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Pocono IndyCar Preview

Will Power and Simon Pagenaud lead the field into Turn 1 at the start of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. [Photo by: Bret Kelley]

Will Power and Simon Pagenaud lead the field into Turn 1 at the start of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. [Photo by: Bret Kelley]

 

by Paul Gohde

For the 24th time since it opened in 1971, Indy car racing returns to the Pocono Raceway for Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply 500 on the oddly-shaped, 2.5-mile tri-oval. With the three turns copied from other tracks by designer and two-time (1959 and 1962) Indianapolis 500 winner Roger Ward, Turn1 (Trenton), Turn 2 (Indianapolis) and Turn 3 (Milwaukee) present a challenge to both drivers and crews. “The “Tricky Triangle” is such an interesting place to race with three completely different corners,” noted 17-time Indy car winner Tony Kanaan. “You have to get so many little things right to suit each corner before you’ll be successful.”

Pocono Raceway Facts: USAC (1971-’81), CART (1982-’89) and IndyCar (2013-present) have raced here, but there was a 23-year gap with no open wheel racing before IndyCar returned in 2013. Mark Donohue won for home-state owner Roger Penske in ’71 and Scott Dixon was victorious when the Verizon IndyCar Series returned in 2013. AJ Foyt won here four times for the most wins by a single driver, while Team Penske has nine victories; the most by any team. Will Power won here for Penske last year by a small 1.1459 second margin. 2014 Pocono winner Juan Pablo Montoya holds both the two-lap qualifying record (223.871mph) and the race record (202.402); the fastest winning speed in any 500-mile Indy car race.

2016 ABC Supply 500: Power led six Chevrolets that finished in the top ten as the now departed Mikhail Aleshin, who led a race-leading 87 laps, and Ryan Hunter-Reay trailed in Hondas. Hunter-Reay grabbed a podium spot after starting last in the 22-car field. Eventual Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud crashed out of the chase on lap 158.

The 2017 season so far: Three-time 2017 winner Josef Newgarden is chasing his first-ever series crown and holds just a seven-point lead over Penske teammate Castroneves. Dixon (-8), Pagenaud (-17) and Power (-52) trail. Eighteen of the 22 drivers entered still have a mathematical chance to win the championship with four races remaining. Other winners so far include: Graham Rahal and Will Power (2 each) and single race winners James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Pagenaud, Dixon, Castroneves and Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. A short oval at Gateway and road courses at Watkins Glen and Sonoma remain after Pocono on the varied IndyCar schedule.

The field: Twenty-two Verizon IndyCar Series cars are entered, one more than usual, as Harding Racing returns with Colombian Gabby Chaves as the team moves toward a possible full-time series’ entry in 2018. With Mikhail Aleshin out at Schmidt Peterson, the team’s second car has been assigned to Sebastian Saavedra for the next two races on the schedule.

Notes:
· Thirty-seven drivers have started Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2017, with 36 having scored points.

· The seven-point gap between point leader Newgarden and Castroneves is the closest margin with four races to go since 2008.The average difference with four races remaining is 34.7.

· As expected, Juan Pablo Montoya will move to Team Penske’s new Acura IMSA Daytona Prototype series as a teammate to Prototype champion Dane Cameron. Drivers for a second entry will be announced later, but Helio Castroneves is thought to be a candidate to move from Indy cars to be paired with an IMSA veteran. Time will tell if Montoya, Castroneves or both would participate in the 2018 Indy 500.

· TV: NBCSN- Qualifying, Saturday, 1p.m. ET (live). Race, Sunday, 2p.m. ET (live).

Our Take: Five-hundred mile races often produce surprise winners due to circumstances that arise in long, high-speed events. Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato have won the Indy 500 in consecutive years while favored drivers fell by the way side. What lies ahead at Pocono is hard to forecast. Three current drivers have won here since IndyCar’s 2013 return. Power, Hunter-Reay and Dixon are recent no-surprise winners as Kanaan’s advice about teams “getting little things right” often determines the victor in longer events. That said, The Captain’s team has been successful here nine times since that first Mark Donohue win in 1971. Roger comes prepared and long races often prove that true. We’ll go with Power or Newgarden to win for Chevrolet or Graham Rahal for Honda. Want one of those surprise picks to steal an unexpected win? I’d pick JR Hildebrand.

The Final Word: Takuma Sato (No. 26 Expedite Home Loans Andretti Autosport Honda)- Most recent 500-mile winner at Indianapolis. “Pocono is one of my favorite tracks. The venue is set up in a great natural environment that I always enjoy and the track is very challenging…every corner is different. The sensation of speed going into the high-banked Turn 1 is very impressive and the balance of the car shifts particularly in Turn 3 which is quite neutral as it has much less banking. It is followed by a long straight which gives us great overtaking opportunities, too.”
 

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”