Bad luck for the Andretti family is not exclusive to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now add Pocono Raceway to that list. With Mario’s 1986 win as the lone family victory here. Marco Andretti set a new track record, and dominated early. Not only did fuel milage snap the 25 out of the jaws of victory, the rest of Andretti Autosport suffered bad luck today.
On the other side of the coin, team Ganassi seemed to have the best luck a team could have. having struggled on speed all weekend, having to move to the back of the field for an engine change, and poor qualifying–suddenly they found themselves 1,2,3 at the finish.
First lap, going into turn one, the top three were sorted out single file. Suddenly James Hinchcliffe turns his Go Daddy car sideways and backs it into the SAFER barrier. Then he would slide back down before stopping on the inside of the turn. “I mean, it just snapped. We got loose. We’ve been battling understeer with a hot day” Hinch stated after he visited the medical center. “I feel bad for the team the guys worked so hard” a disappointed Hicnhcliffe added. So began the terrible luck for the Andretti camp.
The race would go back green on lap 5. The on track activities would remain clean for over 55 laps. Then on lap 62 the yellow flew for a pit road incident between defending series champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato. I was watching the race at this point on the roof of the old media center (victory lane building).I just happened to look over when I spotted the yellow livery of the champion. Then I saw the 14 come in too hot waiting till the last second before he just made contact with Hunter-Reay. The 1 seemed to have slown down before entering pit road, and did not wait till entry and reaching the Sunoco race cones that marked where to hit the pit road speed switch.
It also looked as Hunter-Reay just slightly drifted outside right before contact. Possible looking in his mirror at the 14 right before impact. Clearly Sato was just too hot inside the pits, even if he would have hit the switch at the line he applied no breaks until it was far too late. Both cars would go to the paddock for repairs, with the 1 coming out to run laps later in the race for points, Sato’s day was over.
Green flag would fly on lap 71, where it would remain for the remainder of the race. Tony Kanaan was the leader with Marco second, Helio Castroneves third, Simon Pagenaud forth, and Will Power fifth. Lap 72 Andretti would regain the lead and hold it until lap 94. Fuel strategy was quickly becoming an issue for the 25. Lap 95 Marco would pit under green in what would become the team’s downfall on the day.
Just two laps later Scott Dixon would take the lead during pit stops and hold it for ironically 9 laps before being passed by Kanaan. it was a very scary moment for both teams as Kanaan hit the rear of Dixon with his right front nose into turn one. Kanaan would hold the lead for just two laps, until Will Power passed him for the top spot in turn three.
Two laps after that Marco would pass Power to again regain the lead. it would be the last time Andretti held the lead on the day. What became clear on the radio was the fuel and pit strategy of the 25 team was not working in their favor. Marco sounded rather upset to have to lay back and give up the lead nine laps later to Power. After the race Andretti told the ABC interviewer, “It was ripping my guts out” in regards to being the fastest car and having to lay back. When asked what happened when they saw they would be short, “We should have responded quicker”. Andretti clearly was frustrated and unhappy his team did not solve the problem. He would later run out of fuel as he took the checkered flag and the car had to be towed back.
Lap 130 saw Charlie Kimball take the lead for his second time on the day. Three laps later on 133, Scott Dixon took the lead for the second time, and would hold it to the end. The race ended with a Ganassi and Honda sweep. It was run in just two hours and four minutes, with an average race speed of 192.864 MPH.
The Ganassi team was highly celebratory following the impressive finish. I asked Charlie Kimball if his fast practice from Saturday helped them for today. He replied it wasn’t an indication on Saturday how good they were, just, “right place, right time” for that fast time. Instead Kimball told me that it was his team following the 10 car’s set up change after Saturday’s final practice that benefitted them raceday. Franchitti agreed, that change helped their set-up for the hot weather today.
Also, Kimball was asked how did he prepare for this track. He creditied a scooter ride around the track earlier in the week. Then Franchitti chimed in, “How long did that take!?!?” as the media center erupted in laughter. Kimball quickly retorted, “I had to stop for fuel in two”. Also Kimball was asked why he seems to do well on July 4th weekends. Franchitti chimed in he must be very patriotic, to which again Kimball swiftly replied, “I didn’t get patriot enough–I let a kiwi win”!
But the man of the hour was Scott Dixon. His teammate Franchitti, noted that Dixon’s talent of performing well in ill-handling cars benefited his performance. “When the car is not quite right. There is no one better than Scott Dixon” Franchitti told the media members.
Dixon credited the hot weather for their good day, “The Chevys had a lot of downforce and drag on their cars, which benefited us”. It was that issue that helped propell the Hondas up front late in the day according to the New Zealand native. And when asked about the engine change that saw him moved ten spots back to start the race, “The engine change was done on Thursday, and was a scheduled engine change”. It only helped Dixon survive the grueling 400 miles known as Pocono.
And while Pocono does not give out official attendance numbers, I can tell you the place was very well attended. It seats roughly around 88-89K. The media members claiming an eyeball estimate of 30K may be way off. Considering New Hampshire in 2011 had 25K and Pocono had clearly close to double that size. Plus, Pocono had a large RV camper crowd in attendance as well.