Rick Mears sits on the wall during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis.

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.”

Sainz uninjured, but to remain in hospital overnight

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Carlos Sainz Jr. will remain in hospital overnight following a terrifying crash during practice for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning.

Sainz slammed into the wall at turn 13 after losing control of his car, pitching in underneath the TecPro barrier at the end of the run-off area.

Medical crews spent 20 minutes extricating Sainz from his car due to the barriers’ placement before he was taken away to hospital for a check-up.

Sainz tweeted a picture to his followers confirming that he was okay, and Toro Rosso has now released a second statement confirming that the Spaniard was fully conscious throughout the crash and is uninjured.

“After arriving at the Sochi Hospital 4, Carlos Sainz, who never lost consciousness, underwent a medical examination, including a full body scan,” the statement reads. “The scan showed that the driver has no injuries.

“However, he will be staying in the hospital overnight as a precautionary measure, which is the normal procedure in these circumstances.

“We will release further information when it is available.”

Sainz tweeted that he was hoping to convince the doctors to release him from hospital early enough so that he could take part in tomorrow’s race, but any steps taken will be with his well-being in mind.

Rosberg charges to Russian GP pole in Sochi

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Nico Rosberg will start tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix from pole position after topping the timesheets in Saturday’s qualifying session at the Sochi Autodrom.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:37.113 to edge out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second to score pole position in Russia.

Following on from its dominant display in Japan two weeks ago, Mercedes showed few signs of easing up at the front of the field as it stormed to another front-row lock-out.

Having traded fastest lap times throughout the earlier stages of qualifying, Hamilton and Rosberg renewed their battle in Q3 at Sochi, but it was Rosberg who finished on top.

Rosberg drew early blood in Q3 by going three-tenths faster than his teammate on his first run, and when Hamilton locked up late on and opted to pit, pole was safely with the German driver.

Valtteri Bottas finished as the best of the rest in third place, beating the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who finished fifth and sixth respectively as all of the drivers struggled to improve on their second runs.

Nico Hulkenberg and Force India teammate Sergio Perez will start sixth and seventh, while Romain Grosjean qualified eighth. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten in P9 and P10 respectively.

Home favorite Daniil Kvyat was unable to delight the local fans as he would have liked to in qualifying, dropping out in Q2 by finishing 11th ahead of Felipe Nasr. Pastor Maldonado was also eliminated, finishing 14th, but it was Felipe Massa who was the biggest casualty of the second session, ending up 15th for Williams.

McLaren experienced something of a mixed qualifying session on Saturday as Fernando Alonso was knocked out at the end of Q1. Teammate Jenson Button managed to improve late on to dump the Spaniard out and leave him 16th overall, while the Briton went on to finish 13th in Q2.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson also dropped out at the first hurdle alongside the two Manor drivers, while Carlos Sainz Jr. took no part in the session following his practice crash. The Spaniard still hopes to take part in tomorrow’s race, but will remain in hospital overnight.