Drivers happy for Phoenix return, but seek better package in future


AVONDALE, Ariz. – Compared to my other and current hometown of Milwaukee, my first hometown of Phoenix had its return event tonight – and unlike Milwaukee, the question after Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix wasn’t whether the race would return but how different it would be in 2017.

Drivers weren’t thrilled with the racing product though; a number of drivers opined on how it could be better next year. Passing was made more difficult with the high downforce configuration and there wasn’t enough tire fall off from Firestone, which were durable as ever even though a couple drivers sustained punctures.

“I think we can definitely make a better show,” race winner Scott Dixon said in the post-race press conference. “You know, it’s tough coming back here, yes, we’ve run some test days here, but it’s very hard to make changes when you don’t really know how it’s going to play out in the race.

“I think tonight was maybe a little bit conservative on some sides, and I think that the question is can we make it a better show, and absolutely. I think next year when we come back, it’s going to be bigger and better and in the right direction.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan were about the only two drivers to have made key passing maneuvers. Hunter-Reay vaulted from 12th to seventh in the first two corners and ran as high as third; Kanaan came from a lapped 11th place up to fourth in the final 55 laps to the finish. Hunter-Reay ended 10th after a late mistake when he got loose trying to pass Max Chilton.

But they were the exceptions, not the norm, on this day.

“It was about what I expected. But we need to come back here and next time, we need better racing,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.

“I think we need to make this place, to where it is a bit more opened up. We need it where the mechanical balance comes out in the car, where the mechanical handling comes out, where you have tire degradation, and where you have guys moving around. This was just not what we needed.”

Added Kanaan,  “I don’t think anyone passed more cars than I did. But it was more difficult. For some reason we couldn’t work out the second groove. It’s always tough when you only have one race line. I found some, though! Thank goodness we could do it. It wasn’t as good as I’ve had in Phoenix before.”

Simon Pagenaud and Will Power moved from 10th and ninth on the grid to second and third by the finish, primarily via pit work from their Team Penske crews.

“It was exactly as difficult as I thought it was going to be,” Pagenaud said. “It was a great race, very, very difficult to follow people, very difficult to get your balance right on the car, but we started with a lot of oversteer, struggled a little bit the first two stints, were having a lot of tire degradation. We adjusted really well in the race, but then we caught a yellow at the wrong time when pit lane when the yellow came out, so went a lap down, but fortunately my guys were just fantastic in the pits.”

Added Power, “Honestly the guys in the pits were awesome. It was so difficult to pass, we just sat there and saved fuel and kept catching those yellows. They were going long, and kind of saving the tires a bit, too. Just that last start made a mistake.”

Juan Pablo Montoya was less than thrilled after finishing ninth, in what was still a good recovery drive despite a puncture. He and former teammate Jimmy Vasser, now a team co-owner for KVSH Racing, were talking with INDYCAR’s Bill Pappas – Montoya’s former race engineer – post-race about how difficult the racing conditions were on Saturday night.

“It was more about saving tires than anything else,” Montoya told NBC Sports. “We knew it’d be hard to pass. It is what it is.

“My concern, to be honest with you, is that I don’t decide what goes on the cars. They gave us a package and we made the most of it. I feel we had the car to win the race. Just couldn’t use it. Every time you pushed, you’d have a problem with the tires.”

Rookies Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi both drove great races and while Chilton ended seventh, Rossi ended an unrepresentative 14th. They didn’t have a reference point as it was their oval debuts; nonetheless, their thoughts mirrored the veterans in terms of how tough it was to race.

“It was difficult. But the last stint was easier with new tires,” Chilton told NBC Sports. “TK made it look easy. But it wasn’t that easy! I was just happy to get the result. I never did a lap flat, today. I was literally just fuel saving.”

Rossi added, “It was very hard to pass. Restarts were the only opportunity. It was hard to find another line.”

IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”