After winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship last season, Simon Pagenaud isn’t ready to give up the top spot. Saturday night in Phoenix, Pagenaud earned his first win of the season, which was also his first win on an oval. He and Scott Dixon are the only two drivers to finish in the top five in all four races this season.
Will Power started the race in second, and finished there. Even though it wasn’t a win, Power desperately needed a solid finish to get back into the championship hunt. Joining the two Penske drivers on the podium was JR Hildebrand. It was an incredible performance by Hildebrand, considering that he was driving with a broken left hand. Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon rounded out the top five on Saturday night.
Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Box Score
Things were uneventful for Chip Ganassi’s team on Saturday. Dixon and Tony Kanaan finished in 5th and 6th, right around where they started. They had decent cars, but didn’t seem to have anything for Penske.
Ed Carpenter had a great season debut, finishing 7th after starting in the last spot. Coupled with the podium finish for Hildebrand, it was a fantastic evening for the ECR team. Charlie Kimball got his best finish of the season so far, coming home in 8th. Josef Newgarden was up front all night, until he made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay late in the race. Carlos Munoz had a quiet night, but grabbed a solid top ten finish for AJ Foyt Racing.
The bad luck continued for both Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal on Saturday night. A five-car crash on the opening lap ended their day, when Mikhail Aleshin spun in the middle of the turn. Championship leader Sebastien Bourdais was also collected, along with Max Chilton. The first four races have been dreadful for both Andretti and Rahal, but they are hoping Indianapolis is the place they can turn their 2017 seasons around.
The gremlins that have been haunting Andretti Autosport this season followed them to Phoenix. All four cars failed to finish the race, which is surprising in itself. Then you consider that this is the second time in the four races this season where that has happened to them (Long Beach). Marco was collected in the opening-lap crash, and Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato both made contact with the wall during the race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was fighting the car all night, and had contact with Newgarden that later contributed to him getting into the wall, ending his night. It’s been an incredibly disappointing season for the team so far, but they should still be considered the team to beat next month at Indianapolis.
Conor Daly had a great run going in the AJ Foyt ABC Supply machine, climbing his way into the top ten after starting in 20th position. Unfortunately that came to an end just before the 100 lap mark, as he had an issue with the gearbox.
There were only four drivers that led laps in the race, and they were all from Team Penske. Pagenaud led the most, with 116. The win also moved him into familiar territory; the top of the championship standings. Team Penske has now led the championship going into the Month of May in seven of the last eight years.
The series now comes home to Indianapolis for the Month of May. Before the main event, is the IndyCar Grand Prix on the IMS road course. Practice and qualifying for that event is May 12, with the race on May 13 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC. Two days later on May 15, the first official practice for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 will begin.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “I can’t explain how excited I am. Ovals are not my specialty. I grew up in Europe racing go-karts. I learned about ovals when I was 26 years old, so I had to learn the skill and the technique that I didn’t know. Man, this is incredible. What a win. The car was phenomenal and thanks to the Menards Chevrolet crew. On the pit stops these guys never make any mistakes – I can completely rely on them and the car was just incredible from the beginning to the end. The car was so strong at the beginning of the race; we were able to save fuel in traffic. And it paid off with that lucky yellow but we’ve had our fair share of bad luck too this year so it doesn’t hurt sometimes to have a little break.”
Josef Newgarden: “Tonight’s a tough blow. It’s tough when you have a podium car, potentially a winner car if everything goes right, and you finish ninth. We can’t be too displeased over ninth, but I don’t think we’re super happy. I think the Hum by Verizon Chevrolet team is going to truck forward. We think we have fast cars, we’ve had fast cars all year, so hopefully that bodes well for the month of May and we can try to get some more victories.”
Helio Castroneves: “A lot of battles out there, with teammates even. I’m proud of my REV Group Chevy team. They stayed with it all night. That’s what happens when you have three other amazing drivers. Someday it’s going to be somebody’s day. It was amazing to see. It was a big break for Simon (Pagenaud) on the yellow, but he also was very good. At the end of the day it was a tough battle with some of the guys laps down, which wasn’t really necessary to be honest, but that’s racing. We have another top five in a race, collecting points. We’re going to get our break sooner or later.”
Conor Daly: “The ABC guys gave me an awesome car. We had it in qualifying, but we just didn’t have the information yet to know how much to trim. We put ourselves back there because it’s a process and we learned we can be a lot more trimmed for qualifying. We go into the race and we had a great mechanical balance. And the whole stint the car felt great. We were making progress pulling away from people, catching other guys and I really enjoyed that. It’s a shame what happened but four races in a row, we had some issues but things will turn our way. I’m really proud of the team because we worked so hard to get it back on track, and as soon as we did, the car was just as good as it was. It was really fun to drive again and I know it was fast and that’s the good part.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Certainly not the end result we were hoping for. For us, the race started pretty decently. Obviously, I felt bad to see Mikhail get caught up in a Turn 1 incident. From there we had a decent first stint. During the first round of stops, we realized we weren’t on the same program as everyone else. We ended up having to stop a whole lot earlier than the other cars, and we just weren’t getting the (fuel) mileage. Even though it got us the track position early on, ultimately having to stop five, six laps earlier than everyone over the course of a race adds up. There was no yellow that kind of came out at the right time to put us on the same page as everyone else, and at the end of the race, we had to come in for a splash and go which cost a couple spots. It’s too bad; I think we could have had a solid top-10 finish. The Arrow Electronics car was the strongest that we’ve had here between last year, the test and now; it was a really good car. Unfortunately, the mileage situation really deterred us today. Big credit to the Arrow boys – we rolled off the truck with a good car again. We’ll head into the Month of May and see what we can do.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “Unfortunately, when we got to Turn 1, I felt the rear of the car went, and I just couldn’t do anything. I was full lock, and I just understood that that was it. I feel sorry for the guys that hit as well, but that’s racing. Very sorry to my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and everyone that works on the No. 7 because I think the guys did a fantastic job. Sometimes situations like this happen, but we’ll keep moving forward.”
Max Chilton: “There was just nowhere to go really. I was sort of tensing because I knew four-wide on the start on a short oval wasn’t good. It was just one of those things. I hate going out on Lap 1 but I just spun to avoid the accident and got collected. Hopefully we can get a better result with the Gallagher car in Indy next month.”
Scott Dixon: “Obviously, it was a tough night for the No. 9 NTT Data car, and all the Honda entries I think. Chevy had a leg up on us here and they showed that tonight. We tried to keep our nose clean but just didn’t have anything for them tonight. Hopefully we can get some momentum back at the Grand Prix of Indy next month.”
Tony Kanaan: “We knew coming into this weekend that it was going to be a difficult one for us. Eric (Cowdin) gave me a stellar car, but we just couldn’t get it done. We have good cars heading into next month, so we’ll just refocus on the month of May and hopefully get the results we’ve been waiting for.”
Will Power: “It was good night considering where we’ve finished the last few races. I’m happy to finish second and get some points. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a race to be had after that final yellow because there were so many (lapped) cars in between. I think the Verizon Chevrolet was the strongest car. I would have liked to have got the win, but I’ll take the points. This was just what we needed for the championship points. We’ve been good everywhere.”
Carlos Munoz: “It was good to get a top-10 finish. We just kept our nose clean the whole night. It was a really physical race and got more physical as the track gripped up. At the end, I was just trying to hold my line and get to the finish. We still need to improve speed-wise but we are getting better and better with this ABC car.”
Graham Rahal: “I was told by my spotter ‘Go low, go low’ but Max (Chilton) was spinning in front of me to the bottom so I could not go low. My only choice was to go above him and when he released the brake pedal, his car came back up the banking. Where do you go? There was no way to stop the car on the banking. It’s not his fault, that’s just the circumstances of racing. Unfortunately, we got pinched between Max and Marco (Andretti). We’re all innocent bystanders. I haven’t seen the replay yet but I heard Aleshin lost it. With all the smoke, you can’t see a thing. There are cars flying everywhere. I was just kind of hanging on. It’s a shame because we obviously wanted to get a good finish for United Rentals and all of our sponsors.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It’s disappointing. We work so hard and try to do things right. We had a good position at the start, being on the outside, and I could’ve probably picked up one or two positions because I had a good run going. But then all it takes is someone who takes a little bit too much risk to ruin your day. You can take risks when you’re on the outside all alone, but if you’re in the middle, in the gearbox of the car in front of you there’s a good chance that you’ll lose the car. It’s disappointing to lose the points lead like this, I knew we would lose it this weekend but we’re really missing out on some precious points. Plus, there’s a lot of damage to the car and we really didn’t need that.”
Ed Jones: “It was pretty difficult. I struggled a lot in traffic but I managed to avoid all the incidents which we could have easily been caught up in, so it’s good to finish the race and finish P11. It’s the first oval race for me in an Indy car so it was a lot to learn. I gained a lot of experience and that’s always important. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Ed Carpenter: “Yesterday (qualifying) was kind of a nightmare, so to be able to come back from that with a seventh-place finish was pretty good. And having our other car in the top three and rolling both on the truck, that’s a pretty good day. JR (Hildebrand) was super motivated to get back in the car and though he was bummed not to be able to make Barber, it’s great for him to get his first podium result here with the team. The whole team did a good job the entire weekend. Now we’re going to head to St. Louis for our next test, then it’s on to Indianapolis.”
JR Hildebrand: “The car was just awesome all day. It was a little tricky on those first starts and restarts. I couldn’t quite get the timing right and the other guys were running a little less downforce than we were. I was having a hard time fighting everyone off when we were jammed together that close. Towards the end of the race, the car was just awesome. I really felt like I had something for Will (Power) there. If we were in a little more traffic for a little longer, I think we could have gotten him. That’s where we were at our best at this race, just running in a whole pack of cars. A huge thanks to the Fuzzy’s Vodka guys and I’m psyched to be able to come back with a good weekend.”
Takuma Sato: “Tough race. We were struggling with pace at the beginning and after the second pit stop. The second lap out, the car just wouldn’t turn and I got wide in Turn 3. I went into the gray and never came back and brushed the wall. It’s disappointing to finish the day like this, but hopefully we’ll have a good test next week in Gateway.”
Marco Andretti: “I think we were all just trying to miss Mikhail (Aleshin). He just sort of lost it and I didn’t know which way to go. I spun to actually try to miss him, kept it off the wall and then because of my smoke, he couldn’t see and then Graham (Rahal) ended up getting into me. It’s just a bummer.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It’s very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything with the car all day. I love short ovals and it’s just really frustrating. The DHL car had a great start. We got by a bunch of guys and then we got a puncture. It’s just the way it’s been. (Scott) Dixon was coming up behind me there, stuck his nose in. I was afraid I’d turn across, and I should’ve just turned across. I got out into the gray and two guys got by me. Then I got down into Turn 1 and the car wouldn’t turn at all. I don’t know. It was a really wild ride in that thing today, it was way too complicated behind the steering wheel.”
Charlie Kimball: “Three Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the top 10 is a solid day. We knew coming in after the open test in February that we’d have some challenges for the race weekend. But overall the Honda engine ran great, and we were able to get good mileage when we needed to. It was an interesting race with the way it developed with the long yellow at the start and then the yellow in the middle. I lost a spot or two at that second restart; the tires weren’t quite there. Overall I’m really proud of the way the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew rallied this week. We had a few challenges coming into the weekend and we knew dealing with the weather conditions would be tough, especially with just the one practice session. We had great stops by the team in pit lane and really nice calls from the timing stand. I’m happy with the eighth-place result tonight. We’ll take those points and move on to the month of May in Indy.”
Alexander Rossi: “Everything was fine, I came out of the pits on new tires, and everything was status quo until the weight went out on the wheel and the front grip went away. I brushed the wall and we came back into the pits to see what was going on and unfortunately couldn’t fix it. We don’t really know what happened. We were having a decent race until then, we were running consistently in the top 10, staying with the Ganassi cars. I don’t really know what to say, I’m just not really sure what happened.”