LIVE BLOG: 2014 Pocono INDYCAR 500 Fueled by Sunoco

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


7:15 pm ET — The day’s activities wrapped up late this afternoon with qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series.  Team Penske took two of the three front row positions as Juan Pablo Montoya picked up the Verizon P1 Award, his first pole in his return to open wheel racing.  Alongside him will start his Penske teammate Will Power, who was knocked from by the pole by Montoya on the last run of the afternoon.  Rounding out the front row is Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz.

With his 2-lap average of 223.981 mph, Montoya bested the official track record set by Marco Andretti a year ago.  By comparison, the NASCAR track record was set here last month by Denny Hamlin at a tick over 181.4 mph.

The qualifying session saw Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver Josef Newgarden find the wall very early on with light contact on the right side of his car.  Josef said the car bottomed in Turn 1 and then the steering went light.  Damage to the car was fairly minimal and it’s unlikely the SFHR crew will have a painfully late night in the garage.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the crew for Bryan Herta Autosport.  Upon inspection in the garage, it was determined that nearly the entire left side of the car was trashed, though the tub itself seemed to have been spared.  It didn’t seem that the team would be utilizing the backup car, so it will be a long night of repairing the primary car.  Bryan Herta confirmed to MFW that this car was the same one young Hawksworth crashed at Indianapolis in preparation for the 500 there.

In the post-qualifying press conference, Juan Pablo Montoya indicated his comfort level is increasing week by week, but he still doesn’t feel he’s quite back where he needs to be, especially on the road and street courses.  In particular, he still feels like he is reacting to the car and changes made by the crew instead of being ahead of the curve and telling the team what changes he needs.  Once he can clear that hurdle, he feels he will be fully back in stride. Montoya and Power both agreed that while passing is very difficult on the one-groove track, the race is very long, and neither driver expects to see anyone get too aggressive early on in the race.

That said, I’m sure both are fully aware that young Carlos Munoz is starting to their outside and right behind them in Takuma Sato.  Additionally, the balance of the Andretti Autosport armada will be rolling off in positions five (Andretti), six (Hinchcliffe), and nine (Hunter-Reay).  After dominating the weekend last year but failing to bring home any podium positions, the Chrome Nose Squadron will certainly be looking to redeem themselves this year.

That’s mostly going to put a wrap on today’s reports.  Look for pictures from today’s activity to be posted later on this evening.  Otherwise, we’ll be back in the morning for raceday from Pocono!


4:36 pm ET — In the downtime between practice 2 and the Indy Lights race, I had  a chance to chat with Ed Carpenter, winner of the most recent Verizon IndyCar Series oval race at Texas Motor Speedway.  Carpenter said he too really enjoys the challenges this track presents even though he isn’t currently happy with his car this weekend.  As has been mentioned numerous times, this track is all about compromise, but, he pointed out, if a driver doesn’t get Turn 1 right, the chances of having a good lap are almost nil.

In concert with what others have said, Turn 2 is almost disregarded as an actual turn and is driven more like a kink.  Of Turn 2, Carpenter says that if he has to actually drive that corner, his car must be really bad.

As for actually driving the track, Ed points out that it is particularly difficult because the drivers never really get into a flow during a lap.  On a traditional oval, whether a D-shaped oval or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, laps click off very rhythmically with mostly equally spaced and similar turns.  With three turns of varying lengths, radii, and bankings and straightaways of greatly varying length, finding a rhythm here is especially difficult.  Additionally, the Indianapolis 500 pole sitter says the lack of a second groove reduces the effectiveness of the draft compared to other tracks like Texas or California so having a car that performs well on its own is even more critical.

Asked about a near-incident in this morning’s first practice with Sebastien Bourdais as Bourdais was exiting the pits and Carpenter was at speed, Ed simply acknowledged that it is part of racing here at Pocono (though, as Ed pointed out, if the incident had happened to Bourdais, he would have thrown a fit and let everyone know about it).  Because the inside apron is paved with a different type of asphalt than the racing surface, it isn’t really usable real estate when exiting the pits, so drivers exiting pit lane must use the same racing surface as those at speed even though the speed differential is substantial.  Carpenter pointed out that even with a car going significantly faster, it can be difficult to get around the exiting car simply because the groove is so narrow through Turn 1.  It never became an issue during the race last year, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on tomorrow.

When pressed about recent reports that Pocono Raceway may be on the chopping block, Carpenter expressed disappointment, but admitted the leaking of the news could be a tactical ploy by Pocono CEO Brandon Igdalsky.  Ed pointed out that while there are very few people in the grandstands today, that’s pretty much the norm at oval events.  The pits and paddock are actually quite busy today so Ed felt confident about that.

In other news, Gabby Chaves just cruised to a fairly easy win in the Indy Lights race.  Zach Veach came home second, narrowly beating Jack Harvey to the line nearly 8 seconds behind Chaves. Next up on the schedule is qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series.


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