IndyCar looks for triumphant return to Pocono
It's taken 24 years, but the IndyCar Series makes its return to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond.
In a year in which the IndyCar Series introduced doubleheader weekends and standing starts, one of its more challenging venues is back on the schedule. Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan will be among those vying for the checkered flag Sunday at the Tricky Triangle.
IndyCar Series officials had targeted Pocono for several years before reaching an agreement with track administrators last summer.
“We started the discussion a little over a year ago,” said Matt Breeden, IndyCar Series vice president of business affairs.
“Clearly, there was some momentum on their end to get another event on their calendar during the summer. It made sense for Pocono and IndyCar.
“Anytime you come to a new venue, you want to put your best foot forward. Fortunately, it looks like we'll have a sunny afternoon with a lot of fans in the stands.”
The race at Pocono became even more attractive when IndyCar officials considered revamping the old Triple Crown challenge, which consisted of open-wheel races at several venues — including Ontario, Indianapolis, Michigan and Pocono.
The three-race competition awards $1 million to the driver who wins the Indianapolis 500, Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, Calif.
So this a big moment for Kanaan who won under caution at the Brickyard. In 1978, Al Unser became on the only driver to win the Triple Crown.
“The drivers are very excited about this race,” Breeden said. “It is truly the Tricky Triangle. It's a face place.”
The racetrack is expected to be quick during Saturday's qualifying. The 2.5-mile tri-oval is nearly 10 mph faster than it was when the series last staged an event there in 1989.
“You do realize how fast you are traveling when you reach Turn 1, which is very tight,” Takuma Sato said. “You're still traveling very fast as you go through Turn 1, and there's a lot of banking, and it's progressive banking,so it's pretty tricky. Indy's Turn 1 is just a 90 degree turn, but this Turn 1 is almost kind of a hairpin the way it comes back on itself a little bit.”
While Pocono officials have been satisfied with ticket sales, they are eager to see how race fans embrace the return of open-wheel racing. In the past several years, attendance for NASCAR events slipped some.
“There was a little bit of a falling out in the previous IndyCar Series. Some of that carried over, but now it's a new IndyCar and certainly a new Pocono Raceway,” Breeden said.
“We looked at the facility a few years ago, and it wasn't quiet there. But with the track improvements, particularly the resurfacing project, the place is spectacular.
“There's a whole lot of history at Pocono, which was built for IndyCar. It's important for us to have a large presence in the Northeast.”