Photo courtesy INDYCAR

IndyCar Fast Facts: Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix

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Here’s all you need to know about this weekend’s IndyCar race in suburban Phoenix, the second race of the 17-race schedule, and the first of the season on an oval:

Race weekend: Friday, April 6 – Saturday, April 7, 2018

Track: ISM Raceway, a 1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona

Race distance: 250 laps / 255.5 miles

Entry List: Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix (PDF)

Firestone tire allotment: Ten sets primary

Twitter: @ISMRaceway, @IndyCar, #DesertDiamondPGP, #IndyCar

Event website: www.ISMRaceway.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2017 race winner: Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet)

2017 pole winner: Helio Castroneves (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet), 37.7538 seconds (194.905 mph)

Qualifying lap record: Helio Castroneves (18.8701 seconds; 194.975 mph), set on April 29, 2017

NBCSN race telecast: Saturday, April 7 (9 p.m. ET, live)

NBCSN qualifying telecast: Friday, April 6 (8 p.m. ET, live)

Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBCSN’s telecast of the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are the pit reporters.

Video Streaming: Both practice sessions will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar)

Radio broadcasts: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with analyst Anders Krohn. The turn reporter is Jake Query with Nick Yeoman and Michael Young reporting from the pits.

All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app and Verizon IndyCar Series practices are broadcasted on IIndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

At-track schedule (all times EASTERN): 

Friday, April 6

5 – 6 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com

8 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single-car format, two laps each), NBCSN (Live)

11 p.m. – Midnight Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com

Saturday, April 7

9 p.m. – NBCSN on air

9:35 p.m. – Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix (250 laps/255.50 miles), NBCSN (Live).

Race Notes:

* Sebastien Bourdais claimed the season-opening race of the Verizon IndyCar Series for the second year in a row as he won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11. Bourdais is hoping to claim back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time since 2006 as he pursues a fifth Indy car championship.

* Josef Newgarden of Team Penske continues defense of his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Newgarden captured his first series title in his first season with Team Penske, winning four times. Now he aims to be Team Penske’s first repeat champion since Gil de Ferran collected back-to-back CART championships in 2000 and 2001.

* Scott Dixon hopes to add to his record-setting resume in 2018. Dixon’s four season championships tie him with Indy car greats Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti, trailing only the seven titles collected by A.J. Foyt. Dixon is fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 41 and won at ISM Raceway in 2016.

* The Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix will be the 64th Indy car race at ISM Raceway since the track opened as Phoenix International Raceway in 1964. Al Unser has the most wins by an Indy car driver at the track (six). Tony Kanaan (2003 and 2004), Scott Dixon (2016) and Simon Pagenaud (2017) are the past Phoenix winners entered in this year’s race.

* ISM Raceway will host the first of six oval races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Other ovals event scheduled are: 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil (May 27), DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (June 9), Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway (July 8), ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Aug. 19) and Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park (Aug. 25).

* Twelve drivers have won the Phoenix race from the pole: Mario Andretti (1966), Lloyd Ruby (1967), Bobby Unser (1968, 1972), Al Unser (1969 and 1985), Gordon Johncock (1973), Johnny Rutherford (1977), Rick Mears (1982, 1989 and 1990), Teo Fabi (1983), Tom Sneva (1984), Arie Luyendyk (1996), Helio Castroneves (2002) and Tony Kanaan (2003).

* Drivers who have won at Phoenix have gone on to win the Indy car championship nine times: A.J. Foyt (1964, first race; 1975, second race), Mario Andretti (1966, second race), Bobby Unser (1968, first race), Al Unser (1970, first race; 1985), Rick Mears (1982, first race), Bobby Rahal (1992), Buddy Lazier (2000), Sam Hornish Jr. (2001) and Tony Kanaan (2004).

* Matheus “Matt” Leist, Robert Wickens, Pietro Fittipaldi and Kyle Kaiser will each make their first Indy car oval start this weekend at ISM Raceway. Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, and Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights champion, will each be making his series debut in Phoenix. The four drivers – along with Zach Veach – are all Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders.

* Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 284th consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Kanaan will attempt to make his 345th Indy car start, which would pass Helio Castroneves for third on the all-time list.

* Scott Dixon has made 225 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the second-longest streak in Indy car racing. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti has made 201 consecutive starts, which is the fourth-longest streak in Indy car racing.

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

Follow@KyleMLavigne