down to keep the gap and it may have shifted the balance. Frustrating, not the start that we wanted for the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but we’ll just have to rebound. It’s early in the weekend and we can recover from it.”

JR Hildebrand: “The car was kind of leaning in the direction of being handful on the warmup lap. I was trying to catch up to it with the tools in the car, but I got pretty close to just running out of adjustments. I just didn’t feel like I was catching up to where I needed to be to be able to put in a number. After we came through on the first lap without it seeming to improve any, I just wanted to hang on to the car. We’ve cleaned up one car today and needed to keep this one in one piece. If this had been more of a short oval qualifying session where everyone was super close, you’d stay with it.”

Takuma Sato: “I’m really happy. I always have enjoyed Pocono in the past years. I’ve had a difficult experience, but I’ve always enjoyed it. We haven’t had a win here yet and hopefully we can get that with Expedite Home Loans this weekend. That’s why putting down on pole here is something very special. Especially after Indy 500, coming to another 500 race, with entire crew from the No. 26 and Expedite Home Loans, who is family of Ruoff Home Mortgage, which was on our car for the Indy 500. The team did an outstanding job. I have to say big thank you to Michael (Andretti, team owner) and all Andretti Autosport. I am very happy.”

Marco Andretti: “Unfortunately, I knew the incident with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) was going to happen. I almost crashed in Turn 2, which is supposed to be almost like a straightaway to us. Unfortunately, on the out lap my car basically told me that the run was over. I just had to nurse it home instead of trying. I almost crashed in the warmup lap and I wasn’t even pushing. We missed it. Track (temperature) really affects our car, which is not great. The race is 500 miles, it is completely different. If we aren’t going to be on pole, I don’t really care where we start. We went for pole, so you can’t really hate us for that, but we missed it bigger than we thought we were going to. Right now, just obviously hope that the Ryan (Hunter-Reay) is all right.”

Charlie Kimball: “I honestly didn’t expect our run to be that good. I’m really proud of that effort from the whole crew. Everyone from Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing really put their heads down between practice and qualifying and made some pretty significant changes that put us right there in the window. Having watched the 10 car run before us I knew the speed was there, we just had to go out and get it. Honestly I’m relieved with how much better the car was and I’m just really proud of my guys.”

Gabby Chaves: “That was good and I am certainly happy with the progress we’ve made. I came into this weekend with the team and we said we wanted to improve our qualifying. We’ve had pretty good race cars, and pretty good races. We want to be overall better. First way to do that was improve our qualifying and we did that this weekend.”

Alexander Rossi: “I had a lot more understeer (in qualifying) than this morning in practice. I was prepared for it, but it really took off in Turn 1 on Lap 1, so I was actually fortunate to not be in a worse situation. Once we made adjustments inside the car everything was fine, so it was an opportunity missed for sure. At the end of my run, I think we had the fastest single lap, which is some sort of consolation prize. Right now, I think we are competitive. I had a feeling an Andretti Autosport car had a good shot at being on pole, and that’s what happened. Thoughts are with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) right now and hope he gets the all clear to come back tomorrow. I know we have a fast race car, so we’ll see what happens.”


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