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Pocono impresses new generation of IndyCar drivers

11 April 2013

None of the current full time drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series have ever competed in an open wheel car at the unique Pocono Raceway tri-oval before - and some of them weren't even born the last time that IndyCars took to the race track in August 1989.

Marco Andretti was just two and a half years old at the time when his grandfather, father and cousin all competed in the Quaker State 500, so the media had to turn to the older generation to get some thoughts on the 2.5-mile 'Tricky Triangle' which has been a fixture on the NASCAR calendar for stock cars in the meantime.

"The facility is fabulous and was my favourite superspeedway to drive on," said Mario Andretti. "This track is different from any other superspeedway we run because of the very different radius of every corner and also different banking. It's what I really enjoyed about this place.

"We've been waiting for this moment and we belong here," the motor sports icon added. "This place was built for IndyCars!"

His grandson Marco got his first opportunity to try out Pocono for himself on Wednesday, when he joined Dario Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power out on track for a one day Firestone tyre test. It didn't take long for the quartet to show how the sport had advanced in the intervening years.

The previous lap record for an open wheel car had been Emerson Fittipaldi's 211.715mph in 1989; but the cars were soon exceeding 215mph on Wednesday despite having to find their way on tyres and aerodynamic settings fine-tuned for different race tracks such as Indianapolis and Auto Club Speedway, Fontana.

"It's like Nazareth on steroids!" was Marco's opinion. "It was kind of like a higher-speed short oval ... It was about finding the limit in turn 3, getting a feel for the banking. It will be interesting trying to find the balance between turn 1 and 3."

Pocono features a 3,740-foot front straight that rivals that of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with banking of 14, eight and six degrees at the three turns.

"There's always compromise, especially at a track with three such different corners," said Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti. "There's the big banking in turn 1, almost flat tracking in turn 3 and the tunnel turn. You're always going to be better at one corner than another. The trick is to figure out which one you can give away the most in order to still be competitive."

Franchitti is the exception to the rule in having driven at Pocono in the recent past, albeit in a stock car when he was competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at speeds some 35mph slower than he was immediately achieving this week.

"It certainly got my attention," he said of his first run of the day. "I got to turn 1 a lot quicker in an IndyCar than a Cup car - and I went through there flat out!" he said, revealing that his top time this week had peaked at around 217mph. By comparison, the NASCAR Cup lap record for Pocono - set last year by Joey Logano - was 179.598mph.

"The difference from being here in 2008 is remarkable. This was a bumpy old place before. Now it's very, very smooth. There has obviously been a great deal of investment in the track," he continued, complimenting the new safety features and SAFER barriers that had made IndyCar racing at the 44-year-old track feasible again. "All those investments have been made. I said at the time to run an IndyCar around here would be a blast, and it is. It's going to be a very good race."

"It was fun and bloody hell it was fast," was Penske driver Will Power's summary. "You are wide open and [expletive] quick in those corners ... It's a great layout, very smooth and safe, and I liked it.

"I love the fact all three turns are different," he added. "Turn 1 was the trickiest, turn 2 was easy flat and so was turn 3 - I'd like to see us lifting in turn 3 to help create more racing."

The IndyCar Series' official return to Pocono Raceway takes place on July 7 as the 11th round of the 19-race 2013 season. The race also forms the second round of a three-race 'mini-championship' sponsored by Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka, which will pay out a special $1million bonus to any driver who can claim the Triple Crown of Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana.

The prize harks back to previous Triple Crowns in the 1970s and 1980s, with Indianapolis and Pocono stalwarts throughout and joined by Ontario (California) Speedway from 1971-1980 and by Michigan International Speedway from 1981-1989. The only driver to win that Triple Crown was Al Unser in 1978.


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