Helio Castroneves on Pole at Phoenix

Less than a week after Round 3 on the schedule, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to action on Friday. Phoenix International Raceway was the stage, and the lights once again shined bright on Team Penske. Helio Castroneves earned pole position on Friday night, as the four Penske cars all qualified inside the top five. Will Power joins his teammate on the front row, while JR Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden share the second row.

The rest of the top ten qualifiers on Friday night were Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Mikhail Aleshin, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, and current championship points leader Sebastien Bourdais.

Qualification Results for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix

It was a solid run for Marco, who has been fighting some bad luck this season. The rest of the Andretti team qualified 12th, 15th, and 18th respectively. Graham Rahal still hasn’t been able to put it all together, as his RLL Honda will roll off in 17th position tomorrow night. As he pointed out just after practice, the sand and high winds were not making it easy.

This is the first start of the season for team owner Ed Carpenter, who is looking to rebound from a rough 2016. His last six finishes are 17th, 21st, 31st, 18th, 21st, and 18th. Today didn’t start out well either, as his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet had a fuel tank leak that needed fixed just prior to qualifying. Ed will start tomorrow night’s race from last place, but the ECR crew did a phenomenal job just getting the car repaired in time for qualifying.

The race distance is 250 laps, which is 255.5 miles around the 1.022-mile oval. Castroneves won the pole for last year’s race, and Dixon is the defending race winner.

Coverage for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix begins at 9 PM ET on NBCSN.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Simon Pagenaud: “Phoenix is a great place for INDYCAR, and I’m very excited to attack our first oval of the year. It’s very different compared to Indianapolis but it puts us in that state of mind close to the month of May. A day after Barber, the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet crew is already hard at work to prepare the car for Phoenix. It’s an exciting event as it is also a night race.”

Josef Newgarden: “Oh, man, I’m really ready to race at Phoenix. Coming off our win at Barber, the No. 2 hum by Verizon Chevy team and I are ready to hit the track for our first oval of the season. We had a good test out there before the season and we’re comfortable with what we have out there. I’ve only had one race out there and were able to get a good result over at (Ed Carpenter Racing). The crowd there is really fun and we’re ready to put on a show.”

Helio Castroneves: “Phoenix is a track where I fortunately have more experience than anyone else in the series right now due to the years Indy car racing went away from there. I’ve done well there and really enjoy the atmosphere. The crowd is really great and full of energetic race fans who really enjoy Indy car racing. We had a solid top-five finish at Barber and the No. 3 REV Group Chevy team really wants to build on that momentum as we head to our first oval this year. I’m always excited to have the REV Group on board. They are great supporters and awesome to work with.”

Conor Daly: “I really enjoyed racing at Phoenix last year. It’s an incredible challenge physically and mentally to stay on your game the whole way through. I look forward to starting off our oval part of the schedule strong.”

James Hinchcliffe: “Phoenix was a tough event for us last year. It was tough for all Hondas, to be honest. But with the resurgence we’ve seen from Honda and the momentum we have at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports right now, we are hoping to have a strong weekend and try and just execute as best we can with what we have. Everyone is so close that even if we don’t have the ultimate pace as the other manufacturer, if we hit all our marks and do our job perfectly, we can still leave here with a strong result.”

Mikhail Aleshin: “I like Phoenix a lot. It’s a pretty tricky track. It’s very intense racing there, and you don’t have the chance to make any mistakes. It’s a great racing track. Last year, the car was pretty good there, and I’m looking forward to getting back.”

Max Chilton: “Last year we had a great Gallagher car in Phoenix and we had our best result of the season. It’s a very challenging oval and I learned a lot here last year. Scott (Dixon) had a great car and I think we performed well overall as a team, and we’re looking forward to duplicating that effort again this Saturday.”

Scott Dixon: “I’m excited to be going back to Phoenix again. We obviously had a great result here last year, and hopefully, we can duplicate that again with a strong run. It’s a tough track and I know it’s changed a bit over the years with some resurfacing, and we learned a lot last year in terms of how the cars handle 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 go racing Saturday night under the lights.”

Tony Kanaan: “I love coming to Phoenix. I’m so glad INDYCAR made its way back there. Phoenix has been good to me in the past, and even last year, we had a car that could have possibly won if not for a late yellow that threw off our strategy. With the first three races of the season being road and street courses, I’m definitely ready to get back on an oval and see what the No. 10 NTT Data Honda can do.”

Will Power: “We had a great time in Phoenix last year even though it was only my first race there. We had a podium finish which was awesome. Barber was a tough one for me. We had a strong, really fast No. 12 Verizon Chevy and a tire issue really took away our ability to win a race I know we could have. My team has been great and has provided really great cars. We just keep ending up with the worst luck. We’re motivated to keep setting up great cars and hoping our luck changes soon to find our way back to another win.”

Carlos Munoz: “The Phoenix open test was our first day working together as a team with the Chevy aero kit at a racetrack. I think we are much better now than when we tested there, and I’m looking forward to showing how much we have improved. I can’t wait to go there.”

Graham Rahal: “We had a good race last year with a top-five finish.  Our starting position wasn’t the greatest, so we need to work on that and try to improve, but in the race, I think we were very good. We were patient and saved a lot of fuel when we needed to and the guys did a great job in the pits, too. It was a good, consistent and steady race last year and with the way our season has gone so far this year, that’s something that we could really use. Overall this year, I have expected to be very competitive and we have struggled a little. I hope that Phoenix is a place that we can get back on track in terms of our expectations. Our hope is that we can have a good car to go racing with and put the United Rentals Honda in victory lane while racking up more money for Turns for Troops and Soldier Strong in the process.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “We had a good test at Phoenix earlier this year, but I do think it will be difficult for us. There’s some pretty strong competition ahead of us that we’ll need to beat. I think that this type of short oval does favor the opposition. We have an (aero) kit that works very well on street and road courses but on short ovals, I think it will be a little bit more difficult. Then again, I may be wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time. We’ll see. We’re preparing as if it was any other type of race with the means we have and we’ll do our best and see how we come out.”

Ed Jones: “I did pretty well at Phoenix last year in Indy Lights and we tested there a couple of months ago, so I feel pretty comfortable around the track. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it is racing in the pack, in traffic, because I think that will be the most difficult part. It’s probably one of the most challenging ovals, I’d say, just because of its characteristics. It will be a tough weekend but I’m confident we can do well.”

Ed Carpenter: “I am super excited to get back to Phoenix and start my driving season. We have had several tests since my last race in Pocono, but it will be good to get back to a race weekend as a driver. We had a great open test at Phoenix in February and I feel very confident heading into this weekend.”

JR Hildebrand: “It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury. I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car. I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program. I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough. I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car. Everyone has been super helpful, and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Takuma Sato: “Phoenix is an incredibly fast short oval. The sensation of the speed going through Turns 1 and 2 is very impressive, which means it is quite physical, too, and it’s pulling 5 Gs. The open test we had at track in February feels like such a long time ago and it was both productive and difficult. This track has been a little unkind to me in the past, but the team is preparing the best car. So, I am looking forward to improving the car from where we left off. It will be my first oval race with Andretti Autosport, so I’m excited to go back to Phoenix.”

Marco Andretti: “The Oberto team will be pushing hard this weekend for the first oval race of the season. We’ve had mechanical and electronical issues the last two races, but our pace has been good, and hopefully, we can keep that momentum into this weekend. We had a decent test at Phoenix in February and will look to improve the car even more and go for a win.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “After a strong showing at Phoenix in 2016, we are looking to bring the DHL Honda back and be even more competitive. I’m really looking forward to the first oval race of the season and the lead-up to Indy. It will be a short, compact weekend, so we’ll have to make the most of our time on track, but I am confident we can get the DHL car in excellent shape to run a solid race.”

Charlie Kimball: “I’m looking forward to heading back to Phoenix Raceway this weekend. We were strong in qualifying last year, but had issues during the race that didn’t show the pace of the car in the end. Coming off of the Barber race weekend, we’re switching gears to the oval and the unique challenges that come with it. We tested at Phoenix during the offseason, but coming back for the race we have to be ready to adjust quickly with just one practice session to prepare for both qualifying and the race.”

Alexander Rossi: “Looking back on the Phoenix test, I think we made a big improvement from where we were last year, so I am looking forward to getting back there and trying to capitalize on that. It’s going to be interesting with the new format that we have – but that’s the same for everyone. It is going to be a busy, busy Friday. We need to make sure we execute well and come out of the box strong. It’s all about qualifying there, so hopefully we can start up front and have a good race.”

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