The Verizon IndyCar Series made its much-anticipated return to the desert on Saturday night, for round 2 of the 2016 season. The drivers had their hands full all night long, and in the end, Scott Dixon earned his first win at Phoenix in his fourth try. The veteran driver took over the lead just after the halfway point, and never looked back. It’s career win number 39 for Dixon, which ties him with Al Unser for fourth on the all-time wins list. Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power joined Dixon on the podium. Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal rounded out the top five.
With the win, Dixon has now won a race in 12 consecutive seasons, breaking the old record of 11 held by Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Helio Castroneves. “It was tough, definitely one of the toughest races on these short ovals,” said Dixon. “The car was super-fast. I think we had the best car out there on strategies and pit stops.”
The race was looking good for the other two Penske drivers early on. Helio Castroneves started on Pole, and was leading when a right front tire appeared to be cut. Juan Montoya took over the lead, only to have the exact same situation play out for his No. 2 Chevrolet. Castroneves ended up finishing 11th, while Montoya came home in 9th place. As previously mentioned, their teammates both finished on the podium after starting in 9th and 10th. Pagenaud now leads the championship standings, where he is four points ahead of Dixon.
Kanaan ran up front all night long, but never could capture the lead. Rahal battled all night long, earning a top-five finish after starting in 19th position. He had quite the fight with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rookie Max Chilton among others, but still managed to hold them off, leading the charge for Honda once again. It was a very impressive drive for Chilton, who seemed to have an outstanding car, and the confidence to go along with it. His seventh place finish was icing on the cake for Chip Ganassi.
Josef Newgarden finished in 6th on Saturday night, but it was anything but easy. The ECR driver was nearly taken out on multiple occasions. Charlie Kimball came down on him, breaking his front wing. He then had close calls with Sebastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan, where he was forced below the yellow line and nearly lost control. If that wasn’t enough, he also had a fueling issue during one of his pit stops. Newgarden overcame a lot of obstacles en route to a solid finish.
Unfortunately for Newgarden’s boss, things didn’t go as smoothly. Ed Carpenter appeared to have a near miss with Power, which caused him to slide high and into the marbles. He made heavy contact with the wall and finished in 21st position. This was the first race of the season for both Carpenter and Power, who won’t see each other on the track again until Indianapolis 500 practice.
Hunter-Reay’s 10th place finish was actually very disappointing for the Andretti Autosport driver. He appeared to have a car capable of earning a podium finish, as he displayed on nearly every restart during the race. Two incredibly unfortunate caution flags seemed to doom his chances down the stretch. The ill-timed yellow flags are something the team can’t control, but it was still very frustrating for the series champion and Indy 500 winner.
Power was just happy to get his first race in the books, and make up some ground in the championship. “I’m really happy to finish third. Missing the first race and dealing with a few health issues, I was just happy to complete the race in a great position,” Power said. “I got more energy as I went along. I was worried about this being my first race and how physical it was, but have to give it to the Verizon guys and pit crew tonight. They were awesome and I had a lot of fun tonight. Congrats to Dixon.”
Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Box Score
There were five cautions for 56 laps, and three lap leaders during the race; Castroneves (39), Montoya (56), and Dixon (155). Ten of the top 12 finishers were powered by Chevrolet. The only remaining Chevy was Carpenter, who had a DNF. He will participate in next week’s Open Test at IMS on Wednesday. There will also be a smaller Manufacturer’s Test on Tuesday at the Speedway.
The next race on the schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 4 PM ET on Sunday.
Race Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “This was more of an attrition race. We had the fastest cars but you get hit with yellows and cut tires so it’s not a true sense of what our cars were capable of. Simon and Will showed through, but with Helio and myself we got caught up with a cut tire. So it would have been a totally different race. Phoenix is a short oval and the speeds kept up, but everybody was on alert and everybody was pretty close. I thought there would be a lot more gaps, but everyone was pretty much in the same zone. The car kept getting a vibration and then it would settle and then would go from a three-car gap to a 15- to 20-car gap. Overall, the Verizon Chevy was pushing pretty hard and was still able to stay in the top 10. Not the finish we wanted, but we’ll look ahead to Long Beach and go from there.”
Helio Castroneves: “First of all, it was great to start on pole and to get the track record for our new sponsor, REV. I wish we could’ve done the same in the race. Unfortunately, we cut a tire. There was never an indication there was any problem with the tire so by the time we realized it was going flat, it was too late. Everything was going so smooth, it was too good to be true. Once you go slow on a one-mile oval like that, it’s like an eternity to get back to pit lane. We lost a lot with that. Really, to finish on the lead lap and in the top 11 shows just how good the REV Chevy car was this weekend.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “I have mixed feelings after this race. I think the No. 7 SMP car was good. The car was very good, actually. I was fighting like – as we say in Russia – like on the last day. Then we got unlucky with a set of tires, that’s why we needed to do the extra pit stop. Then we got a bit unlucky with yellow flags. Then I made a mistake coming off the banking into the pits. I lost the car on the way in. I’m happy that we showed the potential of the car but it was really hard to fight with Chevy. It’s something to think about for the next races and I’m happy to finish my first oval race since the crash in 2014.”
Scott Dixon: “The biggest thing was just maintaining. I was trying to keep pace of who was in back and front and I was just trying to figure out what we needed and try to put ourselves in the right position toward the end. I can’t give Team Target enough credit. They did an amazing job. The pit stops were flawless and we stretched out the fuel where we needed to and managed to put some good cars laps down early on. So I think it was good race and a good start for us coming back to Phoenix for the first time. Can we improve on the racing here? Absolutely. And I can’t wait to come back next year.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It was a less than perfect race from my end. I made too many mistakes and I feel bad for the guys because they really deserved a better finish than eighth. I think we had a ‘P’ (position) three or four car, but I locked up going into the pit box and made a mess of it. Then a Penske car got me to go around his outside in Turn 3 and 4 after a restart. There was already marbles and I hit the wall. I guess after that it was pretty much salvation and a bonus because it is very rare that you actually manage to hit the wall and finish the race on an oval. I feel very lucky about that and just glad we could get some points. It is not the best we could have done, but the guys did a solid job in the pits and we are becoming a team again.”
Will Power: “Man, the Gs were unbelievable. We were wide open at the end there when it cooled down. So much load! You gotta be a body builder to drive these things. I did actually I was watching the laps countdown and with one hundred laps to go, I was like, I got this and I can finish this race. Very good! I was really nervous going into the race. You know, can I do this? But the guys in the pits were awesome! The Verizon crew was just mega. I made a mistake there at the end. But the pit box is very slippery but still I was really happy with third place.”
Takuma Sato: “It was a tough weekend for all of us. The ABC boys did a great job putting the car back together. We had just a couple hot laps before the race. They did a good job of keeping everything under control. In the race we were hanging on but it was a long, tough night. It’s a weekend we want to forget but it was still a good job by everyone on the team.”
Graham Rahal: “I knew I had to make up a bunch of spots in the first few laps and I got a good start and got a couple of positions on the first lap and another when Luca dropped back. I felt decent about that, I was just trying to close the gap. The team was keeping me up to date on where (race leader) Helio was the whole time and I knew he couldn’t get through traffic. The frustrating thing is that I felt like I had the best car out there. I could catch everybody but I just couldn’t pass at all so I started to save fuel. We got two yellows and it helped a lot. The pit stops were amazing as always. I said it from the start that I felt confident today because of those guys. Had I not had that crew and those pit stops behind me, I wouldn’t have felt as good about this race going into it. Getting the points we did for fifth place helps us in the standings for sure. We’re going to keep challenging and pushing hard.”
Conor Daly: “That was really interesting! It was really nice to have a car to fight like we did. I thought the car was well balanced, I could race people and I had really good restarts. We just made some mistakes in the pits, which is part of the game, but I felt like I passed a lot of cars out there. Sadly, we had a few issues but it’s still the beginning of the season and things like this are bound to happen. I’m just really pleased with the car, I thought our pace was really good and I thought the way we raced was really good. We just have to get ourselves starting up a bit further up and eliminate small mistakes. It was more active than I thought it was going to be out there. Certainly crazy when you got off line. Some really interesting moments and some really hairy moments but I’m just glad we made it to the end and made it through unscathed. We gained a lot of experience today for sure.”
Luca Filippi: “Everything was going well and I was with a group and the pace was quite consistent, the same as the guys around me. Helio (Castroneves) was a couple of laps down, faster than me, but when he made a move into Turn 1, it was a late move and in order to avoid contact I had to go on the marbles. I eventually saved it, but unfortunately the engine died and we lost a few laps, so the race was pretty much over at the time for us being that many laps down. That was very unfortunate because everything was going fine. After that, I was just trying to be smart on the restarts with the guys around that were racing each other. I was trying to gain experience and keep learning more about the car and racing on an oval but at the same time I was just staying away from trouble. It’s a bit of a shame because I couldn’t really race as hard as I wanted but at least it was a great experience. It was important for me to finish the race and experience the changes from the first lap to the last one. The car was good and I felt confident in driving the car. The guys did a solid job to give me a car I liked.”
Ed Carpenter: “The team has put Josef and I in a great position all weekend. It’s been really hard to pass out there, which is surprising. After the warm-up I thought it was going to be a really racy race but everyone just kind of equalized tonight. I got a run on will out of 2, thought I was maybe going to be able to get inside in 3. It wasn’t going to happen. He raced me hard, but clean. And, when I backed out to fall back in line. I just picked up a little bit of understeer and got the marbles, which is a shame for the Fuzzy/s Vodka car. We were a couple laps away from pitting there. You know, we should be out there fighting for the win. That’s on me. I feel terrible for the team. I let these guys down. I only get five times a year at this on the ovals.”
Josef Newgarden: “The weekend went a little tougher than we wanted, overall. We got great performance out of the car, we just didn’t get the results we probably could have achieved. The race was difficult. If we could have stayed up front all night without having problems, it could have been different. We just kept going to the back of the field, first with the pit stop mishap and then with the broken front wing. We kept charging forward, which speaks volumes to the performance of the car and what the team produced. It was a shame we couldn’t get a little higher than sixth, but they are good points. We’ll move on to the next one and try to be a little higher up in the Fuzzy’s car.”
Simon Pagenaud: “Big thanks to the guys! The car was really good. Clean air was everything today. Unfortunately we missed it a little bit in qualifying. We got the car dialed in two stops before the end. We just saved fuel in traffic and made it in the pit stops. My guys were just fantastic. It’s a team sport. I mean I am super happy with second. It definitely wasn’t our strong suit in the past, short ovals, so being strong and finishing second and running with Dixon at the end shows that we are in good shape. So I am ecstatic right now.”
Carlos Munoz: “It’s a shame how we finished. I got in a crash. Something mechanical broke on the car, you know. When I was turning, nothing happened and I hit the wall. It’s a shame. We were recovering a lot of positions from where we started. You know, it’s a weekend to forget. I just have to say thank you for the guys that worked so hard yesterday to get the car back together. This is racing. We lose and we win together. So, I’m focused now on the Indy test.”
Marco Andretti: “The result tonight wasn’t what we were looking for. The yellows weren’t in our favor and we didn’t have what we needed. We’ll move on to the (Indy oval) test this week and work on a better result for the next oval.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We had two cautions – TWO of them – that put us laps down. Just had a heck of a time out there. Some of the best starts I’ve ever had, some of the best restarts I’ve ever had, and to come away from it with 10th is a pretty dejecting result. We should have finished second tonight. You have to move on and keep a good attitude about it. I wanted a better result for DHL and Honda, but racing is like that sometimes.”
Jack Hawksworth: “It was a very tough weekend. I didn’t make a very good start but the car was OK in the first stint. We were able to hang in and run the pace even though we couldn’t get close to the cars ahead so couldn’t make up much ground. We had an issue in the second stint so we had to pit early. We tried to fight back but then we had an issue on the last stop. It was just a tough, tough weekend. We made the car better but we just have to put this one behind us and learn from it. We go to two circuits that we know we have a good car and we’re strong at so we’ll focus on Long Beach and Barber and be competitive there.”
Alexander Rossi: “I think that the finishing position is really upsetting. Before we had to fall to the back, we were P7, I think. We’ll have to look at how we maybe could have done that better. I think the car was good for most of the race and the crew did a great job. I’m glad we got the first oval race under our belt… But I think there’s more to come next time.”