Report: Phoenix closing in on IndyCar return for 2016

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Phoenix International Raceway is closer to returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar than it has been at any point in the past ten years, according to a new report.

azcentral.com reports that a date and distance for a race in 2016 have already been agreed by the circuit and INDYCAR, but that a firm deal still remains unsigned.

PIR last hosted an IndyCar race back in 2005, won by Sam Hornish Jr., and although a return has been mooted for some time, plans have failed to come to fruition.

However, according to circuit president Bryan Sperber, a deal is closer now that it has been since the race fell off the calendar ten years ago.

“This is the closest we’ve been in ten years,” Sperber told azcentral sports.

“We working hard on it but it’s not a done deal. There have been things we’ve worked hard on in the past that didn’t [happen].”

Earlier this year, Hulman and Co. (INDYCAR’s parent company) CEO Mark Miles confirmed that Phoenix was being discussed when formulating the calendar, and suggested a date as early as February to give the circuit’s NASCAR events plenty of breathing room.

According to the report, a date of April 2 2016 has been agreed by PIR and INDYCAR, with the race running for 250 miles that evening. This would see it slot in two weeks before the Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 17).

Hulman and Co. chief revenue officer Jay Frye confirmed that there was a desire to return to PIR from both the circuit and INDYCAR, and that every effort would be made to take the series back for 2016.

“I think there’s genuine enthusiasm on both sides,” Frye said.

“Phoenix is very important to the league, our partners and fans. We’re making every attempt to explore every option to go back there.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”