The IndyCar Series made its second and final super-speedway stop on the weekend, taking on the three-turn triangular Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
This began a stretch of three races in as many weekends to get us to the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. Here are your Pocono talking points:
The Robert Wickens crash
We can’t talk about Sunday’s race without talking about the horrific crash that saw Canadian Robert Wickens hospitalised.
If you haven’t seen the footage yet, you’ll find it on YouTube and elsewhere. Wickens made contact with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, sending the IndyCar Series rookie flying through the air and into the fence.
Watching that red Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda flying through the air, passing mere inches over Hunter-Reay’s head, and make heavy contact with the fence was one of the scarier incidents I’ve seen in more than twenty years watching IndyCar racing.
It’s a huge credit to Dallara, who designed the current IndyCar. Ten years ago, Wickens would probably have died from an impact like that.
Instead, in a welcome bit of good news, he’s looking at fairly minor injuries – various reports have indicated potential fractured vertebrae, broken ankles and arms, and a pulmonary contusion – when you take into account the serious contact he made with the wall and the fence. You know it was a big incident when it took track officials two hours to repair the fencing so the race could continue.
Ultimately, things could have been much worse. Wickens faces what will probably be a fairly long rehab, but the alternative is one that doesn’t bare consideration. Get well soon, Robert! The IndyCar Series community is behind you one hundred per cent!
Alexander Rossi wins
The Californian snatched his third win of the season – after triumphs at Long Beach and last time out at Mid Ohio. He did so in dominating fashion, beating Australia’s Will Power, who was looking to become the first driver to win three consecutive 500-mile IndyCar races (he won at Pocono last year and Indianapolis in May) since Bobby Under did it way back in 1981.
Rossi’s margin of victory was a comfortable 4.5 seconds on a day when he led 180 of 200 laps. It was a smooth, authoritative and mistake-free performance from the Andretti Autosport star whose third season of IndyCar Series competition may just end with a championship. The man he’s stalking for that title, New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, was third, 41 seconds back.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais was fourth and defending series champion Josef Newgarden came home in fifth for Roger Penske, just ahead of the highest-finishing rookie, Andretti’s Zach Veach.
The championship race tightens
Rossi’s win sees him close the gap to 29 points with three races – Gateway, Portland and Sonoma – remaining. Remember, the Sonoma finale features double points, so Rossi is right there, breathing down Scott Dixon’s neck. He is a very real chance to best the Ganassi driver after Dixon had a seemingly unbeatable lead a month ago.
Will Power’s Saturday pole has him in illustrious company
The Australian was a cut above everyone else on Saturday, lapping Pocono Raceway at an average speed of nearly 220mph for his fifty-third IndyCar Series pole. That ties him for second all-time with the legendary A.J. Foyt. Only Mario Andretti is ahead of Power, with 67 poles, and the way the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion is going, he will give that record a serious shake.
Fernando Alonso might be on his way to IndyCar in 2019
The biggest motorsports story of the week was Alonso’s decision to leave Formula One and McLaren at the end of the 2018 season. With wins at Monaco (twice) and Le Mans, the elusive Triple Crown is in reach.
Alonso only needs an Indianapolis 500 crown to complete the treble. He was fast at Indy last year, and almost certainly will return next year – though whether he runs a full IndyCar Series schedule (or even a partial one) remains to be seen. He’ll test an Andretti Honda in early September at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, and we’ll probably know more after that event.
Rumour had it that Penske was looking at Robert Wickens, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon to fill that seat. But the Frenchman will be back, alongside old friend Power and Newgarden, who is still a chance to win back-to-back IndyCar Series championships. Helio Castroneves will be in a fourth Penske car at Indianapolis next year as he tries to win his fourth Indianapolis 500.
Tony Stewart wants to run the Indianapolis 500
Imagine next May, the IndyCar Series rolls into Indianapolis and both Fernando Alonso and Indiana native/NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart are on the grid. It’s a fairly decent proposition considering Stewart’s words early last week about how he still harbours a desire to run and win the Indianapolis 500.
The former Indy Racing League champion may have a crack next year, if he can run a race or two beforehand to get some experience with a modern IndyCar. Watch this space, everyone.
Next Stop: Gateway
The IndyCar Series resumes next weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park for the final night race of the season. The Midwestern oval played host to a bumper crowd one year ago, and there are high hopes that a similar crowd will gather on Saturday night (Sunday morning AEST) for the final oval race of the year – one that promises to be a real wild card in the championship race.
Anything can and may well happen on the 1.25-mile oval that is egg-shaped like the legendary Darlington Raceway in Southern California.
I’m heading over to America on Thursday to be among the throng in St Louis for my first night IndyCar experience.