IndyCar returns to Pocono with Firestone test Wednesday

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After 24 years, the Pocono Mountains had the reverberations of the sound of IndyCar engines echoing once again. The full race at Pocono Raceway will be on July 7, but today marked an appetizer.

Firestone held a tire test session on Wednesday, open to the public, but halted early due to incoming thunderstorms. The Indianapolis 500 tire specification was used as a baseline.

Still, for those testing – Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Dario Franchitti – lap times were near flat and estimated in the high 41-second range around the 2.5-mile triangle oval (more than 214 mph average).

Andretti – fittingly – drove the first laps on track. The last IndyCar race there, held in August 1989, featured his grandfather Mario, father Michael and uncle John in the race.

“For me, it was kind of like a higher-speed short oval really because you have to work, especially in Turn 1,” said the youngest Andretti. “But for me it was about finding the limit kind of in Turn 3, getting a feel for the back end with no banking there.”

The last IndyCar oval race in Pennsylvania was at the now-defunct Nazareth Speedway, the Andretti family hometown, in a 2004 race won by the late Dan Wheldon. That triangle was a fraction under one mile in length and a unique challenge.

Andretti had the quote of the day to describe Pocono by comparison.

“From what I know about it, this looks like Nazareth on steroids,” he said.

Pagenaud, the least experienced on ovals of the quartet, praised the track surface and complex as a whole. The Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports sophomore’s five starts on ovals last year were the first of his career.

“It’s actually good fun,” he said. “It’s very different to any of the ovals we go to.  Certainly with my little experience on ovals, it was quite surprising on the first few laps because it’s really fast out there.

“The track is really smooth.  The surface is awesome for the IndyCars.  Yeah, I’m actually really excited to be here. It was great to be one of the first to turn some laps around here. The speeds are quite impressive already. That’s a good sign.”

Power and Franchitti cracked jokes in the media availability time, but also expanded on the thoughts outlined above. The full transcript from the test can be found here on the Pocono Raceway website.

Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”