Pocono

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Pagenaud ‘quite satisfied,’ if still agitated, with P2 on Pocono grid

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The close-but-no-cigar, always slightly overshadowed nature of defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s 2017 season came to the fore again in Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Pagenaud was on the verge of securing his second pole this season, and first on an oval since Iowa Speedway in July 2016, after knocking Charlie Kimball off the top spot.

But the driver of the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet got eclipsed by Takuma Sato, the final qualifier, right at the end to lose the pole and perhaps more critically, an additional point that went with it.

“(There’s) the word going through my mind and I’m not going to say it,” Pagenaud laughed in the post-qualifying press conference.

“Disappointing, of course. You can taste the win, and that’s what we’re all about. We’re racers. We want to win. I’m here to win, to be first, not to be second.

“In the meantime it’s a really good starting position. At the time it’s like gambling. You’re in the game and you feel like you could win, so it’s very exciting. That’s the roller coaster of racing in your life as a racer. It’s up and down, up and down your whole career. These moments are why I race. It’s happiness, satisfaction of doing the job.”

Pagenaud’s job satisfaction this year has come with his unrivaled consistency, if not outright pace, in defense of his 2016 title.

He leads the field with 10 top-five finishes in 13 races – no one else has more than seven – and he is the only driver to have completed all 1,738 laps of competition so far this year.

That underscores his consistency but it also reflects how much better his 2016 title-winning season was. He won five races last year to one so far this year (Phoenix), had eight poles (seven outright, one where he moved up a spot) last year to one this year, and has led only 133 laps this year – 116 of them at Phoenix.

That leads nicely into the point that Pocono is a key race for Pagenaud if he is to defend his title. He enters tomorrow’s race fourth in points but only 17 behind championship leader Josef Newgarden, his new teammate at Team Penske who’ll look to go one better in terms of winning a title for Roger Penske in his first season rather than in his second, as Pagenaud did last year.

Pagenaud’s title aspirations nearly came unglued at this race last year following his only DNF of the year. He crashed in Turn 1 and finished 18th while Will Power won and cut the gap from 58 points leaving Mid-Ohio to 20 leaving Pocono.

Now Pagenaud is even fewer points back but with more drivers to climb over, as IndyCar heads towards a grandstand finish to this year’s title between himself, Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon – and potentially Sato, Power and Graham Rahal if they can deliver a big points haul in Pocono.

“The championship is a lot more exciting for you guys this year,” he said. “I think it’s the beauty of IndyCar. We go on superspeedway, short oval next week, then completely different in two weeks, then Sonoma, which is a beautiful venue to finish the season.

“You know, that’s the beauty of this racing series, which I really love, because you have to show skills in every condition, every different aspect of track. So I’m very excited about it.

“If you can show strength in the last four, you deserve the championship, for sure.”

Pagenaud expects speeds to be slower in tonight’s final practice, a better preparation for Sunday’s race, as he estimated the rash of accidents today was owing to more drivers and teams chasing the temperatures for pole.

“This evening’s session is good so you can check your car in traffic, see how it behaves in the wake. But I think, you know, you’re still going to have to think about the race and the conditions being different, what to do on the race car to compensate for it,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we’re not going to be as fast as this because this is trim-out conditions, trying to go as fast as possible over two laps. Those are not the setups. The tires don’t last in those conditions.

“For the race, completely different story. You know, it’s a 500-mile race. There’s a lot of riding around, trying to balance your car for the end of the race. Trying to find the right level of downforce during the race is key as well. So you make a lot of adjustments, pit stops, get ready for the shootout, the last 60 laps really.

“For us, that’s going to be the plan. First goals were to be in the top five in qualifying. We were there. That’s checked. Now we need to run around in the front all day and be there to strike at the end.

“There’s also the fact that we’re playing for a championship here, so we have to be smart at the end.”

Pagenaud’s canny ability has kept him in the title fight as he looks to keep the No. 1 on his car for another season, which makes the frustration of losing a point today only slightly bittersweet as he looks at the bigger picture.

“Ben (Bretzman), my engineer, just nailed the gearing, the balance on the car. That was the best we could do,” he said.

“I’m quite satisfied. Front row start is really good, our best start here in Pocono. A 500-mile race, so a lot can happen.

“Today was pretty much ego day trying to get that pole position. For us it would have been nice to get another point. But overall I think we did our best and we’ll go to bed pretty satisfied with today.”

Sato steals Pocono pole; more heavy accidents pepper qualifying (VIDEO)

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Takuma Sato has won the pole for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 after a chaotic qualifying session for Round 14 of 17 in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, snatching the pole in the final opportunity.

Sato was the final car to run and knocked off then polesitter Simon Pagenaud with a two-lap average speed of 219.639 mph. Further, his lap 1 speed of 220.045 mph was the only lap above the 220 mph mark during qualifying.

An elated Sato was happy to achieve a noteworthy result at a track where has has struggled at times, with three finishes of 21st or worse in his four previous starts.

“I’m really happy. I always have enjoyed Pocono in the past years. I’ve had a difficult experience, but I’ve always enjoyed it. We haven’t had a win here yet and hopefully we can get that with Expedite Home Loans this weekend. That’s why putting down on pole here is something very special. Especially after Indy 500, coming to another 500 race, with entire crew from the No. 26 and Expedite Home Loans, who is family of Ruoff Home Mortgage, which was on our car for the Indy 500. The team did an outstanding job. I have to say big thank you to Michael (Andretti) and all Andretti Autosport. I am very happy,” Sato said after his run.

Charlie Kimball (219.369 mph) held the pole for most of the afternoon in his No. 83 Tresiba Honda, as the American was looking for his second pole of the year after winning the Verizon P1 Award at Texas Motor Speedway.

But Pagenaud (219.395 mph) eclipsed Kimball with just five cars to go, in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, to take over the top spot.

Pagenaud then had to hold off a trio of Andretti Autosport cars – Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato – to ensure he solidified his second pole of the year (Toronto). But it didn’t happen.

Andretti fell off the map on his second lap and fell to 15th.

Hunter-Reay, who led this morning’s lone practice session, had an even worse ending with a heavy accident in Turn 3. He lost the back end through Turn 3 in his No. 28 DHL Honda and needed help from the Holmatro Safety Team to get into the medical car, as he exited his car gingerly. Further updates on his status will follow later today, although as of 3:10 p.m. ET, INDYCAR issued he was being transported to a nearby hospital.

Then Sato dropped the fastest two lap average of the day in the No. 26 Expedite Home Loans Honda for Andretti Autosport, with the fastest single lap at 220.045 and an average at 219.639 mph.

Two other big names will start from the back of the grid. Helio Castroneves had an accident in qualifying in Turn 1, and was unable to finish his run, while Ed Carpenter didn’t get to make a qualifying attempt as his car was a few minutes too late into technical inspection following an accident in practice earlier in the morning.

Beyond the top three, Tony Kanaan and Will Power completed the top five, Gabby Chaves impressed mightily in eighth for Harding Racing and both Dale Coyne Racing cars outqualified championship leader Josef Newgarden, who fought understeer and only lines up 14th.

Results are below.

RESULTS

LONG POND, Pennsylvania – Qualifying Saturday for the ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, and speed:

1. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 219.639 mph
2. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 219.395 mph
3. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 219.369    mph
4. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 219.012 mph
5. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 218.688 mph
6. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 218.622    mph
7. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 218.099 mph
8. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 218.020 mph
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 217.819 mph
10. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 217.748 mph
11. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 217.565 mph
12. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 217.556 mph
13. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 217.292 mph
14. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 217.235 mph
15. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 216.943 mph
16. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 216.801    mph
17. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 215.964 mph
18. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 215.115 mph
19. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 214.988 mph
20. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, no speed
21. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, no speed
22. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, no speed

Castroneves OK after heavy crash in Pocono qualifying (VIDEO)

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Helio Castroneves lost the back end of his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet rolling into Turn 1 during qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), in a big accident that will hurt his weekend hopes and force the Team Penske crew to make significant repairs.

Castroneves looped around and hit the Turn 1 wall with his nose and left side of the car, with the car then tilting up on its side before coming back down to the ground.

The Brazilian got out of the car under his own power without assistance from the Holmatro Safety Team before heading to the infield medical center. He has been checked, cleared and released.

Castroneves told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis: “Good news the hair is still good. Unfortunate for the car. We didn’t have a chance to do qualifying (in practice). I was a bit slow, so the car pushed a bit, it might have been a bit too aggressive. It caught me in Turn 1, and came around, unfortunately spun out on me. Hopefully it’s not a snowball. Now that practice is tonight before the race.”

Castroneves enters Sunday’s race second in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, seven points behind teammate and points leader Josef Newgarden (423-416).

Carpenter, Jones crash as Hunter-Reay leads Pocono practice

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LONG POND, Pa. – The Saturday morning practice for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway saw Honda jump to the fore, though a pair of incidents forced stoppages near the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay topped the time charts with a quick lap of 219.268 mph, turned in the second half of the session. Hunter-Reay led Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the best of the Chevrolet runners, the Frenchman turning a best lap of 219.211 mph.

Tony Kanaan was third for Chip Ganassi Racing, with Hunter-Reay’s teammate Marco Andretti in fourth after leading most of the session. Kanaan’s teammate Scott Dixon completed the top five, while sixth-place Takuma Sato and seventh-place Alexander Rossi made it four Andretti Autosport cars in the top ten.

The morning practice saw three stoppages. The first was only for a quick track inspection, but the next two were for crashes.

The first was for Ed Carpenter. Carpenter’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet broke loose exiting turn three 3 and smacked the outside wall with the left side. Carpenter climbed out unhurt, but the car sustained heavy damage. However, the team immediately began repairing the car ahead of qualifying this afternoon.

The other incident was for Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones. Jones’ No. 19 Honda spun in the middle of turn 2, but only sustained minor damage to the front nose, which brushed the outside wall during the spin.

Both Carpenter and Jones were checked, cleared, and released from the infield care center. Times are below. Qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

IndyCar’s blue and white livery epidemic hits Pocono with two new ones

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Imagine, for a moment, a radio call of this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) which omitted the names of the drivers and teams and instead asked those on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network to instead only call the race – and perhaps the finish – by car colors.

“There’s the blue and white car, side-by-side with another blue and white car, but a third blue and white car has entered the frame… let’s send it to Jake Query…”

“The blue and white car battle royale rolls through the Tunnel Turn, then into Turn 3, where a blue and white car makes a dive bomb on another blue and white car… Mark Jaynes, bring it home!”

“Get your cameras ready for a blue and white spectacular, photo finish as count ’em, one, two, three, maybe four blue and white cars run side-by-side to the line at Pocono!”

Such a scenario sounds fanciful… and then you look at the spotter guide for this weekend’s race and realize it’s not far fetched. At all.

There are very few gripes I have with the current Verizon IndyCar Series, but one thing that has consistently irked me all year – among others in the paddock – is the preponderance and overkill of blue and white (and red, white and blue) liveries gracing the Chevrolets and Hondas that make up the 21 or 22-car field.

Granted, this is what happens when the partners involved with most teams have blue and white in their corporate colors. And this isn’t a bad thing because teams need all the partners they can get.

However, there’s something to be said for variety in color schemes up and down the grid and when you have a third to half the field, on average, looking identical or close – it makes it very hard to distinguish and stand out, as well as a nightmare for the spotters or the people tasked with calling the race. Mistakes are far from inevitable and it’s not because the person would get it wrong intentionally; it just happens.

Just for Pocono alone, there are five more new or revived blue and white liveries to add to the litany of blue and white liveries this year.

The pair of NTT Data Hondas from Chip Ganassi Racing take on a new predominately white and blue hue for both Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan to look close to identical, after Dixon’s had a blue and white color scheme while Kanaan’s has been predominately blue only this year.

Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, and Gabby Chaves, meanwhile, see their cars look nearly identical. Expedite Home Loans, an online division of Ruoff Home Mortgage, will be on Sato’s No. 26 Honda which makes it a light blue and white scheme, super close to Andretti’s No. 27 light blue and white United Fiber & Data Honda, which is close to Chaves’ light blue (can we call it teal?) and white No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet, back for the first time since Texas.

Since words are meaningless by this point, we thought it a good idea to instead post a picture of every blue and white car that’s raced in 2017. As you can see, this epidemic has spread throughout the grid and is not limited to just one team.

So, without further adieu, here’s a roundup of all the predominately blue, blue and white, or red, white and blue cars that have seen a green flag this year, before the new ones get added this weekend (All photos: IndyCar).

TEAM PENSKE

Simon Pagenaud, No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, St. Petersburg
Josef Newgarden, No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Mid-Ohio
Helio Castroneves, No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, Long Beach, Barber, Texas

CHIP GANASSI RACING TEAMS

Max Chilton, No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, full season
Scott Dixon, No. 9 GE LED Honda, St. Petersburg
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (all blue, gold trim), Long Beach through Indianapolis 500 qualifying
Scott Dixon, No. 9 Camping World Honda, Indianapolis 500 and Detroit
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (gold trim), Texas
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (red trim), Road America through Mid-Ohio
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 NTT Data Honda, most of season
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 NTT Data Honda (blue and chrome), Mid-Ohio
Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Novo Nordisk/Diabetes Canada Honda, Toronto

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

Takuma Sato, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, most of season
Takuma Sato, No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, Indianapolis 500, Detroit and Mid-Ohio
Marco Andretti, No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda, most of season
Marco Andretti, No. 27 Magneti Marelli Honda, Detroit

*We should also note Andretti-Herta Autosport driver Alexander Rossi has had a blue car all season, but with either yellow (NAPA Auto Parts/Curb) or red (ShopAndretti.com) secondary colors alongside the primary blue, the No. 98 Honda doesn’t fall into the all blue or blue and white trap.

A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES

Conor Daly, No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, all season
Carlos Munoz, No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, all season

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING

Graham Rahal, No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsforTroops.com Honda, INDYCAR GP and Detroit
Oriol Servia, No. 16 Fifth Third Bank Honda, Detroit

DALE COYNE RACING

Esteban Gutierrez, No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, Detroit through Mid-Ohio (except Texas)
Ed Jones, No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, most of season (except Indianapolis 500, raced with yellow accents)

ED CARPENTER RACING

JR Hildebrand, No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet, multiple races
JR Hildebrand, No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet, Road America

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS

Jay Howard, No. 77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda, Indianapolis 500

HARDING RACING

Gabby Chaves, No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet, Indianapolis 500, Texas, Pocono