Phoenix Test in the West notes, musings, observations

Photo: IndyCar

Some notes, thoughts and perspective follow below after the Verizon IndyCar Series two-day Test in the West at Phoenix International Raceway:

  • Back to the glory days speed. You might remember in the late 1990s when CART ran at one-mile ovals in Milwaukee and Nazareth, while Phoenix dropped off and hitched its wagon to the IRL. But for a couple years, speeds at the one-milers were insane: 190-plus mph at Nazareth and mid-180s at Milwaukee were the pole speeds. And this weekend, it came back. Some speeds were tow-assisted but still, seven drivers had best speeds of over 190 mph, and the slowest best speed for the week was 184. For reference, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track record at the same track is in the 143 mph range… IndyCars are running six seconds per lap quicker at the same track. How they’re getting there though, is the big question mark before the race.
  • The downforce dilemma. So when the speeds were that high in the late 1990s, CART then struggled with what wing package to bring – it’s the age-old debate between low and high downforce. High downforce brings higher cornering speeds; low downforce brings higher straightaway speeds and a greater gap between terminal velocity and cornering speeds. The super speedway wing package came in 1999 to short ovals, then with an aided Handford Mk II device for a mid-range downforce level. Right now in 2016, it’s skewing to more of a higher downforce package at PIR but even so opinions are split about whether it’s the right amount. Michael Andretti told he wants more downforce, while defending series champion Scott Dixon told a group of reporters at the end of the session the current level is good. “Starting right now, I think it’s gonna be a good race. Is it gonna be hard to pass? Yes, but I think it’s possible,” said the four-time champ. Watch this space and we’ll have more thoughts about downforce in the days to come.
  • Tightly packed field. As noted, the speed gap was only six mph from 1-21 – and an even smaller two mph, or just 0.2964 of a second – from 1-18 in looking at the combined times. With different gearing, Dale Coyne Racing’s two cars could have found an additional tenth or two as well to make it even tighter 1-20. Compared to oval races in the past where there is at least some separation, right now, the quality and depth of field is as strong as it’s ever been, even with a reduced car count.
  • On Chevy vs. Honda. One issue apiece for both of them, with an engine failure cutting Will Power’s test short and with a mistake by Jack Hawksworth exiting Turn 2. Honda seems a bit closer to Chevrolet, but times could be a bit deceiving with at least one Honda team opting for qualifying simulations during the evening rather than race runs. Most of the fastest laps of the weekend were set on Saturday afternoon, not evening, as Honda’s best times were.
  • A bigger than anticipated fan turnout. Didn’t get over to see it in Turn 1 or from talking to track staff, but it seemed as though more fans came to the test than was expected. I’ll refer you to these tweets from veteran reporter Bruce Martin, who got the lowdown on how track staff handled the influx of fans. The hope and prayer is that between now and April, the marketing push gets hit harder. Two-time Indianapolis 500 champ Arie Luyendyk and 1992 race rookie of the year Lyn St. James are Phoenix locals, and St. James was on site all weekend at PIR helping to get the word out.
  • New sheriffs in town. You can read the full transcript of the INDYCAR Stewards Press Conference here if you like. The early takeaway – and it’s early days yet with all we have to go on initial impressions rather than proper race situations – is that you feel as though the sanctioning body has finally taken control of its new staff and management situation after a two-to-three year transition period. It’s obvious that the latest new regime, with Mark Miles and Jay Frye at the top, and then the new quartet of Bill Pappas, Dan Davis, Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk, enter with high expectations and a high sense of optimism. Having Will Phillips gone is interesting/intriguing from a technical side, while without Derrick Walker and Beaux Barfield – Walker gone after 2015 with Barfield having left after 2014 – Race Control now has people who I hope we don’t have to hear from near as much. Accountability is important, for sure, as Miles outlined, but we don’t want the officials to be a story.
  • April’s gonna change from now. The race is called the Phoenix Grand Prix and by that point, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race will have also run at the track. That’s gonna be a lot of Goodyear rubber that will have gone down since, which will feel different than the 5,300-odd plus laps completed by Firestone this week. “I think it’s going to be interesting because NASCAR is going to be here about two weeks before we race, two, three weeks, so I think it’s going to change the track a lot with all that rubber they’re going to lay down and everything, so we’ll see how the track changes,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, who’s the only driver in the field who by April will be able to say he’s raced at PIR in both events.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s


After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

Rider Power
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points

The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage