Thursday, August 23, 2018

ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway

After the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, five drivers had solid chances for the 2018 championship: four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champions Scott Dixon leading in points with Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in chase. Before the tenth lap of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono, a shocking shunt on Turn 2 sent rookie Robert Wickens flying into the fence with only the car’s tub landing back on the track, bringing out the red flag and ending the race for the five drivers involved. Wickens was airlifted to hospital after Takuma Sato, Pietro Fittipaldi, Hunter-Reay, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team mate James Hinchcliffe were evaluated by medical staff and cleared.

How to even write about the race after that? Its importance pales in comparison to the health of the 29 year old driver hanging in the balance. At the time of publishing, Wickens has undergone spinal surgery, placing titanium rods and screws to stabilize a thoracic spinal fracture. Other injuries include a pulmonary contusion and fractures to his lower legs and right arm. 

Pennsylvania has been getting a lot of rain. So much rain, in fact, there have been destructive floods in the Pocono region. The rain didn’t spare INDYCAR the weekend; a light drizzle started at the end of afternoon qualifications. Verizon Team Penske Chevy driver Will Power’s qualifying run averaged 219.511 mph winning him his 53rd career IndyCar pole, tying with A.J. Foyt for second and picking up a bonus point for being the fastest on the track. Then came a downpour, and the last practice was cancelled. Crucial in hindsight, perhaps, as Pocono isn’t called the Tricky Triangle for nothing; the 2.5 mile track’s three turns are modeled after turns at other famous tracks paired with long straightaways, and Turn 2’s 9 degree banking after Indianapolis Motor Speedway is said to be the fastest. INDYCAR has been back at the family-friendly Pocono Raceway since 2013 after a 23-year absence, and at the start of the ABC Supply 500 weekend the series announced they will be back for 2019.

More overnight showers left the track wet and the paddocks plagued with puddles. The morning of race day, all that could be heard was the track blowers drying the track, but the tarmac finally dried and approved for racing. All of Team Penske took the front row – Will Power had pole with Josef Newgarden Alexander Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Wickens rounding out the first three rows on the starting grid. Prior to driver introductions, spectators were treated to a parade of classic race cars. Country singer Lee Greenwood took the stage to sing the national anthem, the grid was cleared, and everyone waited for the drivers to start their engines. 

As the safety car peeled off into the pits for the green flag, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot in the 21 car and Graham Rahal’s #15 RLL Racing turned each other around at the back of the pack – and the first yellow flag of the day. After racing resumed, Alexander Rossi passed Will Power to take the lead.

Under Lap 8’s red flag, the cars headed to the pits, and drivers were allowed to leave the cars. There was an instant pall over the Tricky Triangle, punctuated by the occasional roar of an engine revving to keep the cars ready. The track crew removed debris and repaired an entire section of the catch fence, while other drivers on the ground were interviewed and the crowd was updated when more news was released on the driver’s conditions. After nearly two hours, the track was ready for racing, though unapproved work on their cars during the red flag got drivers Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot each a two-lap penalty.

For the remaining 192 laps, there seemed to be a concerted effort by all drivers to keep the rest of the race free of further incident. Will Power passed Rossi and briefly took the lead in leap 137, but Rossi passed him again and maintained the lead for the rest of the race. Power took the second spot on the podium, and Scott Dixon worked his way up to third from 13th on the grid.

Going into Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, Missouri, there are now only 29 points between leader Scott Dixon and ABC Supply 500 winner Alexander Rossi. Newgarden is 36 points behind Rossi with 464 season points, and Power is in fourth with 449 points. 

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