Franchitti shakes off Pocono cobwebs

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The only driver of those testing an IndyCar at Pocono Raceway with prior experience at the track was Dario Franchitti, who raced in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car there in 2008. Not that he’d be privy to giving away any secrets.

“No, they haven’t. I wouldn’t tell them anyway!” Franchitti joked to the assembled press when asked whether the other drivers were asking for advice.

The track has been repaved and had other safety improvements made since that time.

“No, the difference from being here in 2008 is remarkable,” he said. “This was a bumpy old place before. I don’t need to tell you guys that. Now it’s very, very smooth. 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. All those investments have been made.  I said at the time to run an IndyCar around here would be a blast, and it is.”

Couple in the night-and-day car difference and it was pretty much all new for Franchitti.

“It feels like a different track,” he said. “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 is a helluva 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 3, I mean, as Will (Power) said, you’re going through there wide open right now, which defies logic really when you consider we have Indianapolis spec wings on the car.”

Two nightmare weekends have seen two DNFs to start the IndyCar season, although Franchitti was pleased with the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team’s improvements in Barber as a whole. He inherited the pole position at Long Beach a year ago when Ryan Briscoe, the fastest qualifier, took a 10-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “