Phoenix Grand Prix Preview

The world being used a lot in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, is anticipation. There was the anticipation to begin the season a few weeks ago at St Petersburg, where Juan Montoya won for the second straight year. There is anticipation for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 coming up in May, of course. Then there is anticipation for the return of two historic venues to the schedule this season; Phoenix and Road America. The anticipation for one is about to reach the climax, as teams have arrived in Arizona for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

There are many things about this race to look forward to, especially since IndyCar hasn’t raced here in more than a decade. It was Sam Hornish Jr who last took the checkered flag in an open wheel car, winning the race in 2005. The race will take place on Saturday night, under the lights on the 1.022 mile oval. Friday will feature a 75-minute practice session at 1 PM ET, followed by qualifying at 5 PM ET. Both of these will broadcast live on NBCSN. There will then be one final 30-minute practice session at 9:15 PM ET on Friday.

During last month’s preseason test at Phoenix, almost every driver had a lap that was faster than Arie Luyendyk’s official lap record of 183.500 mph, set in 1996. The speeds are definitely up, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how the cars will perform on the first oval of the 2016 campaign. Not only is it the first oval race of the season, but it will be the first IndyCar oval race for three drivers; Max Chilton, Luca Filippi, and Alexander Rossi.

This will also be the first race of the season for 2014 IndyCar Champion Will Power, who missed the race at St Petersburg due to a medical issue. Power captured the Pole for the race, leaving him with just one single point in the championship right now. He’ll look to make up some ground on the competition this weekend in the desert. Power trails Montoya, his Penske teammate, by 51 points entering the race. “I hope to have a chance going into the last race with a chance and able to win it. If so, that will be a very good year. An interesting story,” Power said.

A few drivers will have a new livery on display this weekend at Phoenix. Charlie Kimball will sport the black and neon colors of Tresiba, Marco Andretti will have the United Fiber & Data car, and Tony Kanaan will be in the GE LED colors.

 

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KV Racing had a scare early this morning just before arriving at the track. Their transporter apparently caught fire and was stopped on the side of the road. Team co-owner Jimmy Vasser said that neither the car nor the team’s equipment was damaged in the fire, and that they were preparing for this weekend as they normally would.

The 250-lap event will be the 62nd IndyCar race at the historic venue that was constructed in 1964. AJ Foyt won that first race at PIR, and today, the track unveiled the AJ Foyt Champions Trophy that will be awarded to the winner of Saturday night’s race.

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Driver Quotes heading into Phoenix:

Juan Montoya: “It was good to get the 2016 season started right with a win at St. Pete in the Verizon Chevy and now we get a chance for our first oval challenge in Phoenix. It’s good for the Verizon IndyCar Series to come back to a market like Phoenix, with all the history the series has there. I think it’s going to be a pretty interesting race on Saturday night and our Team Penske cars should be fast there, so hopefully we can make it two in a row to start the season.”

Helio Castroneves: “I am really excited to debut the new REV Group Chevrolet this weekend at Phoenix. I am one of the few guys who ran at Phoenix before and I have some really good memories of the track, including winning there in 2002. We learned a lot in our test there a few weeks ago and it sounds like there’s a lot of buzz in town around the Verizon IndyCar Series coming back to race at PIR. I know I am excited and looking forward to racing under the lights in the REV Team Penske Chevy on Saturday night.”

James Hinchcliffe: “It’s really great that INDYCAR got such a historic venue like Phoenix back on the calendar. I remember watching PIR races on TV as a kid, so it will be cool now to get to battle it out there. And it will be a battle! Based on what we saw at the open test, it will be a tight race, very physical, very hot …  and I don’t care if it’s a dry heat! Track position will be key but we have a great Arrow Electronics car and some of the best strategists on pit lane, so hopefully we can get the No. 5 up front.”

Max Chilton: “We tested at PIR before the season started so this is one of the very few tracks I’ll go to this season with some INDYCAR experience under my belt. I learned a lot at the test and spent a lot of time with my teammates, engineers and (CGRT driver advisor) Dario Franchitti. I went up to the spotter’s stand as well and had time to study the different lines and how to best race the track. I’m hoping that experience will translate into a successful weekend for the Gallagher team this weekend.”

Scott Dixon: “I’m excited for the return to Phoenix. I think the last time I was there was 2005. It’s a tough track and I know it’s changed a bit over the years with some resurfacing, so it will be interesting to see how it handles now. I love the area and Arizona is a great part of the world. There are a lot of fans in the area and I hope they are as excited as we are to return and go racing there again.”

Tony Kanaan: “Our season opener in St. Pete wasn’t exactly the way we wanted to start out the year, but we took away some positives from the weekend like moving up 10 spots and finishing in the top 10. We’ve had some time to debrief and do some testing and NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing is more than prepared heading into Phoenix. I’ve had some really good results there with the two wins (2003 and 2004) and I felt really good at the test earlier this year. I’m focused and the team is ready for a good result out in Phoenix, so we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “This will be the first time I have raced at Phoenix International Raceway in an Indy car, so that is always different and a bit of a challenge. We tested there about a month ago and collected a lot of data, but the one thing I know for sure is that it will be a very physically demanding race. We are going to be pulling more G’s (G-forces) than we usually do and the racing will be close. We have Chevy power and the new Chevy aero kit, so I know we have a reliable package.  We just have to work hard and keep digging and with any luck we can have a good race.”

Will Power: “Obviously it was disappointing not to be able to race at St. Pete to start the season, but I am feeling a lot better and just really ready to get our season started in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet at Phoenix. We know from the test there that our cars are going to be really fast on the Phoenix oval and it should put on quite a show for the fans Saturday night. I know everyone is happy to be back racing at Phoenix. It’s an awesome area, home to the Penske Racing museum, which makes it extra special for us and the fans seem very excited, so we look forward to this weekend.”

Takuma Sato: “Very fast! It’s well known that this track is unique as there is different banking for each corner – it’s very impressive. The track has such a high level of grip and the cornering speed is incredibly fast, so the sensation of turning into Turn 1 is quite amazing. I also felt we received such a warm welcome from the fans. They came to see us at the open test day and they are very enthusiastic. I thought it was a very nice atmosphere.”

Graham Rahal: “Exciting is the word that comes to mind when I think about Indy cars returning to Phoenix. To go back there where Indy car racing has such a storied past is cool. It’s also cool as my dad won here before, and dominated in 1992 to score the team’s first win. I think we can make a great run of it and hopefully get Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing another victory in the desert. The dusk or when the sun begins to go down behind the stands in Turn 1 will be very tricky, for sure. Getting the right visor darkness on for the race will be key. Physically this will be the most demanding race of the year, I believe, so it’s important to make sure I am hydrated and ready for a lot of G-forces and laps! (On the importance of this race after a disappointing result in St. Petersburg): This race is huge. I honestly feel like this race could shape our entire season. If we have a good run, we will bounce right back in points. I think our competition will be bringing their ‘A’ game and it will be very important that we do as well.”

Conor Daly: “I think it’s going to be quite a challenge in Phoenix, probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced so far. Especially for me as a driver. There’s a lot to learn, a different style of racing to get used to. I’m excited for it. It was nice to be able to test there in the Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality car, so we have a little bit of experience going into it, but still, I definitely think of this track as probably one of the biggest challenges we’ll face all year. …The cars are super on the limit in Phoenix and it’ll be tough for everyone. It’s a whole new physical set of challenges, obviously the track is very difficult physically and I think patience is quite important in Phoenix as well and just staying in the fight will be the major key for us. I don’t have much to compare the track to in Phoenix but it’s pretty cool driving on it. With Turns 1 and 2 being so different from Turns 3 and 4 and having the dogleg, that creates, again, another challenge for racing there. When all the corners are different that presents another challenge, where is the best place to overtake, one place is obviously going to be a lot harder than the other and no one is going to be giving an inch. It’s going to be new, it’s going to be different but I like the track and I think it’s going to be a cool place to have a race.”

Ed Carpenter: “I am very excited to be getting back in the car for this weekend’s race at Phoenix. It will be my first race since last season and I am chomping at the bit to get back out there. Excitement has been building for this race since it was announced and we are looking for a big weekend with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolets.”

Josef Newgarden: “I’m excited to get back to Phoenix. Hopefully we can get back up on the board this time, St. Pete was a bit of a rough start. Those things happen, but the guys have been working really hard leading up to this next race weekend. It will be great to be running with Ed (Carpenter) again, we always work well together. I think we’re going to bring a pretty strong effort to the first oval of the year and hopefully have a good showing in the Fuzzy’s Vodka cars.”

Simon Pagenaud: “We will be running the No. 22 Devilbiss Chevrolet this weekend at Phoenix, so we will be trying to build on our second-place finish in St. Pete a few weeks ago. Phoenix is a fast and challenging oval but we had a good test there recently and we feel good going into this weekend. We need to have a strong start to the oval schedule and I think it’s going to be really exciting with our cars there racing at night in Phoenix. You don’t want to miss it.”

Carlos Munoz: “I’m excited to go Phoenix for the first time with INDYCAR in many years. We’ve been testing there and I enjoyed it. It’s a really complicated oval, fast but a short oval. We’ll see how it goes – it’s the second race of the year and something different to have ovals so soon in the season. I’m looking forward to it.”

Marco Andretti: “We’d like to go to Phoenix this week and at the very least improve on the open test there, which is hopefully a podium or win. It’s going to be a physical 250-lap race, but small ovals under the lights are always fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It’s no secret that I love short oval racing. I’ve been looking forward to this race since the rumors started growing stronger that PIR would be back on the INDYCAR schedule for 2016.  As a team we’ve been very strong on the short ovals, so we’re looking to maintain that form. No one really knows what to expect when it comes to race traffic, so we’ll all be on a bit of a learning curve throughout the race weekend.  Hopefully we can continue the positive momentum following our podium finish at the season opener in St. Pete.”

Jack Hawksworth: “From what I understand, it is a circuit that has a huge open-wheel history and has produced some great races in the past. It’s always good to visit tracks that are steeped in history as it gives the place a certain aura. Judging by the turnout at the preseason test, we should get a good crowd and it seems like the fans are looking forward to INDYCAR’s return.”

Charlie Kimball: “I can’t wait to get to Phoenix Raceway for the race weekend. We had our ups and downs at St. Pete, but the oval out west is a whole different game. It was good to have those two preseason test days; I think we learned a lot about the car’s capabilities on the banking and that sharp turn on the exit of (Turn) 2. It’s such a fun track, but you really have to be focused every single second you’re strapped in. It will be a big weekend for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team as we unveil a new look on the No. 83 car, too. Lots to look forward to in Phoenix.”

Alexander Rossi: “This weekend in Phoenix is going to be something completely new to me and my career. My first oval experience is something that I am incredibly excited about. …  And while I don’t really know what to expect, I am very much looking forward to getting started. I will be relying a lot on the wealth of information and success around me in Bryan (Herta) and Michael (Andretti), as well as my three teammates, to make the transition as seamless as possible. The No. 98 team is growing every day and there has been a lot of effort on and off track after St. Pete, so we will be looking to translate that into a strong result.”

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