IndyCar Practice Proves Pocono Raceway is Equal Parts Spectacular, Unforgiving

CELtEhdW0AABdHDPocono Raceway is magnificent. It was built for open-wheel racing, being modeled after Trenton Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Milwaukee Mile. The Verizon IndyCar Series simply “fits” here.

This is my second time at the Long Pond venue, and I forgot how awe-inspiring it can be. I stood at pit out this morning, as the Practice 1 green flag dropped at 9:00 a.m. ET precisely. I watched the field take to the track and it astounded me, the amount of time it took them to reach the peak of the Turn 1 entry and then begin their laps. The turn itself doesn’t seem like it’s that far away, due to the massive size of it, but you truly notice it as the cars get smaller and smaller in your sight-lines until they cruise left and out of sight.

One of those cars, taking to the track this AM, was Andretti Autosport’s winning-est driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay. He is defending his 2015 ABC Supply 500 win this weekend and unfortunately, it’s not starting off the way he had hoped. Within the first 10-15 minutes of practice 1 on Saturday morning, Hunter-Reay struggled to keep the No. 28 DHL Honda in line when entering Turn 1, causing the back end to get loose.

The No. 28 twisted around 180 degrees and then made hard impact with the outside wall, on the left side of the car. The front left Firestone wheel and suspension were destroyed, but held in place by the tethers. The tethers were one of a multitude of safety improvements, added to the Dallara chassis’ after Justin Wilson’s accident at this very track just a year ago.

Hunter-Reay came to a stop on the inside apron after leaving a debris field across the track. He was quickly joined by the Holmatro Safety Team and was able to exit the car under his own power. He was checked, cleared, and released from the infield medical center a short time later, but commented on how upset he was by the fact that the car he was piloting was their 2014 Indianapolis 500-winning tub. The car has a lot of oval success, so he’s understandably disappointed by the damage it sustained. We likely won’t know the extent of that damage until qualification time.

The aforementioned debris field from No. 28 was connected to the second full course yellow, calling for a track inspection. It turned out to be off the No. 22 Team Penske car of points leader, Simon Pagenaud, who was right behind Hunter-Reay when he has his impact.

Turn 1 was not through with being in the spotlight, as it drew Charlie Kimball in a short time later. The No. 83 CGRT Chevrolet made left side impact with the outside wall, much like Hunter-Reay. One strikingly different part of Kimball’s Accident however, was his steering wheel sitting on the track a few feet away from his car, once he came to a stop. A very strange occurrence and the question remains if the wheel came loose due to the impact or if the impact occurred because of an issue with the steering wheel?

The practice session ended up being extended by 10 minutes, to make for a 100 minute practice Saturday morning. However the checkered flag flew 4 minutes prior to that end time, due to the fourth and final full course caution, which saw Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya getting into the wall of Turn 2. Unlike the two earlier incidents, Montoya made impact with the right side of his car and avoided spinning around. He threw sparks from the left side of the car however,  as he glided to a stop on the apron. He exited the vehicle safely and was met by Holmatro Safety moments later.

04CJ8645AHonda had the first incident of the practice but overall, they have to be happy with the start to their weekend  – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Mikhail Aleshin, grabbed the P1 position around halfway in his No. 7 SMP Honda, and held on to it for the duration. His teammate, James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Honda, ran right behind him in P2.

Newgarden was third quickest, repping the only Chevy in the Top 5 for practice #1. Alexander Rossi (No. 98, Andretti Herta Autosport) and Carlos Munoz (No. 26, Andretti Autosport) were the Hondas rounding out that group.

All three drivers that were involved in incidents this morning were checked and released from the Lehigh Valley infield medical center at Pocono Raceway, and cleared to drive. The question however, is whether their cars will be ready for the 1:30 p.m. ET qualifying session this afternoon.

Click here for the Verizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply 500 Practice 1 Results from Pocono Raceway.

Click here for the Verizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply 500 Qualifying Order at Pocono Raceway.

Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway:

Saturday, August 20:
Practice #1 – 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. ET
Qualifying: 1:30 – 2:45 p.m. ET
Practice #2 – 5:00 – 5:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, August 21:
Systems Check – 11:30 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. ET
ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. E.T.

The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN.
Qualifying will be broadcast as a tape delay on Saturday night/Sunday morning on NBCSN at Midnight ET.
Practice sessions will be livestreamed.
All links to livestream and IndyCar radio coverage is available here.

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Feature photo: Chris Owens, IndyCar
In-post photos: Pocono Raceway stock; Bret Kelly, IndyCar