LIVE BLOG: 2014 Pocono INDYCAR 500 Fueled by Sunoco

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on July 5, 2014 8:29 am

10:54 am ET — Thanks to the good folks at Chevrolet, I had a chance to get on the track this morning in a Chevrolet Camaro driven by Indy Racing Experience’s Jiff Sinden.

We left from pit out, and I immediately noticed that it was still a very long way down to Turn 1.  The banking into Turn 1 starts very early, about the point where the white striping on the pavement ends and is almost at full effect when the turn actually starts quite some way into the distance.

Turn 1 is unlike any other turn I’ve experienced in that it seems to just keep going… and going… and going.  With banking of only 14 degrees (identical to that of Auto Club Speedway in California), a driver really feels like he is driving “down the hill” as he goes from turn-in to apex.  On exit, the track tightens up fairly quickly, but the drop off the banking is actually quite subtle.  However, it felt like there was a hump of some sort on exit where the car went back up slightly before settling back down on the back straight.

When drivers talk about Turn 2 being a kink that is almost not even noticeable (I’m looking at you,  Ed Carpenter), they are crazy!  In the world of us mere mortals, this turn is still enough to get your attention and throw you against the right side of the car.  At “only” about 110 mph, it still felt like a corner that had some guts to it, but compared to Turns 1 and 3, it seems very short.  Given the abruptness and speed of apexing the turn, I can see why running two-wide through this corner isn’t likely.

And then there’s Turn 3.  It truly does feel almost flat when at speed, but it doesn’t feel near as long as Turn 1.  Getting off this corner is critical with the long front straight ahead, so setting up and maneuvering through the turn is important.  In our car, Jeff Sinden wasn’t able to keep the throttle pegged through the apex and had to crack it just a hair.  Drivers in the race today will seek to flat foot it all the way through,  but a poor handling car will find the drivers lifting and compromising their lap.

On exit of Turn 3, the front straight looks like a road with no end.  It is extremely wide and Turn 1 is almost not even visible in the distance.  The start/finish line comes upon the drivers quite quickly as it is substantially closer to Turn 3 than to Turn 1.  (My personal wish is that it was closer to Turn 1 but nobody thought to ask me when it was placed there 43 years ago.)  Pit entry also comes upon the drivers quickly and was most certainly a factor last year when Takuma Sato failed to get slowed in time and took both himself and Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the race.

The track is still relatively smooth after it was repaved in early 2012 and shows none of the bumpiness that was once a hallmark of this facility.  It is indeed wide and fast, and each corner shows a unique personality that sets this track apart from any other in the world.  The each turn also shows streak after streak of cars that didn’t quite make it through and terminate at a dent in the SAFER Barrier.  It is a truly remarkable track that was originally built for Indy cars and should continue to host them well into the future.


9:58 am ET — With little going on this morning at the track, this seems like a good time to give my general impressions of Pocono Raceway on my first visit here.  In general, I think I had the same impression as almost everyone that visits this rural 2.5-mile triangle shaped facility — How in the world did this track end up here?  The track truly is isolated from most population centers and has the feeling of a state park or the like.  Quite honestly, while driving here from my hotel west of the track, I felt like I was heading out for a day on the lake.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just different from most other facilities.  It probably feels more like a lot of remote road courses such as Mid-Ohio or Road America than tracks in Indianapolis, Texas, California, or several others.

In terms of the facility itself, it truly is a bit dated but doesn’t necessarily feel antiquated.  I would call it “quaint” or “rustic,” and I don’t mean either of those in a derogatory manner.  While it certainly doesn’t have many of the amenities that more modern ovals like Texas or California might present, what this track does have matches well with the type of experience I think Pocono hopes to present.

When driving to the track, the main egress route is Pennsylvania Route 115, which is directly fed by I-80 to the north.  Route 115 is a hilly, somewhat windy two-lane road that fans are on for about three miles before getting to the track.  Driving this road, it is little wonder why traffic woes are always a concern here.  Simply put, there is really no good way to move people into and out of the facility.  (The fact that one lane was closed last night for utility work when leaving didn’t help matters either.)

Once at the facility though, fans are treated to a rather intimate experience.  For being one of only four ovals in the United States measuring 2.5 miles or greater, everything here seems quite close together.  The grandstands on the frontstraight are pretty massive (Wikipedia lists the official capacity at 76,812) yet take up only about half the length of the straightaway.  When viewed from a distance, the twin spires and aluminum siding makes it appear as though Churchill Downs mated with a county fairground track.  Spectator amenities are not extravagant but sufficient.

On the interior of the track, easily accessible for fans via a tunnel that runs from the grandstands to an area right behind pit road, the garages are open and allow fans to get very close to the action.  Likewise, pit lane is a bit cozy but allow fans to get very near the working crews.  I have not noticed any souvenir stands on the inside of the track though, so all merchandise purchasing must be done on the exterior.

Rare is the time when I go into detail about media facilities and those areas accessible only to media or participants, but doing so here only serves to accentuate the point of the rustic charm of this track.  In the media center itself, walls are adorned with color and black and white photos of what I would estimate to be from the early to mid-1970s when the track was in its infancy.  Little indication of modern racing is to be found.  Adjacent to the media center is what is termed the “Wives and Girlfriends Lounge.”  As one might expect, it is decorated in very flowery patterns and soft colors.  Quite honestly, it looks like what my grandparents house might have looked like when this track opened for business in 1971.

The employees here at Pocono are nothing but helpful and kind.  I’ve yet to find a worker anywhere that didn’t go out of their way to assist the fans with a smile and a friendly attitude.  Compared to some other facilities I’ve visited, it is a refreshing change.

Bottom line, Pocono Raceway is a wonderful facility and a fantastic fan experience.  I truly hope the track and INDYCAR can come to a suitable arrangement to keep this race going.  And if they do, fans should make every effort to find their way here.

I’ll be back with  more, including my impressions of the track itself from a hot lap ride this morning, in a little bit.


NEXT PAGE: Coverage from Saturday at the 2014 Pocono INDYCAR 500 Fueled by Sunoco

Pages: 1 2 3 4