More than a decade has passed since the last Verizon IndyCar Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. That will change tomorrow night, when the green flag drops for the second race of the 2016 season. This will be the 62nd IndyCar race at PIR since the track opened in 1964. Only four current drivers have ever started a race at Phoenix – Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, and Ed Carpenter. Kanaan has had the most success, with two wins and a third-place finish in three races.
The first practice on Friday had the ECR duo of Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden at the top of the time sheets. They tested very well at the open test in February, and didn’t miss a beat early on. Unfortunately though, the attention was on the spinning Honda machines. Takuma Sato spun and hit the wall less than ten minutes into practice, and James Hinchcliffe also spun and hit the outside wall hard later on.
Carlos Munoz also spun during qualifications, and was treated for an injury to both of his knees. The Hondas seemed to be living more on the edge, perhaps to make up ground on the Chevrolet machines. The top ten drivers in the first practice session were all driving Chevrolet-powered cars. Their dominance continued in qualifying. The top ten positions were all occupied by Chevrolet drivers, with the only other one (Bourdais) in 15th.
Helio Castroneves earned the Pole for tomorrow night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. It is the 46th career Pole for Castroneves, who posted a two-lap speed average of 192.324 mph. He will be joined on the front row by his Brazilian buddy, Tony Kanaan. Juan Montoya and Charlie Kimball will share Row 2, and Carpenter and Scott Dixon will start from Row 3 tomorrow night.
Rookies Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi both seemed comfortable on Friday, although they nearly got together during practice. Chilton qualified 8th, and Rossi will start from 14th position on Saturday. Newgarden and Graham Rahal both had a “moment” during their qualifying runs. Josef rebounded to qualify 7th, but Rahal suffered more, as he qualified 19th.
Qualification Results for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix
Sato, Munoz, and Hinchcliffe did not make it out for qualifications, and will start from the rear of the field.
The race distance is 250 laps, which is 255.5 miles around the 1.022-mile oval. The defending race winner (2005) is Sam Hornish Jr. There will be one final (30 minute) practice session at 9:15 PM ET tonight, which will be streamed live on IndyCar’s YouTube channel.
Coverage for tomorrow’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix begins at 8:30 PM ET on NBCSN.
Practice and Qualification Photos via IndyCar
Helio Castroneves: “Yeah, I mean, first of all, what a great opportunity again to be back in PIR. This is probably my first oval ever in my career, so it’s great to be back again in this place.Yes, it’s an honor to be breaking the record, which has been holding for 20 years, and now we’re able to show that (the) Verizon (cars) are fast, and also in my car, the Rev Group car, was really on rails. We came here preseason, we showed that, and we kept going. The temperatures were really difficult because of the temperature and you’ve got to push to the limit, and we definitely pushed to the limit. My first lap was pretty good, and the second lap was a little bit of a moments in Turn 3 and 4, which I was not expecting that. That’s probably why it was huge. But at the end of the day, we were able to put the No. 3 in the pole position and now we’ve got to focus for tomorrow”
Max Chilton: “I had a pretty good run and immediately gave Kanaan some feedback when I got out of the car and he came up. It was amazing how much the track can change in such a short period of time. It’s tough being the first car out there without any feedback but I think the Gallagher team will be ready to go for tomorrow night.”
Scott Dixon: “The car was OK today. It’s always tough when someone puts it in the wall just before you go out and qualify. The Target car was pretty strong and my teammates all did well in practice and we worked together on setup info. We struggled a little bit with overall grip in qualifying. It wasn’t ideal but I think we can be strong in the race.”
Tony Kanaan: “It was pretty good, and the conditions changed a lot since this morning, so it was a little tricky to make a decision in what to do with the car. But I think big props to Chevy and Pratt & Miller on their accurate data because we made some changes in the car. It was totally blind, just according to the numbers they gave us, and it was spot on. Obviously it wasn’t quite enough to get the pole, but I won here from second place before, so we’ll try tomorrow.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “This morning the Hydroxycut machine had a lot of understeer. So, for this afternoon we made some changes, but it is always tough when you go into qualifying with a question about what you have. The car was very free going into the turns and started to push mid-corner and out, so I wasn’t sure what to do… I backed out of the tools, but it wasn’t enough to pull a good run. I am not quite sure what happened, but we will take a look at the data, make some changes for tonight’s practice and see what we can do in the race tomorrow.”
Will Power: “We had a lot of push in the Verizon Chevrolet in our qualifying run and we just didn’t have the right balance. We had to lift going into Turn 1 so we lost some speed there. So we’ll start in the middle of the pack tomorrow. It will be a long race and we’ll see how things go from there. Excited to be back racing here, racing in Phoenix, and I think it will be an interesting race.”
Conor Daly: “I played it too safe. I didn’t get up to speed as quickly as I needed to and it’s just tough to do that when you’re on that much of an edge. I’m still learning so a lot of it was all down to me. It’s also the first time that I was in this type of a qualifying format and you take the green pretty quickly! Of all of our runs in practice, our fastest laps were on laps four or five so that’s just something that I have to get used to. For us, I think it was the best thing to play it safe because the last thing we need is a crashed car.”
Luca Filippi: “Everything is new for me and it was my very first time qualifying on an oval. I have to say, it was fast! Even if I wasn’t the fastest, it’s amazing driving these cars on an oval and I loved it. I’m eager to get more experience and push the guys to push the limit higher and higher. We had a margin that we could have played with but we didn’t want to take risks. For tomorrow, it’s looking good. We have to work a lot on dealing with traffic but, so far, I love it. Very fun. I know there’s a lot to learn and that it’s difficult. I can’t just jump in a car and pretend to be as fast as the top guys but I want to be that fast one day. It will take a lot of work but I’ll try.”
Ed Carpenter: “We wanted to be 1-2 all weekend! While we weren’t able to accomplish that, our main goal is to win the race. We still have a good opportunity in front of us for that. It’s a good thing when you’re a little frustrated about starting fifth! I know there’s more speed in the car, we just didn’t quite get the right downforce level for qualifying in these conditions. INDYCAR is so tough, we’re fighting over hundredths and thousandths. It doesn’t take much to get a jump on your competition so we’ll chalk this up and remember it for next time.”
Josef Newgarden: “We hung it out there like we needed to and got up relatively high up in the field. Not quite what we wanted, I thought both myself and Ed were going to be pole contenders for sure. We had great cars with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolets. We were just battling the conditions there. I don’t think we quite had what we needed, but even though we’re not on the pole we still have fast race cars!”
Simon Pagenaud: “I don’t think it was a really good run to be honest. The Devilbiss Chevy had a lot of movement on the tires on the first lap and it was very tricky into Turn 1. So, we lost a lot of time in the first lap. It’s going to be a long race but it just started so, we look forward to tomorrow’s race.”
Carlos Munoz: “Unfortunately I crashed the car. I feel sorry for the guys. They’ll put so much work in tonight to get ready for tomorrow. I just lost the car — went through everything really quick. It’s a shame. I feel a little bit injured on my knees, but I’m OK. I can’t wait to be back on track tomorrow. I’ll just rest a little bit today and think about tomorrow.”
Marco Andretti: “The disappointing part is that was a good run, and we’re 11th. Obviously, when we have the car wrung out we want to be running for pole and not 11th… so disappointed. We have a lot of work to do tonight but we have a direction I think we can work on. If we get the car good in race trim, the competition will be more human tomorrow night.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “First I am glad Carlos is alright. Pulling 5 G’s (of downforce) around here is one thing and when that string breaks and you hit the wall, it’s a massive hit here. I am glad he’s alright. This morning we were quite a bit slower than the competition, we were 11th and the top Honda so we really needed to start swinging at it to try and get some speed but it just wasn’t in there. That was a hairy run. When you see your teammate go in and he’s running the same setup, to go out and try to keep your foot on the floor is an exercise. I got loose and we slid around. That was not exactly the ideal qualifying run but I can’t wait to race tomorrow night. I love short oval racing and this place at night is going to be spectacular. Hopefully we can dial in a good DHL car tonight and make a good show of it.”
Jack Hawksworth: “It was a tricky qualifying run. The car was a little bit loose. It’s been a difficult day so far because we had some issues in practice and we didn’t run very much. So we have to get our heads together and understand what happened in qualifying. We have to keep focused and keep digging and put on a good show for the ABC folks tomorrow night.”
Charlie Kimball: “I think qualifying is really important here at Phoenix. If the racetrack races like it did during testing last month, passing will be at a premium. Having a solid qualifying effort today was important. We spent a fair amount of time working on everything this morning in practice, but it was broken up due to two big yellows for accidents. We were fortunate enough to get a few qualifying simulations in early and I was pretty happy with the car overall. The No. 83 car looks good and is quick at the same time.”
Alexander Rossi: “I’m pretty disappointed with (the qualifying run). The car was different than it was in practice, so I need to understand why that was. I think there is obviously, in terms of going to P1, a difference between the two aero kits that we need to understand. From my personal standpoint, I feel like we just missed the transition in terms of the day with track temperature and everything from practice to qualifying. We’ll have to make sure we capitalize this evening and make sure the race car is really good.”