Thursday, March 31, 2016

Track Walk: Phoenix 2016

IndyCar's first night race of the season takes place at Phoenix
IndyCar's 62nd race from Phoenix International Raceway comes 11 years after the 61st race around the one-mile oval. The wait is finally over and IndyCar's return will come under the lights for the 250-mile Phoenix Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya enters as the championship leader after the Colombian won his second consecutive Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Four of the 22 drivers entered for the Phoenix Grand Prix were in the last IndyCar race held at Phoenix.

Time: Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday April 2nd. Green flag at 9:15 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen calls his first IndyCar race (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One duty) and Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy join Allen in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargritt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 1:00-2:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes). NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Qualifying- 5:00-6:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Final Practice- 6:15-6:45 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 9:15 p.m. ET (250 laps).

KV Racing Transporter Fire
The 2012 Indianapolis 500 winning team KV Racing nearly had its race weekend end before the team even arrived to Phoenix International Raceway. The team's transporter suffered a fire just outside Peoria, Arizona that damaged the vehicle. Fortunately, neither of the two team members were hurt and the car and equipment was undamaged.

It appears the team will compete at Phoenix as scheduled. 

Eleven Years Later
Four drivers were in the last IndyCar race from Phoenix 11 years ago. 

Sam Hornish, Jr. won the race with Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan rounding out the podium. Both Castroneves and Kanaan have won at Phoenix. Castroneves won at the track in 2002 while Kanaan won consecutive races in 2003 and 2004. Castroneves has five starts at Phoenix and finished in the top six four times. His worst start and finish at Phoenix came in his Phoenix debut in 2001 when he started 17th and finished 18th after an engine failure. Castroneves has led in four of his five Phoenix appearances. 

Kanaan has only made three starts at Phoenix so the Brazilian has perfect attendance on the podium with his two wins and third. In 2005, Kanaan went from 21st to third. He has completed all 600 laps and has led 272 of those laps. 

Scott Dixon finished 12th in the last Phoenix race, two laps down. The New Zealander has finished outside the top ten in two of his three Phoenix starts. He finished 20th in 2003 after a gearbox issue after leading 34 laps, the only laps he has led at Phoenix. His lone lead-lap finish at Phoenix was in 2004 when he finished second. 

Ed Carpenter makes his first start of 2016 at Phoenix, a track he has raced at twice previously. He finished 19th in 2004 after starting 16th and finished 16th in 2005 after starting 19th. He finished seven laps down in 2005 and had an accident end his race in 2004 after 132 laps. Carpenter also ran one Indy Lights race at Phoenix. He started 12th and finished 13th in 2003. 

While these four drivers all have IndyCar experience at Phoenix, they aren't the only ones who have been around Phoenix. 

Juan Pablo Montoya made 14 starts in NASCAR at the one-mile oval. Montoya's best finish was fifth in the spring of 2010, where he led 104 of 378 laps, and he had two other top ten finishes. His average finish was 15.1 in NASCAR at Phoenix. He completed 4,439 of 4,446 laps in those 14 starts. 

Will Phoenix Become Another Playground for Andretti Autosport? 
Andretti Autosport dominates short tracks and Phoenix is the sight of Michael Andretti's first victory as a car owner. The team has won the last six Iowa races and seven of nine at Iowa and Andretti Autosport won two of the last four Milwaukee races. Dating back to 2008, Andretti Autosport has won ten of seventeen short track races. 

The team has two Phoenix victories, both at the hands of Tony Kanaan. Kanaan's victory in 2003 was Andretti Green Racing's first victory after Michael Andretti bought into Team Green and the team moved from CART to the IRL. Michael Andretti's only Phoenix IndyCar victory as a driver came in the autumn of 1986 when he led 166 of 200 laps. It was the final IndyCar season that featured two Phoenix races. Michael Andretti also won twice at Phoenix in the SCCA Super Vee Series, both coming in his 1982 championship winning season. 

Andretti Autosport has a habit of winning first races at tracks or return races. Andretti Green won the first Iowa race and won the return (and farewell) race at Loudon in 2011. Andretti Green also won the return races at St. Petersburg, Sonoma and the first return to Belle Isle in 2007. 

Andretti Autosport victories have also been the kiss of death for tracks as the team has won many final IndyCar races at tracks. Besides Loudon, Andretti Autosport has won the most recent IndyCar race at Michigan, Nazareth, Pikes Peak and São Paulo, all tracks currently not on the IndyCar schedule. 

Indy Lights
The third round of the Indy Lights season will take place this weekend. Just like IndyCar, this is the first time Indy Lights returns to Phoenix for the first time since 2005. 

Carlin driver Félix Serrallés enters as the Indy Lights championship leader. The Puerto Rican driver leads American and Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser by one-point and Swede and Belardi Auto Racing's Felix Rosenqvist by two points. Serrallés and Rosenqvist split the St. Petersburg races while Kaiser finished third and second at the season opening weekend. 

Scott Hargrove is tied for fourth with André Negrão, 17 points behind Serrallés. Hargrove finished second in race one at St. Petersburg but finished 14th, a lap down in race two. The Canadian is confirmed for Phoenix and Barber but continues to work on a full season with Team Pelfrey. Negrão finished sixth and fifth in his debut weekend with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Belardi's Zach Veach had a victory slip through his fingers in race one at St. Petersburg but rallied for a third in the next race. Veach trails Serrallés by 20 points. Andretti Autosport's Dean Stoneman is a point behind Veach and defending Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia is a point behind Stoneman. RC Enerson is a point behind his SPM teammate Urrutia.

Ed Jones and Juan Piedrahita are tied for tenth in the championship on 25 points. Jones holds the tiebreaker with his best finishing being seventh to Piedrahita's eighth. Scott Anderson is five points behind Jones and Piedrahita but he will not be in the car at Phoenix. Korean Heamin Choi will replace Anderson. Andretti teammates Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock are tied on 17 points. Zachary Claman De Melo and Neil Alberico both have 15 points. 

Fast Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race on April 2nd since 2006 when Hélio Castroneves won at St. Petersburg.

IndyCar raced at Phoenix on April 2, 1995. Robby Gordon scored his first IndyCar victory that day.

Chevrolet has won at Phoenix seven times, the most recent being in 2002 with Hélio Castroneves. 

Honda's has won at Phoenix twice, both won by Tony Kanaan in 2003-04. 

Fifty-two of 61 Phoenix IndyCar races have been won by American drivers. Teo Fabi was the first foreign driver to win at Phoenix in 1983. Fabi's victory was the most recent caution-less race at Phoenix. 

Chevrolet has won the last 21 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

Honda has not won a pole position for an oval race since Dario Franchitti won pole position for Iowa in 2012. 

The average starting position for a Phoenix winner is 4.311 with the median starting position being third. 

Sixteen times has the pole-sitter won at Phoenix, the most recent being Tony Kanaan in 2003.

Twice has a Phoenix winner started outside the top twenty. Roberto Guerrero scored his first IndyCar victory from 22nd on the grid at Phoenix in 1987. Buddy Lazier won from 26th in 2000. 

Two other times has a Phoenix winner started outside the top ten. In 1968, Gary Bettenhausen won from 13th on the grid. It was Bettenhausen's first career IndyCar victory. In 1974, Mike Mosley won from 19th starting position. 

The average number of lead changes at Phoenix is 5.34 with a median of five. The most lead changes in a Phoenix race is 11, which occurred in the spring of 1986 with Kevin Cogan winning and in Robby Gordon's victory 21 years ago.

Since the CART-era, the average number of cautions at Phoenix is 4.75 for an average of 35.5 laps. The most cautions in a Phoenix race since 1979 are ten on two occasions (1998 and 2003). The most caution laps was 86 in 1997 during nine caution period.

Possible Milestones:
A victory for Scott Dixon would make him the first driver to win a race in twelve consecutive seasons.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti gets his first IndyCar victory in 77 starts, matching the same amount of starts between his Sonoma victory and Iowa victory and Andretti starts inside the top ten. Tony Kanaan leads at least 75 laps. Josef Newgarden will rebound for a top five finish. Will Power will be the top finishing Penske driver. There will be at least five cautions and there will be a record-breaking amount of lead changes. At least seven drivers will lead a lap during the race. Not all of the top ten will finish on the lead lap. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.