Drivers eager for IndyCar return to Phoenix this weekend

Kanaan and Dixon. Photo: IndyCar
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There’s been a lot of anticipation leading into the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Drivers were eager for the season-opening race at St. Petersburg two weeks ago, racing for the first time in Boston on Labor Day Weekend and, of course, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

But one race that seems to have extra special anticipation among the open-wheel pilots is this weekend’s return to racing at Phoenix International Raceway.

The last time IndyCar raced at the one-mile oval was 2005, when Sam Hornish Jr. took the checkered flag.

And while waiting 11 years to return has been a long time, drivers are pumped up to return to the Valley of the Sun and Saturday night’s under the lights Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix race.

Here’s what several drivers are saying about the series rising again in Phoenix:

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, St. Petersburg winner and points leader): “It’s good for the Verizon IndyCar Series to come back to a market like Phoenix, with all the history the series has there. I think it’s going to be a pretty interesting race on Saturday night and our Team Penske cars should be fast there, so hopefully we can make it two in a row to start the season.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet): “I am one of the few guys who ran at Phoenix before and I have some really good memories of the track, including winning there in 2002. We learned a lot in our test there a few weeks ago and it sounds like there’s a lot of buzz in town around the Verizon IndyCar Series coming back to race at PIR. I know I am excited and looking forward to racing under the lights in the REV Team Penske Chevy on Saturday night.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “It’s really great that INDYCAR got such a historic venue like Phoenix back on the calendar. I remember watching PIR races on TV as a kid, so it will be cool now to get to battle it out there. And it will be a battle! Based on what we saw at the open test, it will be a tight race, very physical, very hot …  and I don’t care if it’s a dry heat!”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “I’m excited for the return to Phoenix. I think the last time I was there was 2005. It’s a tough track and I know it’s changed a bit over the years with some resurfacing, so it will be interesting to see how it handles now. I love the area and Arizona is a great part of the world. There are a lot of fans in the area and I hope they are as excited as we are to return and go racing there again.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): ” NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing is more than prepared heading into Phoenix. I’ve had some really good results there with the two wins (2003 and 2004) and I felt really good at the test earlier this year. I’m focused and the team is ready for a good result out in Phoenix, so we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Chevrolet): “This will be the first time I have raced at Phoenix International Raceway in an Indy car, so that is always different and a bit of a challenge. We tested there about a month ago and collected a lot of data, but the one thing I know for sure is that it will be a very physically demanding race. We are going to be pulling more G’s (G-forces) than we usually do and the racing will be close.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It should put on quite a show for the fans Saturday night. I know everyone is happy to be back racing at Phoenix. It’s an awesome area, home to the Penske Racing museum, which makes it extra special for us and the fans seem very excited, so we look forward to this weekend.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): “Exciting is the word that comes to mind when I think about Indy cars returning to Phoenix. To go back there where Indy car racing has such a storied past is cool. It’s also cool as my dad won here before, and dominated in 1992 to score the team’s first win. I think we can make a great run of it and hopefully get Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing another victory in the desert. The dusk or when the sun begins to go down behind the stands in Turn 1 will be very tricky, for sure. Getting the right visor darkness on for the race will be key. Physically this will be the most demanding race of the year, I believe, so it’s important to make sure I am hydrated and ready for a lot of G-forces and laps!”

CONOR DALY (No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda): “I think it’s going to be quite a challenge in Phoenix, probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced so far, especially for me as a driver. There’s a lot to learn, a different style of racing to get used to. I’m excited for it. … The cars are super on the limit in Phoenix and it’ll be tough for everyone. It’s a whole new physical set of challenges, obviously the track is very difficult physically and I think patience is quite important in Phoenix as well and just staying in the fight will be the major key for us.”

LUCA FILIPPI (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “I’m very, very excited going into my first oval race, especially since it’s my first oval race in an Indy car, which is something very special to me. Not many drivers have the opportunity to race on ovals, so I also feel lucky and honored to accomplish this. I know it’s going to be a real challenge. It’s going to be something very different from everything else that I’ve experienced in racing, so I expect an exciting weekend but at the same time a tough weekend.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I am very excited to be getting back in the car for this weekend’s race at Phoenix. It will be my first race since last season and I am chomping at the bit to get back out there. Excitement has been building for this race since it was announced and we are looking for a big weekend with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolets.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Devilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet): “We will be trying to build on our second-place finish in St. Pete a few weeks ago. Phoenix is a fast and challenging oval but we had a good test there recently and we feel good going into this weekend. We need to have a strong start to the oval schedule and I think it’s going to be really exciting with our cars there racing at night in Phoenix. You don’t want to miss it.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): “We’d like to go to Phoenix this week and at the very least improve on the open test there, which is hopefully a podium or win. It’s going to be a physical 250-lap race, but small ovals under the lights are always fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It’s no secret that I love short oval racing. I’ve been looking forward to this race since the rumors started growing stronger that PIR would be back on the INDYCAR schedule for 2016.”

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “(Phoenix) is a circuit that has a huge open-wheel history and has produced some great races in the past. It’s always good to visit tracks that are steeped in history as it gives the place a certain aura. Judging by the turnout at the preseason test, we should get a good crowd and it seems like the fans are looking forward to INDYCAR’s return.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda):“This weekend in Phoenix is going to be something completely new to me and my career. My first oval experience is something that I am incredibly excited about. …  And while I don’t really know what to expect, I am very much looking forward to getting started.”

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Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list