Castroneves leads first IndyCar test session at PIR

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Helio Castroneves edged ahead of Team Penske teammate Will Power to end fastest in the first three-hour test session of the day at Phoenix International Raceway, the Verizon IndyCar Series Test in the West, a.k.a. “PrixView.”

Castroneves, in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, set a best time of 19.5858 seconds – or 187.850 mph – around the one-mile oval to lead the 21-car field.

It’s an unofficial track record as speeds and times from a test don’t go into the record books. But it was ahead of Arie Luyendyk’s official mark, set in 1996, on the old layout, at 19.608 seconds and a speed of 183.599 mph.

With Castroneves on top, it interrupted the usual IndyCar spring training storyline of teammate Will Power dominating, whether it’s at Sebring, Barber or now Phoenix.

The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet set a best time of 19.5931 seconds, or 187.780 mph, around the one-mile oval, which was second in the 21-car field.

The first three hours of testing featured five yellow flag periods for just over 40 minutes, but no incidents. The yellow flag periods were only for track inspection and debris.

Basically all runs were single-car runs, and there wasn’t much passing. It appears to be a one-groove track.

Josef Newgarden interrupted the Team Penske party at the top of the pylon, with 186.942 mph his best speed in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing in third place.

Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth, while Simon Pagenaud, who was the first driver in the 184 mph-range this morning, ended sixth in the session.

Graham Rahal was best Honda in the session at 185.349 mph, or 19.8501 seconds, in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Of note, Gabby Chaves was 11th overall and third Honda in his first session with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Times and speeds are below:

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.