IndyCar Buzzed About Its Return To Pocono

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 5 2013

Defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay tested the track at Pocono on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

All 24 IZOD IndyCar Series drivers participating in a one-day Open Test around the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway Thursday posted lap times better than the track record of 42.510-seconds/211.715 mph set by Emerson Fittipaldi on Aug. 19, 1989.

The session was a prelude to qualifying for Sunday’s Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco, as open-wheel racing returns to the “Tricky Triangle” in Long Pond, Pa.

Marco Andretti of nearby Nazareth, Pa., topped the speed chart with a lap of 40.7308-seconds/220.963 mph in the No. 25 RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport.

“I think this just became my favorite racetrack,” said Andretti, who recorded his best lap during a qualifying simulation. “I mean, it’s so different every lap and that’s the fun about it. You don’t know what to expect. You have to really be on the tools end-to-end and chase the car. I think it’s going to produce a heck of a race. I was able to make some passes. I’m really pleased with the car and I can keep my foot in it and put up a big time, so that helps as well.

“I’ve made passes going into every corner. Again, credit to INDYCAR with the aero choice and Firestone with the tire choice. I think it will produce good racing because it’s going to put guys on the opposite ends of the downforce level, which is the risk you run.”

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan – who can continue on the path to a $1-million bonus by

Tony Kanaan's thoughts are a bit Fuzzy this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

winning the second of three legs of the “Fuzzy’s Triple Crown” – was second-fast at 40.9460-seconds/219.802 mph in the No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” Dallara/Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology-SH Racing.

IndyCar Series championship leader Helio Castroneves (219.123 mph) was third in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Dallara/Chevy, while owner/driver Ed Carpenter was fourth (218.788 mph) in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Dallara/Chevy. Reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, also of Andretti Autosport, was fifth (218.293 mph) in the No. 1 DHL Dallara/Chevy. Top-to-bottom, the field was separated by 1.1-seconds.

The race will be televised live at noon (EDT) by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smart phones and tablets. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Pocono 100 at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Pocono Raceway. NBC Sports Network’s coverage will air at 7 p.m. (EDT) on July 12.

Al Unser, the only driver to win the IndyCar “Triple Crown,” believes reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan has a solid chance to capture the reinvented $1-million “Fuzzy’s Triple Crown” – the IZOD IndyCar Series tripleheader including the Indy 500, Pocono INDYCAR 400 and season-ending MAVTV 500.

Sunday’s race is the middle leg of the event sponsored by Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka. Kanaan began his quest by winning the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26. The 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., will host the tripleheader finale on Oct. 19.

“Tony is capable of winning at Pocono,” said Unser, a four-time Indy 500 champion and 39-time IndyCar race-winner. “But there are about 10 other guys there who will be chasing him. If he can win Pocono and California, I’d be happy to have Tony join me as a Triple Crown winner, for sure.”

Sunday’s race marks the first time since 1989 the IndyCar Series will have competed at the “Tricky Triangle.” Cumulative two-lap qualifications around the 2.5-mile trioval are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday.

“I have never raced at Pocono Raceway, but we know we had a good car at Indy and had a good test at Pocono last week,” said Kanaan, whose No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” Dallara/Chevrolet is fielded by KV Racing Technology. “We tried a bunch of things last week. We used last week’s test for the things I call the big things _ things that will take a long time to change. I can’t get into much detail but they’re changes in the car that will take a couple hours sometimes for you to figure out. And we had a list of three of those that I went through during that day and then we went back to the shop to evaluate those and chose the best that we thought when we came back. It was definitely helpful.

“It’s funny, I have been in America for so long now and racing in INDYCAR for 14 years; you figure you have learned every single track and you’ve been to every single track. And all of the sudden we came to a track that I hadn’t raced yet. It took me a little while to learn the track. They don’t call it the ‘Tricky Trioval’ for nothing. I got here, I drove my rental car around and said, ‘Eh, it’s not that bad.’ And then I got in my Indy car and I’m like, ‘OK!’ So it took me a few laps to get the confidence and to learn a lit bit about this track.”

The previous “Triple Crown” included 500-mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario (Calif.) Speedway from 1971- 1980 and from 1981-89 at Indy, Pocono and Michigan International Speedway. Big Al actually won four 500-mile races in a row starting with a victory at Ontario in 1977 and subsequent wins in 1978 at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario again. Unser drove for former Indy 500 champion Parnelli Jones in 1977 and for Texan 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. But I know for sure we didn’t get a million dollars. I am positive about that!”

Unser said he was pleased to see Kanaan win his first Indy 500 in May after many close calls. “I think Tony’s a good racer, a real good racer,” Unser said. “I’m an old-timer and I thought he was going to be another Lloyd Ruby and just keep racing and racing at Indy and never get to drink the milk or get his photo with the Borg-Warner Trophy in Victory Lane. He knew the Speedway didn’t owe him anything like the announcers said it did. He won based on his talent, his racing skills and the team’s hard work.”

If Kanaan can win all three major events in 2013, Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka will present him $1- million at Fontana. If Kanaan or another driver wins two of three events, Fuzzy’s will present a check for $250,000 to that driver. The Jostens-designed “Fuzzy’s Triple Crown” Trophy was unveiled at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.

INDYCAR will implement three-wide starts for the IZOD IndyCar Series races at Pocono Raceway this Sunday and at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Oct. 19, reinstating a “Triple Crown” tradition.

“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 utilized annually for the Indianapolis 500 since 1921, and were implemented at Pocono Raceway and Ontario (Calif.) Speedway during the 1970s and ‘80s for the “Triple Crown” legs at those tracks.

All restarts at both Pocono Raceway and during the season-ending MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway will be single-file formation.

Team-owner A.J. Foyt Jr. underwent successful hip replacement surgery on his left hip Monday in a Houston hospital. First four-time winner of the Indy 500, Foyt is expected to make a full recovery.

Foyt, who has not attended a race since the night event at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, has been battling pain in his left leg for most of the year. On April 23 Foyt underwent a laminectomy procedure in the lumbar region of his spine to relieve sciatic nerve pain. Foyt had missed the races at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and on the Streets of Long Beach prior to that surgery as well as the event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, immediately after it.

The chronic leg pain increased dramatically after he fell while working on his ranch before the race in Fort Worth. Foyt, 78, consulted with several doctors before agreeing to the most recent surgery.

“I was a little nervous about this surgery but they had me up-and-walking the same day,” said Foyt, who along with son Larry fields the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda driven by Long Beach winner Takuma Sato. “I’m sore but nothing like I was before the surgery. I guess I waited too long to have it done though because my hip was in really bad shape. They couldn’t believe I was walking at all. The doctors tell me it will be six-to-eight weeks before I can travel.” Foyt is scheduled to remain in the hospital for several days.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 5 2013
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