PREVIEW: Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – The Verizon IndyCar Series makes its third recent crack at returning to a classic one-mile oval with its return to Phoenix International Raceway for the first time since 2005 (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MT/local time and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), after prior tries at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and The Milwaukee Mile in the last few years.

The drivers are eager to return, and we’ve already had the preseason open test at PIR in the books. My thoughts on that are linked here.

For only the second race of the season, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix an important one for the series, as orchestrated and helped put together by INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye in partnership with Track President Bryan Sperber.

Here’s the talking points headed into the weekend:

2016 Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix – Talking Points

The downforce level ain’t changing

Too many variables existed if INDYCAR was to make a change to the downforce levels for Phoenix, and Bill Pappas and Tino Belli of INDYCAR’s technical department confirmed in separate stories (Pappas here to Motorsport.com, Belli here to RACER.com) that INDYCAR wouldn’t be changing what the teams would be running at Phoenix. It means we’re set up for a weekend with average lap speeds topping 190 mph in qualifying, but with fall off likely to the high-160s and low-170s in race speeds, depending on how long the tires go off. It’s also gonna mean the cornering speeds and G-loadings – which were ridiculously high in testing – will stay ridiculously high for the race, and as such, make Phoenix one of the toughest and most physical races of the season.

How close is Honda?

Honda runners seemed closer to Chevrolet runners at St. Petersburg, which of course is an entirely different animal of a circuit. Still, with Honda’s aero updates also in play for short ovals as they were for road and street courses, you figure they will be closer here as well. Ryan Hunter-Reay is acknowledged as one of the best, if not the best, short oval racer in the series and must be a serious contender – as is Marco Andretti, who was the leading Honda runner during the Phoenix open test in February. 

Power’s return

“No pressure Will Power” might be the most dangerous Will Power to the rest of the competition. As he doesn’t need to be concerned about points, he can go full tilt from Phoenix and let the points take care of themselves. As was noted in his book, it worked well for him the second half of 2013 and helped propel him to the 2014 title a year later. How the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet does this weekend is a big story.

Carpenter also back

Besides Power, the other driver making his first start of the 2016 season is Ed Carpenter, the noted oval specialist and team owner at Ed Carpenter Racing. Carpenter is one of only four drivers in the field (Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon) with previous IndyCar experience at Phoenix, but he’ll look to improve upon past finishes of 16th and 19th in two starts. Off two past tests at Phoenix, both Carpenter and teammate Josef Newgarden will look to bounce back after a tough season opener in St. Petersburg. Interestingly, Newgarden was one of only two drivers (Graham Rahal) with two top-fives on the two short ovals last year; he was fifth at Milwaukee and second at Iowa. Rahal was third and fourth. 

An important weekend for Phoenix’s return

This is a big weekend for Phoenix on several levels. IndyCar has returned to other short ovals in recent years, and it hasn’t gone particularly well. Its return to Loudon, New Hampshire after 13 years in 2011 saw a smallish crowd and Power’s infamous “double bird” salute after a restart in the rain; it was a one-and-done race. That same year, Milwaukee came back after a one-year hiatus with a first-year promoter and ended off the schedule again for 2012 – only to be resuscitated at the eleventh hour by Michael Andretti.

Promotion has seemed better for this race; the test drew a very solid number of fans and the speeds are such that they must be seen in person to be believed. INDYCAR is running out of available one-mile ovals and for both business and entertainment reasons, it needs Phoenix to be a successful not just race, but event. 

The final word

We’ll let Charlie Kimball, who’s in a pseudo-home race with family in Buckeye and also coming from California coming over, describe the track:

“I think it’s a heck of a race track; a lot of fun to drive with a lot of load,” the driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet told NBC Sports.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty intense race, for it being the second race of the season. Usually when we got to Milwaukee or Iowa, you have a couple races in on ovals. Having had two days to test there will knock a lot of the rust off, but I think the racing itself will be fairly unique.

“It might be a race of contradictions. You need patience but will need to be aggressive when possible. It’s a narrow line and it seems to race less like a short oval. We’ll have to try to make the tires last for a full fuel stint. The guys who can sync up their fall off point with their stops are the ones who’ll be successful.”

Here’s the IndyCar Weekend Schedule:

Friday, April 1

10:00-11:15  Practice 1 (LIVE on NBCSN)
2:00-3:00    Qualifying (LIVE on NBCSN)
6:15-6:45    Practice 2

Saturday, April 2

5:30         Pre-Race (LIVE on NBCSN)
6:10/6:15    Drivers Start Your Engine/Est. Green Flag (LIVE on NBCSN)

All times local and MT (same as PT)

Here’s last race at Phoenix top 10 (2005):

1. Sam Hornish Jr.
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Tony Kanaan
4. Dario Franchitti
5. Scott Sharp
6. Dan Wheldon
7. Bryan Herta (pole)
8. Darren Manning
9. Patrick Carpentier
10. Kosuke Matsuura

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

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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

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
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

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
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