IndyCars returning to Pocono
LONG POND The sound of the engines at Pocono International Raceway on Wednesday morning were a little different than what people are used to. That's because it wasn't the roaring noise of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series turning laps at the historic tri-oval.
Instead, it was more like a smooth humming sound echoing through the Pocono Mountains. The IZOD IndyCar series returned to the local raceway for the first time since 1989 for a Firestone tire test session. The test session was held in order to gauge how the Firestone tires would react to the newly resurfaced track.
The sounds of the Indy Cars may not have been as boisterous as the Sprint Cup series, but they certainly have the edge in the speed department. Drivers were getting around the "tricky triangle" in record time (high 41-second range) averaging speeds of 214 mph.
Four drivers were in attendance on Wednesday at Pocono for the test session. Nazareth's own Marco Andretti, three-time IZOD series champion Dario Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power all ran impressive laps in their first crack at the track.
Franchitti was the lone driver out of the bunch that actually ran some laps at Pocono. He did so back in 2008 when he participated in the Sprint Cup series full time, but stressed the difference in the track and the difference in the speeds.
"It feels like a different track," said Franchitti. "Going down the straight, any straight this length, is going to feel long. When you turn into turn one here wide open, just keep it flat, the car compresses, all those Gs build up, it's a hell of a feeling. The tunnel turn is probably the most similar car to car. We're still I think 20 miles an hour quicker, 30 miles an hour quicker in the IndyCar. But turn three you're going through there wide open right now, which defies logic really when you consider we have Indianapolis spec wings on the car. So it feels a lot different, but it's fun."
The man of the hour throughout the test session was Marco Andretti and deservingly so. The Nazareth native was followed closely by both the media and fans alike on the afternoon. Andretti expressed his immense excitement for the race on July 7th and expects a ton of support from his Pennsylvania fans.
"Yeah, it's definitely convenient. I get to sleep in my own bed," said Andretti. "I'm going to have a huge hometown crowd. I think I'll have to renegotiate my contract with dad to get more tickets for this race, for sure, but the hometown support is going to be huge. The convenience of it is huge, but obviously it's going to be tough, just like the rest of them."
The speed of the Indy Cars were evident from those in attendance, but nobody could attest to it more than the drivers. All of them had pretty interesting things to say about the wild ride that Pocono's three very different turns offer.
"It was fast, it was smooth, fast, daunting type of track," said Power. "It was very nice actually, very nice the way it's been resurfaced."
Franchitti had a bit of a different statement about his first time around the track in an IndyCar.
"I had some preconceived ideas having driven the Sprint Cup car. My initial thoughts weren't quite as polite as Will's. My first thought was holy heck."
Andretti also weighed in on his first time around Pocono. He also spoke about the knowledge his grandfather Mario Andretti has to offer him at the track, considering Mario's success at Pocono in the past.
"For me, it was kind of like a higher speed short oval really because you have to work, especially in turn one," said Andretti. "It was also about finding the limit, kind of in turn three, getting a feel for the back end with no banking there. It's going to be interesting trying to find the balance between turn one and three. It will be fun, though."
"My grandfather, he'll definitely be valuable, especially on the race weekend and later today for sure when we start to go through some changes to the car. I mean, I'd be foolish to not listen to what he has to say anywhere really, not just here."
With the addition of the IZOD IndyCar series Pocono 400 along with the Sprint Cup series races on June 9th and August 4th Long Pond, PA will become a racing hub for the northeastern part of the country this summer. Along with adding the IndyCars to the Pocono summer race schedule, a lot of changes to the facilities like the track repave last year are not going unnoticed.
"The difference from being here in 2008 is remarkable," said Franchitti. "This was a bumpy old place before. There's obviously been a great deal of investment in the track, the SAFER barrier in different places, as well. That's really allowed us as IndyCar as a group to come back here. It's very much appreciated."