The rainy weather made for a strange day at Pocono Raceway Saturday, and when the cars finally made it on track in the early afternoon, things got even stranger.
With Practice 1 and Qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 washed out and replaced by a single, two-hour practice session, the speed chart was a mishmash of names and teams, with surprises from top to bottom. When it all shook out, Tony Kanaan powered to the day’s fastest speed, turning a lap of 216.534 mph around the 2 1/2-mile “Tricky Triangle”.
With the starting field being for Sunday’s race set by entrant points, Kanaan’s lap goes for naught, as he will roll off in the 19th starting position. Still, he looks to his work Saturday and his 9th-place finish at Indy in May as an indication he might be in line for his best result of the season.
“Obviously, not being able to qualify hurt us a bit, but we can’t control the weather, so I think we have a pretty decent car,” Kanaan said. “Our biggest challenge is that we will be starting in the back and this track is not an easy track to overtake on, especially in traffic. I’m (still) excited, it was a good day, the boys are happy.
“We needed that today.”
Scott Dixon, who will start fourth, posted the second-best lap of 215.761 mph to pace the championship contenders — more on that later — while rookie Santino Ferrucci was third at 215.377. The 21-year-old Ferrucci, who is racing about three hours from his home in Woodbury, Conn., has passed more cars on track than any driver this season and is a surprising fourth in oval points.
Moving up in the field on ovals has been Ferrucci’s M.O. this year, as he started 23rd at Indy before finishing 7th, and raced his way from 18th to 4th in Texas. He battled to a 12th-place finish at Iowa and is looking forward to the last two ovals, here at Pocono and at Gateway next week.
“Ovals have been super new to me and I’ve gotten along with them pretty well since Indy,” Ferrucci said. “I think that helped me go into Iowa a little more confident and this track I didn’t know beforehand. We’re ending the year with two tracks I don’t know, so being able to come here and be quick right off the bat is really confidence-inspiring.”
Alexander Rossi, who trails Josef Newgarden by just 16 points in the race for the championship, was fourth on the charts at 215.373 while Simon Pagenaud, who missed the first 40 minutes of the session with mechanical issues, was fifth at 215.368. Newgarden and teammate Will Power were one of the surprises of the session, but this time it was for their lack of speed instead of their abundance of it.
Newgarden could only manage a lap of 214.174, which was 17th-best on the day, while Power was 20th with a lap of 213.953. Also struggling to find speed were the Ed Carpenter Racing tandem of Spencer Pigot and Ed Carpenter, who were 21st and 22nd in the field.
All is wiped clean for tomorrow, though, as Newgarden will start on pole and Power will start fifth, while Pigot and Carpenter will start 12th and 15th, respectively, but their lack of speed has to be a concern, especially for Newgarden.
With Dixon and Rossi both historically strong at Pocono, an off day from Newgarden could see his points lead evaporate with just three races left after this weekend. His car has to be good from the jump, because with the the championship contenders all at the front of the field, playing catch-up at any point in the day will be fruitless, especially if any weather affects the competition.
“It was an okay day” Newgarden said. “We got through a lot. Obviously, not qualifying helps us on our starting position, but I think we got through enough where we feel comfortable with our race car. It’s nice to have Hitachi and the whole gang here and on our Chevy. Chevrolet has done a really nice job with everything, now we just need to try and put it together for (Sunday).”
The green flag for the ABC Supply 500 falls at 2:45 p.m. EDT.
Photo credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar Media