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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”