Rick Mears excited about Indy car return to Pocono after 23-year absence

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He hasn’t driven a race car since retiring in 1992, but when modern-era drivers talk about the return of Indy cars to Pocono Raceway for this Sunday’s Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco, invariably the first name out of their mouths is legendary driver Rick Mears.

“He was the master of this place,” Helio Castroneves said of Mears in a recent interview with the Scranton (Pa.) Times-Tribune. “We’ve heard a lot about this place. We’re honored to be back here with Team Penske. Hopefully, we can do the same as Rick Mears did in the past.”

Mears, now in his 21st year as a consultant to Penske Racing, dominated Indy car racing at Pocono – until the track stopped hosting open-wheel racing in 1989.

But even as the hiatus ends with this weekend’s race return to the 2.5-mile tri-oval track in Long Pond, Pa., what Mears did there in a relatively short period of time is the kind of thing that legends are built from.

In just 10 races at Pocono (nine in the old CART series and a 10th in the USAC Champ Car series), Mears won three times, had six overall podium finishes (including two runners-up and a third) and earned four pole positions.

His average career finish there: an outstanding 8.3.

“You can never have too many tracks and you can never have enough tracks,” Mears told the newspaper. “I’m a racer. I like to run on all of them. Anything with a history like here with our cars, I think it’s great to get back.”

Much like it continues to remain a challenge to other series that have raced at Pocono for decades, including NASCAR, the track’s unique three-turn layout – with no turn the same – should make for some exciting racing this Sunday.

“It was like having three race tracks in one,” Mears said. “So the challenge was getting set up for three race tracks with one car. That was part of the fun.”

While lots has changed since Mears last appeared at Pocono a quarter-century ago, a famous old saying appears to still be true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“You still basically have to get the balance of the car the way you want it,” Mears said. “The patterns on the race track as far as the line goes don’t change much. What was a good line back then is a good line today. All that stuff is still relative and still comes into play.”

Even with such a lengthy layoff, Penske Racing returns as one of the most dominating Indy car teams in Pocono track history, with seven wins there between 1971 (the late Mark Donahue) and 1989 (its last there with Danny Sullivan). In addition to Mears’ wins in 1982, 1985 and 1987, Tom Sneva (1977) and Bobby Unser (1980) also won there under the Penske banner.

Said current driver Will Power, teammates with Castroneves at Penske Racing, “Pressure’s on.”

Takuma Sato captures 101st Indianapolis 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Similar to last year, an Andretti Autosport driver that wasn’t the most discussed or fastest has won the Indianapolis 500.

But after his best month yet at Indianapolis, bravery and tenacity has won Takuma Sato the 2017 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And for Helio Castroneves, finishing second leaves him again, one spot short of his elusive fourth victory.

Rookie Ed Jones was third ahead of Max Chilton, with Tony Kanaan completing the top five.

Meanwhile Fernando Alonso had an engine issue that took him out from a star drive, and Scott Dixon survived a crazy accident early on despite going airborne.

This was a crazy race because it had 11 yellow flag periods, plus a red flag, and 15 different leaders, a record.

Unofficial results are below. More to follow.

Big wreck late in Indy 500 takes out Power, Hinchcliffe, two others

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A major wreck with 17 laps left in the Indianapolis 500 has occurred, involving five cars.

Oriol Servia, James Hinchcliffe, James Davison, Will Power and Josef Newgarden were involved in the incident, as they exited Turn 1 into the short chute to Turn 2.

All but Newgarden saw their day come to an end in the wreck. Newgarden wasn’t directly involved in the wreck, but spun avoiding the other cars, tapped the inside retaining wall, and spun back onto the racetrack.

Max Chilton is leading the race, with Takuma Sato second, followed by Ed Jones, Helio Castroneves and JR Hildebrand.

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Alonso’s Indy 500 dream ends in all-too-familar Honda engine failure

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From a story that started six weeks ago when he shocked the racing world by announcing his entry to the 101st Indianapolis 500, Fernando Alonso’s dream of winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing came to an all-too-familiar end when he was sidelined by an engine failure late on.

Two-time Formula 1 champion Alonso had been a force at the front of the pack throughout the first half of the race and even looked capable of taking a famous victory at the Brickyard, only for his engine to give up on the main straight and his hopes to go up in smoke.

Given his Indy 500 entry was put into motion as a way to ease his gripes with McLaren’s F1 struggles with ailing engine partner Honda, for it to end in such fashion weighs heavy with irony and, for Alonso, disappointment.

Thrown into a rolling IndyCar race start for the first, Alonso made a slow getaway on the opening lap to lose four positions and sit ninth, only to then pick his way back through the order with some fine overtakes on the likes of Will Power and JR Hildebrand.

A swift first pit stop of 8.2 seconds from the McLaren-Honda-Andretti crew lifted Alonso to third after the opening cycle, with the Spaniard then putting down the hammer to take the lead of the race from Alexander Rossi on Lap 37.

Alonso and Rossi spent the next 15 laps drafting, swapping the lead back and forth in a bid to save fuel, with the McLaren man sitting as race leader when the red flag was thrown for the crash between Scott Dixon and Jay Howard on Lap 52.

Alonso shuffled back to fourth before the next caution was shown following Conor Daly’s crash, and the Spaniard continued to sit in the top five despite being frustrated by former F1 colleague Max Chilton’s bold defense at one point.

Running second behind Andretti teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi, Alonso was able to battle his way back through to the lead on the restart with 70 laps to go following Buddy Lazier’s shunt.

Honda’s engine concerns were justified when smoke began to seep from the rear of Hunter-Reay’s car, sparking another caution on Lap 138. While it did rule out one of Alonso’s win rivals, it was one less bullet in the gun for Andretti at the front.

Alonso made his penultimate stop under the caution, dropping him to ninth behind the drivers that opted to stay out. Just a single lap followed when Ed Carpenter’s front wing broke, leaving debris on track, but there was enough time for Alonso to fall back to 12th ahead of the sixth caution.

The loss of position also cost Alonso his net advantage over the field. Now on the same strategy as Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia – all of whom ran ahead – Alonso had ground to make up heading towards the final round of pit stops.

Alonso’s final visit to pit road was sparked by another caution called for a Honda engine failure, this time leaving Charlie Kimball on the sidelines. The majority of the pack came in, leaving the field with a straight sprint to the flag. Sat ninth for the restart, Alonso had to mount a charge with 30 laps to go on the restart.

Having passed James Davison early on the restart, Alonso picked up another spot with a brave move around the outside of Kanaan with 24 laps to go, giving him P7.

As Alonso continued to push, he became the third Honda driver to suffer an engine failure as he came towards the start/finish with around 20 laps remaining, his car grinding to a halt.

First Honda engine issue strikes Hunter-Reay on Lap 137

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INDIANAPOLIS – Reliability was expected to be a major story line in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil but it has taken until Lap 137 before the first Honda engine issue has hit, which came from pre-race concerns in that camp.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who led seven times for 28 laps in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, had his engine drop out on the backstraight as he went onto the apron into Turn 3.

It is the second straight year the 2014 winner has been sidelined short of a possible second win.

Hunter-Reay has diced with teammates Fernando Alonso and Alexander Rossi this race. At the time of his motor dropping out, he was running second to Alonso.

There were eight Honda engine failures this month prior to today, between the INDYCAR Grand Prix race, and Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifying.