IndyCar’s patience paid off as the skies cleared sufficiently Saturday afternoon at Pocono Raceway to allow the rescheduled two-hour practice session to start on time at 1:55 p.m.
The delay theme continued for Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, though, as the Indy 500 winner was left stuck in the pits with a clutch issue on his No. 22, taking about 40 minutes to swap out various parts as they chased the problem. When he did finally get out, the Frenchman was one of the few to sample the higher downforce wicker, yet still emerged fastest of the three Penske entries in the session.
None of them, though, led the way for Chevrolet-powered cars. Instead, that honor — and fastest overall lap of the day — went to Tony Kanaan in AJ Foyt Racing’s No. 14, at 216.354 mph (41.984s). The Brazilian will start only 19th, however, due to the cancellation of qualifying, which led to an unusual-looking speed chart as the need for finding a fast single-lap pace gave way to experiments in race setup.
While obviously encouraged, Kanaan didn’t feel his pace was that surprising, noting the bolstering the team has received from the recent addition of veteran engineer Don Halliday to its technical staff.
“I felt we had a pretty good superspeedway car all year long — our best result this year was Indy,” Kanaan noted. “But Don helped. When you struggle like we are, it’s very easier for everybody to lose confidence and motivation — I’m including myself in that — so, it’s a big boost for the team.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t qualify! But my car felt really good in traffic too, so we’ll try to pull a ‘TK start’ tomorrow and get by 5-6 positions right there, put ourself in the top 10, and then see what happens.”
Scott Dixon ran second in his No. 9 PNC Bank/Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, while Santino Ferrucci was impressive again with the third-fastest lap in his Dale Coyne Racing Honda — and some more of his signature daring moves in traffic.
“Ovals have been super new to me (but) I’ve gotten along with them pretty well since Indy,” Ferucci said after the session. “I think that helped me go into Iowa a little more confident. 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.”
Although he didn’t show much of his hand in practice, the championship leader will have a head start thanks to the setting of the starting grid by entrant points. Josef Newgarden (17th in practice with his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevy) will start Sunday’s race from the pole, with reigning Pocono winner Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (fourth in practice in the No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Andretti Autosport Honda) alongside on the front row, and title rivals Pagenaud (fifth overall) and Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) behind them on row two.
“Obviously, we’re not dissatisfied with where we have to start,” joked Newgarden. “We’re all starting in a good spot, the top five guys in points; we’re all right next to each other. It could be worse. We’ll take it, I guess. It would have been nicer if we could have just had a normal day, got the practice in, then qualified and had the rest of it. But we can’t control the weather.”
Newgarden and teammate Will Power were well down the speed chart but spent a lot of the session in traffic, learning about how this year’s tires and iteration of the track surface will play out.
“The restarts (at Pocono) actually are nuts. It depends on how the guy in the front there, how he accelerates,” Power said. “For the most part, I don’t like the (multi-car) wide. I only like it as the one on the inside. If you’ve got two either side of you, it’s not a good feeling, especially when they start to close in on you….”
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