Even though they’re in Sebring, drivers still talking about Phoenix test

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Teams have moved on to Sebring Tuesday and Wednesday for additional testing in preparation for the March 13 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg.

But thoughts of last week’s successful two-day test at Phoenix International Raceway remain prominent.

It was the first time the full series has returned to PIR since its last race there in 2005. The test on the one-mile, low-banked track was in preparation for the Phoenix Grand Prix on Saturday night, April 2.

Only a handful of today’s drivers raced at PIR the last time 11 years ago, but Tony Kanaan remembers the venue quite well.

Kanaan won the 2003 and 2004 races at PIR, and finished second to Sam Hornish Jr. in the last IndyCar race there in 2005.

“When you have a record like that, it’s obviously nice to be back,” Kanaan said. “A slightly different configuration, but it’s still one of my favorite racetracks.

“One of my best recollections, I gave Michael Andretti’s team their first win when they got back to IndyCar. It was here in 2003. A lot of good memories about this racetrack.”

Indeed, PIR has reconfigured and eliminated the infamous Turn 2 dogleg heading into the backstretch, which will change up the racing somewhat than what it used to be like for drivers who remember the old track configuration.

“Obviously, the dogleg has a little bit more banking, little bit less racetrack for us because we cannot use the apron the way the NASCAR guys do,” Kanaan said. “But all in all, I mean, it’s not a huge difference.”

Defending IndyCar champ Scott Dixon has three races at PIR (2003-2005) on his racing resume, including a runner-up to Kanaan in the 2004 race.

He misses the old dogleg, yet understands why the track has undergone some of the changes it has over the last decade.

“It’s been NASCAR-ified,” Dixon said. “No banking, smoother. This track used to be quite fun because of turn two (dogleg). It really closed in on itself and made it hard.

“Once you kind of get through the middle here, you’ve got an easy exit. For Cup cars, that makes it much easier. But for us, a lot of people don’t have to try and finish the rest of the corner, whereas back in the day, if you had a really good car, your car would finish the rest of the corner and you’d have a real good run down the back straight.”

It will be interesting to see how the IndyCar aero package handles the relatively short PIR layout.

“I think the track’s a good track,” Dixon said. “It’s just averaging over 190 mph on a mile track is pretty damn fast for an Indy car.”

A lot is riding on IndyCar’s return to the Valley of the Sun. Not only do track officials have to attract longtime IndyCar fans, they also have to attract and educate a brand new group of potential IndyCar fans.

“Phoenix is a great area, it’s an area we need to be,” Dixon said. “I hope that the race is good. It’s all about advertising, marketing, and spending a bit of cash.

“You get what you pay for. So, I hope they market this race well, and if they do, I think they can build on a positive future. They’ve put a lot of time into this.”

The Arizona Republic estimated 5,000 fans for the Saturday portion of the test, which was open to fans for free, and NBC Sports contributor Robin Miller also estimated roughly the same in a RACER.com column posted earlier this week.

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.