Will Power closed the gap to series leader Simon Pagenaud at the 2016 Indy Pocono 500. Here I rate the heroes and zeroes from latest round of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Indy Pocono 500 heroes 2016
Hero – Ryan Hunter-Reay
RHR came home 3rd but was the star performer at Monday’s rescheduled 500 miler. Watching him slice his way through the field (twice) was the highlight of an otherwise typically processional race at The Tricky Triangle. A mystery electrical issue stole what looked a certain win but all credit to Hunter-Reay for never giving up.
It looked like the American might come back and sneak the win with his second back to front run of the day. The extra downforce that got him through the field so precisely worked against him in the open air, chasing down eventual winner Will Power and Mikhail Aleshin.
RHR was visibly choked by the result in post-race interviews, the result further compounding an already hugely frustrating season. RHR must be at the end of his patience with Honda and Andretti Autosport. After 2017 expect him to pop up at Penske or Ganassi – depending on which team signs Josef Newgarden of course.
Hero – Will Power
The Aussie’s win was one that long-term Penske driver coach Rick Mears would have been proud of. Poor in qualifying and anonymous in the first half of the race, Power dialled his car in for the critical final 50 laps.
The win – combined with Pagenaud’s accident – was a much needed boost to the championship from a neutral perspective. A few months ago Pagenaud looked like taking the title at a canter. Whether you like it or not, double-points at Sonoma will decide the 2016 championship.
Hero – Mikhail Aleshin
Someone had lit a fire under this particular Russian Bear at Pocono. Aleshin demonstrated no physical or psychological ill-effects from his massive oval shunt at Fontana in 2014. Not satisfied with that, Aleshin took his Schimdt-Peterson Motorsport Honda to within about 10 laps of victory.
Aleshin – despite his limited running on ovals – clearly learned important lessons from Fontana. Struggling to follow Power closely the Russian smartly settled for a strong 2nd place finish over continuing to run on a knife edge for the win. At times it was heart in the mouth stuff watching the Russian on the famous tri-oval.
Heroes – Pocono Raceway & Daly Coyne Racing
Flying the Union Jack flags around the raceway was a nice way to remember Justin Wilson. It’s hard to believe it has been a whole year since his tragic passing after the 2015 Pocono race. Sadly the race was also marking the passing of another good guy following Bryan Clauson’s awful sprint car accident.
Credit to Dale Coyne and Conor Daly for running the number 88 car at Pocono in tribute to the much-loved, versatile Clauson. It was a good way to remember another of racing’s honest guys who, like Justin Wilson, proved good guys do win.
Hopefully this time next year we will only be remembering Justin and Bryan.
Indy Pocono 500 zeroes 2016
Zero – Charlie ‘Calamity’ Kimball
It has become the norm in IndyCar that when an incident or flashpoint occurs, ‘Calamity’ Kimball won’t be far away. The likeable American has been getting himself in to all sorts of scrapes this season. Pocono was no different as Kimball speared in to Alexander Rossi on pit road.
The resulting accident was frightening despite its relatively low speed. With Rossi airborne his car landed across the nose of Helio Castroneves – left front and rear tires making contact with the cockpit head protection and helmet of the Brazilian.
Thankfully the three-time Indy 500 winner was uninjured. The incident should further focus IndyCar on bringing the ‘aero screen’ concept in to reality promptly. I think IndyCar should also start paying closer attention to Charlie Kimball who continues, surprisingly, to escape censure.
Zero – Simon Pagenaud
Championships are not made solely by winning races when you are in dominant form and the dominant car. They come from tough afternoons in the midfield making the best of the hand you’ve been dealt. Simon Pagenaud was never going to win at Pocono but he could minimise the damage Will Power was likely to do. It was a consolidation-type of day.
Instead the Frenchman was caught napping by his car bottoming out on low tire pressures. Cue a date with the SAFER barrier. Pagenaud is still in pole position for a maiden championship but Will Power has the scent of blood. That alone should disconcert him as recent IndyCar history favours the hunter over the hunted.
Zero – Marco Andretti
Another anonymous performance from Marco was bookended by his teammates running at the sharp end of the field. Rookie Rossi looked like a contender until Calamity Kimball took him out, whilst both Munoz and of course Hunter-Reay looked like top 5 contenders all day.
The number 26 car is clearly a good ride and it is being wasted right now.
Indy Pocono 500 race rating: 3 out of 5
A fairly processional race was rescued by Hunter-Reay’s last gasp charge through the pack and the anticipation of a back-to-front win. Disappointing lack of back and forth in the closing laps spoiled what should be the best part of a 500-mile IndyCar race.