Helio Castroneves very optimistic about Pocono IndyCar 500

Date: 7/1/2014 11:31:31 PM

Helio Castroneves very optimistic about Pocono IndyCar 500

By DINO OBERTO … “Keeping Track”


(LONG POND) When it comes to Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR guys always sum up the “Tricky Triangle” as one of, it not the most unique track on the Sprint Cup Series circuit.

Now it’s the Verizon IndyCar Series turn to tackle the 2.5-mile tri oval for this Sunday’s Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled by Sunoco.

Last year IndyCar returned to the track after a 24 year absence and the drivers of the nation’s leading opening wheel series feel the same as their stock car counterparts when it comes to Pocono.

“The triangle of Pocono is always very challenging. Turn one has all the banking and the rest there’s no banking or so it seems like no banking. That’s the challenge everybody faces. You try to set up the car for one place and whoever seems to compromise one or the other for sure will have good results,” said Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves.

“We had the test there two weeks ago but unfortunately some of the weepers out there weren’t expected. Hopefully we won’t have any issues with that for the race. But the track seems to be good and the curbing in turn two has been taken away but it’s still very challenging.”

For IndyCar drivers, Pocono is much more physical compared to the stockers. The g-forces and speeds are double. Last year the pole was a blistering 221.277 mph set by Marco Andretti. That’s 39 mph faster than the NASCAR track record.

“Physical, yes. Actually it’s very tough in turn one because of the banking that they have there and you shift the car in the corners. It’s more physical than other ovals except Iowa where you have so much down force,” explained Castroneves.

“It’s a flat long front straight away and very wide. That’s the good news. It gives you a little time to rest and hold your breath.”

            Pocono is also part of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown which are the three 500 milers on the IndyCar schedule. The first was the Indy 500 in May, where Castroneves finished second in a heartbreaker to Ryan Hunter-Reay. After Pocono it’s the season ending event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. This year double points will be awarded at each of them and coming into Pocono Castroneves sits second, 39 behind teammate Will Power.

            The series just wrapped up a two day weekend in Houston where Castroneves was 9th and 21st respectively and with Pocono straight ahead, it adds up to big points for the title contenders.

“Last week and now Pocono are extremely important because Houston also was a doubleheader which is one weekend but two races. Last year I lost the championship because of a doubleheader,” said Castroneves, who has one win this season, the second race in a twin bill at Detroit.

Last year in the Pocono 400 Scott Dixon led a first-ever Chip Ganassi Racing podium sweep. Dixon earned his first victory of the year while Charlie Kimball was second and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti finished third. For Dixon, it was the turning point of his season and led to him winning the 2013 championship.

Castroneves was eighth but left the Long Pond track ranked first in points.

“Now adding 100 miles to Pocono and more points it tends to make it important as well. The guy who does well here (Pocono) with the double points can easily be set for the rest of the year but we can’t be thinking about that. What we have to do is just focus on the good setup. It’s going to be a long day, probably about five-six pit stops. Hopefully it will be a clean race and we have a good performance,” said Castroneves.

            Originally built for Indy Cars, Pocono at one time was a staple on the series with a long history. Prior to last year there had not been an event since 1989 but thanks to the repaving of the track in 2012, it’s back in the fold of IndyCar and Castroneves and all of the drivers say it is a welcome edition.

“Not only is it double points but it’s traditional. This race was being held since before I was born. I come to places where tradition stays like Milwaukee, Indianapolis obviously and several other places and certainly Pocono is part of that tradition.”

            At last year’s race there was much anticipation that Pocono would mimic Indy with multiple lead changes and all day passing. However, it became more of a follow the leader race and then an economy run. Andretti was dominating until late when his Chevrolet engine ran low on fuel and he was forced to pit. Most of the other Chevy drivers also faced the same turmoil while the Honda’s took the top three spots.

“Chevy has been working very hard on fuel mileage and hopefully it will be better this time. They’ve worked on the turbos too,” said Castroneves. “We’re looking forward to coming back and hopefully we’ll have better results than last year.”

            With the addition of 100 miles to this year’s race, that Indy 500 like run may very well come into play and Castroneves, a master in extra distance races, should be a key factor. In this year’s Indy 500 the final laps where thrilling to say the least.

“I had some many people still talking about that. Even though I finished second people are still saying what a great race that was. It shows that the popularity is there with the series. I don’t know how much more it can be competitive. It’s just getting better and better and I really like what I see for the future of the series.”

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