IndyCar Drivers Ready To Come To Grips With Return To 'Tricky Triangle'
The Triple Crown is back in IndyCar racing, and that means the return of another great tradition – the three-wide start for the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco on Sunday, July 7 and the season-ending MAVTV 500 on Saturday, Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
"After having the opportunity to test at Pocono and a successful event at Auto Club Speedway last season, we were able to analyze track data and compare to our current start procedure for the Indianapolis 500," said Beaux Barfield, race director, INDYCAR. "Given the speeds of our starts, the location of accelerations zones, the spacing between rows and the length of the front straights at each track, we have decided to move forward with a three-wide lineup for the initial starts."
Three-wide starts have been used annually for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race since 1921, and were implemented at Pocono Raceway and Ontario (Calif.) Speedway during the 1970s and '80s for the tracks' Triple Crown legs.
The addition this year of the Fuzzy's Triple Crown renews the tradition of the three superspeedway races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono and Ontario from 1971-80 and from 1981-89 at Indianapolis, Pocono and Michigan International Speedway.
The Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco is the middle leg of the Fuzzy's Triple Crown. Cumulative two-lap qualifications on the 2.5-mile tri-oval are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. (ET) Saturday, July 6.
All restarts at both Pocono Raceway and the season-closing MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway will be single-file formation.
Much of IndyCar racing’s history and heritage have deep roots at Pocono Raceway. From the time it opened in 1971, some of the greatest names in IndyCar history have won at the unique triangle-shaped 2.5-mile superspeedway nestled in the lush Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Names such as Mark Donohue, who won the first 500-mile race at Pocono on July 3, 1971, Joe Leonard, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Teo Fabi, Danny Sullivan, Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal have driven to victory at Pocono.
Sullivan was the last driver to win an IndyCar race at this track in 1989 when he started seventh and beat Mears to the checkered flag. The sanctioning body at that time, CART, decided to leave the track over a variety of issues including the old “boiler plate” steel walls that were replaced a long time ago.
But 24 years later, the IZOD IndyCar Series is making a return to this unique raceway with the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco.
“I’m very excited about going back to Pocono,” said team owner Michael Andretti, who grew up in nearby Nazareth, Pa., and competed in six CART races at Pocono, with a best finish of third in 1989. “I’m the only one that has really driven there, so they don’t really know what they are in for. They are in for having a lot of fun. The track is one of the best superspeedways out there. It is very, very challenging. It has the same type of challenge The Milwaukee Mile has for being a short oval.
“I think the drivers are really going to enjoy themselves. I think it’s fantastic we are getting back up in the Northeast. I’m so happy we are going back to Pocono. I think it’s very positive, and the fans are starving for it. The last IndyCar race at Nazareth was back in 2004, so fans are starving for open-wheel racing back at Pocono.”
Because of its unique shape and precise turns, Pocono tends to favor drivers that also excel on the road and street courses of the series. Pocono serves as a true test of a race driver’s overall versatility and skill.
“I think it helps the drivers that are good on road courses because of the tight, three corners, and it’s shaped like a triangle,” Andretti said. “It does not drive like a normal superspeedway. Turn 1 is like Michigan but you get into Turn 3 and it’s like you are at Milwaukee. It’s completely different in all the corners, so that makes it a real challenge.
“It’s so competitive. I know we have four good shots at it, and hopefully one of the Andretti Autosport drivers will bring it home.”
Although Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves continues to lead the IZOD IndyCar Series points race, three drivers from Andretti Autosport are in positions 2-4 heading into Pocono. Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is second, nine points behind Castroneves. Marco Andretti is third in points, 55 out of the lead, and three-time winner James Hinchcliffe is fourth, 66 out of the lead.
"These races are so hard to win," Hinchcliffe said. "You've got to be with a good crew, good car, good pit stops, call it right, drive smart and have some luck. And you can't take anything for granted. You can't assume you're in a good position, because there are legitimately 12 guys any weekend that can win a race, and you just never know if you'll ever win another one.
"I think the team has a lot of confidence in each other and themselves and now we can just try and rip off some consistent results because you look at Marco (Andretti) and you look at Helio, I've got more wins than anybody, but those guys are ahead of me because they have been more consistent.”
The driver fifth in points has special reason to win at Pocono. By winning the 97th Indianapolis 500 for the first time in his career, Tony Kanaan is the only driver that can win the Fuzzy’s Vodka Triple Crown Award. With the return of Pocono Raceway to the schedule in 2013, INDYCAR has revived the famed Triple Crown, which also includes the season-ending 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
If Kanaan sweeps the Triple Crown, he wins a $1 million bonus from Fuzzy’s Vodka. If he wins two of the three races in the Triple Crown he will collect $250,000.
Kanaan is attempting to become the second Triple Crown winner in IndyCar history. Al Unser was the only driver to achieve that feat when he won the Indianapolis 500, the Pocono 500 and the Ontario 500 in 1978 when Ontario Motor Speedway was still active. Bobby Unser (1980) and Gordon Johncock (1982) won two of the three legs of the Triple Crown.
“Obviously I'm the only one that has a chance to win the Triple Crown, so the pressure is on us, but I'm excited,” Kanaan said. “I was there last Tuesday and checked the track out and saw how it looks. I've always heard good things about Pocono. Obviously, when I drove for Michael Andretti, it was a track that they had a lot of success, it was close to their house, and I even heard that Michael had a helicopter crash on the way there once. So I've heard about the track a lot.”
Unser, the only driver to win the IndyCar “Triple Crown,” believes Kanaan has a chance to capture the $1 million Fuzzy’s Triple Crown.
“Tony is capable of winning at Pocono,” said Unser, a 39-time IndyCar race winner. “He showed he is capable of winning. But there are about 10 other guys there who will be chasing him. If he can win Pocono and California (Auto Club Speedway), I’d be happy to have Tony join me as a Triple Crown winner, for sure.”
Unser, whose family (with his brother Bobby and son, Al Jr.) has captured an amazing 107 IndyCar Series races from 1965 to 1995, won four 500-mile races in a row with an Ontario victory in 1977 and wins in 1978 at Indy, Pocono and Ontario. Unser drove for Parnelli Jones in 1977 and Jim Hall in 1978.
“I remember the Pocono race in 1978, and we gambled by not changing tires,” Unser said. “We took a big chance, and it paid off. You never know for sure until that dang checkered flag falls who’s going to win. I got a ring that said I was the Triple Crown winner and USAC gave the team $10,000, I think… you’d have to check. But I know for sure we didn’t get a million dollars. I am positive about that!”
Kanaan is now set in his quest for another Triple Crown win in his No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” Chevrolet when the green flag drops at 12:15 p.m. ET Sunday, July 7. The 160-lap Pocono 400 will be televised live on ABC.
Kanaan was one of 14 IndyCar Series drivers from eight teams that tested at Pocono on June 25. Another Open Test is scheduled for July 4 before teams return to practice and qualify July 6 for the 400-mile race July 7.
Castroneves and Power were back at Pocono for a second time because they were part of a Firestone tire test earlier this year. For many of the drivers that tested last week, it was their first experience at the triangle.
"Pocono is pretty incredible," Josef Newgarden said. "I've never been to an oval like this. It's a challenge and unlike anywhere we've been. It almost combines a bunch of ovals. You have one corner that's like Milwaukee. Another corner that's like Kentucky and one like Road America with a kink-like corner. It's very unique and very difficult to get right."
Ed Carpenter is the only owner/driver in the series and has proven to be quite adept at racing on ovals. But he hasn’t seen any oval quite like Pocono.
“Turn 1 is a beast in the IndyCar,” Carpenter said. “It's going to be a fun corner to drive in the race, and I think the fans will enjoy watching it. It's definitely different than any place I've ever been to. We were trying to compare it to places we've been in the past and it reminds me of Phoenix a little bit. It's its own animal.”
Midway through the season, this year has proven to be incredibly competitive with seven different winners representing six teams in the first 10 races this season. There have been three first-time winners. Twenty-one drivers have at least one top-five finish, and seven different drivers have won the Verizon P1 Award for the pole. No driver has led laps in all 10 races.
"It’s circumstances,” Castroneves said. “All the teams are improving. It shows that the series is very, very competitive. It gives an opportunity for a guy -- rookie -- to win races. That is why our series is one of the best.”