This weekend's IndyCar Series race at Long Pond, Pennsylvania's Pocono Raceway marks a significant anniversary for the circuit and for the drivers and teams who will bring open-wheel competition at its highest level back here for the first time since 1989.
To offer some historical perspective on this landmark return, consider this: the winner over the 2.5 mile tri-oval in that year was Danny Sullivan, and the still-current track record of 211.715 mph was set during qualifying by Emerson Fittipaldi.
Pocono Raceway was always intended to be a cornerstone of the IndyCar racing season, to constitute one leg of an American racing Triple Crown (with Indianapolis and the failed Ontario, California Motor Speedway making up the original jewels).
Beginning this season Pocono joins Indy and Fontana, California as the revived gems; and to add a touch of nostalgia to the moment, IndyCar has decided to utilize the traditional three-wide flying start for these races.
One local resident put his feelings this way: "We've been waiting for this moment (for IndyCar to return to Pocono). This place was built for Indy cars. The facility is fabulous, and it was my favorite super-speedway to drive on. It's different from any other super-speedway we run because of the very different radius of every corner and also different banking. That's what I really enjoyed about this place."
Who was the local?
Pocono creates a certain conflict in set-up. Turn 1 on the circuit is a 14 degree banked corner that leads into a straightaway of approximately 2700 feet (one half mile). Drivers compare the turns at Michigan International Speedway favorably to this turn at speed, and the high banking permits full-throttle power from the V-6 turbo engine.
Turn 2 is similar to the turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is also a high-speed corner in this respect. It leads to the shortest of the three straightaways (2600 feet) into Turn 3.
Turn 3 is where it gets interesting: the turn is very lightly banked at 4 degrees (think Milwaukee Mile) and thus requires more downforce to navigate at speed than the other turns do. Moreover, it leads onto the long, long straight (the longest on the IndyCar schedule, even longer than Indianapolis) at 3740 feet or nearly seven-tenths of a mile.
To win, the team and driver must carry speed out of this extremely challenging Turn 3 onto the long straight that passes beneath the grandstands at this venerable but highly-respected and newly-paved facility.
It's no surprise then that IndyCar technical rules-maker in chief, Wes Phillips, has put a new wrinkle into the equation for teams and drivers to tinker with on Sunday.
A key change to the technical specification occurs in the addition of an optional "underwing strake" to the permissible aero package for this 400-mile race.
The underwing strake is a small winglet positioned strategically ahead of or on the leading edge or the main-plate of the rear wing assembly. Its addition promotes a smoother, more efficient flow of air over the rear wing which would otherwise be subject to buffeting and turbulence that creates drag.
The effect on the track is a "slippery-er" car, less downforce and more speed--something IndyCar Series drivers have been asking for consistently over the course of the 2013 season.
It also is an acknowledgement that the cars, when running the existing super-speedway aero configuration (as they did earlier this year in testing and were full-throttle flat-out all the way around the Pocono race course) actually have more downforce than desirable for competitive racing at this venue.
As a result watch for the track record to fall quickly during qualifications for teams who opt to include the underwing strake in their set-up, and for those drivers capable of car control with reduced downforce configurations to gobble up competitors and spit them out the back like watermelon seeds on race day.
The race will be televised live at noon (EDT) by ABC and broadcast by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, the IndyCar website, and the IndyCar 13 App for most smartphones and tablets.