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IndyCar Pole Speed At Pocono Backs Up To Another Century

by Allan Brewer

In one of those strange but true factoids, the IndyCar pole-winning qualifying speed at Pocono Raceway on Saturday was the slowest posted since 1989—that’s the 20th century—when Emerson Fittipaldi (211.715 mph) was behind the wheel.

Blame the light but gusty westerly wind if you want. Blame the changing track conditions as the seams in the pavement began to buckle late under the sunshine.

But don’t bother telling Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato about it. He is over the moon two days ahead of the solar eclipse at his good fortune in taking the first position on the grid for Sunday’s ABC Supply IndyCar 500-mile race here in the beautiful Pocono Mountains.

Sato’s speed of 219.639 mph was the best of anyone who took the track on an almost-fall day over the tri-oval. The track record for a single IndyCar lap here is 223.920 mph, held by Juan Pablo Montoya on the back of his 2014 qualifying effort.

Sato attributed the slower-than-anticipated speeds to the weather and track conditions, and described the machinations in-car he undertook with the weight-jackers to maintain control of his car in the face of adverse elements.

“I have to say ‘thank you’ to all of my teammates, because they showed me the way,” he said, referring to the suggestions Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay made to him as their qualifying turns were exhausted at middle-of-the-pack speeds over the course of the day. Significantly, Sato’s qualifying laps came late in the day—indeed he was the last to attempt to qualify—after all of his teammates (and the field) tried and failed to find the secret sauce the 2.5 mile circuit demanded.

With an intermittently brisk breeze sweeping across the unusually-designed, three-corner “oval” located in Long Pond, PA the practice speeds and qualifying marks were notably slower than the recent past. For example, the 2016 pole position for the ABC Supply IndyCar 500 was earned by Will Power at 220.445 mph; the best qualifying laps in the year prior were clocked at an average 220.530 mph (Helio Castroneves).

In what may be one of the last times he drives an IndyCar at Pocono in regular competition, Helio Castroneves suffered a lightning-fast loss of control and smacked the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1 during his qualification attempt. Castroneves blamed “too much understeer and a mistake on my part” on his spin. He will start at the rear of the field aside Ed Carpenter, whose team was tardy in appearing with his car at the technical inspection line and was smacked with a back-of-the-field penalty.

Hunter-Reay was lifted, and then walked with assistance very gingerly, from his car after broad-siding the wall in Turn 3 during his first qualification lap. Hunter-Reay was transferred by ground to Lehigh Valley Hospital for further evaluation, presumably for x-ray services unavailable in the infield medical center.

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Allan Brewer
Allan Brewer covers IndyCar and other racing series for RacingNation.com. Allan is a fixture at the race track, armed with keyboard and camera, eager to take you inside open-wheel sport where the news is being made. He comes to RacingNation.com with multiple professional awards from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AWWRBA). He began his motorsports writing career at FastMachines.com; and solely published IndyProRacer.com and A1GP.com, two award-winning websites for open-wheel racing's junior leagues, prior to becoming IndyCar correspondent at Motorsport.com. He has also covered Formula 1, NASCAR, Formula E, the Indy Lights Series and its predecessor Indy Pro Series, NHRA events and major auto shows. His major interest outside of competition is automotive technology and its application to the cars we drive every day on the public highways.