Hunter-Reay: “We’re going to put on a great show at Pocono”

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Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has praised Pocono Raceway and says the Verizon IndyCar Series will put on a fantastic show this weekend (Sunday, noon ET, NBCSN).

It potentially could be the last one, based on a report from the Associated Press released Thursday that track president Brandon Igdalsky is concerned about a severe drop in projected ticket sales. The track is on a three-year contract to host the series; this is year two of that contract.

But considering the show Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and the rest of the field put on at Indy, that ticket drop really shouldn’t be happening.

“I’ve said it in the past: Pocono is a racetrack that fits IndyCar racing and its current spec, fits it to a T,” Hunter-Reay said during this week’s IndyCar conference call. “We’re going to put on a great show there.”

He also praised the market, which in Pennsylvania is key to the Northeast and one of the few remaining IndyCar races in this region.

“The added bonus is we’re in the right market,” Hunter-Reay said. “We need to be putting on our races there, IndyCar does. Pocono, it was a major part of the schedule back in the day, and it seems to be that now it is again.

“So hopefully the fans will receive us well there. If we keep on putting on great shows, there’s no reason it can’t work. I think this one’s going to be a 500-mile race that will come down to the wire just like Indy did.”

Winning at Indy was one thing, but delivering again for the second double points 500-mile race is another challenge entirely.

“Pocono is a completely different animal than Indianapolis. They’re both very long, and that’s about all they have in common,” Hunter-Reay said. “The two tracks require different setups. They drive differently.

“The dirty air has a certain effect on the car in turn three. It makes it hard to follow; makes it hard to set up passes. You really have to work on your racecar. You have to make it actually balance well in turn one and turn three, which is a difficult thing to do.

“To set up passes is an entirely different exercise at Pocono than it is at Indy. You’ve got to focus on different parts of the track than you would at Indianapolis, and that means a different car. It’s also a different tire, different tire compound from Firestone.

“There are many aspects and variables that go into it that make it a different beast than Indianapolis.”

Hunter-Reay seeks to rebound after contact with Takuma Sato in the pit lane last year took both drivers out of contention.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).