After an action-packed season-opening race last month at St. Petersburg, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns this weekend for the second round of the season; the 2018 Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway. Here is our rundown of what to look out for in IndyCar’s first oval race of the year.
What happened in 2017 at Phoenix?
The first oval race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series was won by the reigning champion at the time, Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman, who had never gotten a win on an oval beforehand, got lucky when a caution came out during the middle of green flag pit-stops. Everyone but Pagenaud had pitted when a caution came out, meaning that the Team Penske driver was able to pit under yellow and maintain the lead. From there, nobody could pass him and he took the chequered flag.
Pagenaud’s team-mate Will Power had been leading up until the final pit cycle but had to settle for second when he couldn’t get back to the lead in the closing laps. It may well have been a 1-2-3-4 finish for Penske, but Josef Newgarden made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay whilst battling for position. This forced him down pit-road and also slowed up Helio Castroneves. This allowed Ed Carpenter Racing‘s JR Hildebrand to pass Castroneves and finish in third place.
Hildebrand’s third place was a superb result, especially considering that he was racing with a broken hand after crashing at the Grand Prix of Long Beach a few weeks before.
Only the top four cars finished on the lead lap, with Scott Dixon the first car a lap down in fifth place. By the end of the race, only thirteen cars were classified finishers, with the remaining nine drivers all retiring earlier on.
You can read the full qualifying and race reports from last year’s Phoenix Grand Prix here:
- 2017 IndyCar – Round 4 – Grand Prix of Phoenix – Qualifying Report
- 2017 IndyCar – Round 4 – Grand Prix of Phoenix – Race Report
What should I look out for this weekend?
This weekend is the first time that the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers will race with the new universal body kit. With much lower downforce compared to last year, you can expect to see the cars being much more of a handful to drive. It is also expected that the cars will be able to pass easier than a year ago, so it may be unlikely for a driver to be able to rely on track position to win the race like Pagenaud was able to in 2017.
Of course, the teams and drivers will not come into the weekend blind. A group pre-season test was held at ISM Raceway in February prior to the start of the season, where a total of 6,027 laps were completed over two days of running. During the test, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showed great form, with Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal topping all of the sessions held. It will be interesting to see whether they can continue running at the top in Arizona or whether another team will usurp them.
One such team that may be able to lead the way is Team Penske. After showing such strong pace at Phoenix a year ago you would normally put good money on the team performing well again. However, that will depend on how well they have adjusted to the vastly different aero kit for 2018. If they have prepared well, expect to see Will Power fighting hard to take the win like he almost did twelve months ago.
Finally, keep an eye on the new teams to see how they continue to improve. Harding Racing ran well in the oval races that they took part in last year, but they did not race at Phoenix. Will they be able to take another strong top ten result with Gabby Chaves, or will their good fortune finally falter?
Carlin, too, will be a team to look out for. Both Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball will be hoping to shine for the British team as they embark on their first oval race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
What is the schedule for the weekend?
Friday 6 April
17:00 ET / 22:00 GMT – Practice 1
20:00 ET / 01:00 GMT (Saturday morning) – Qualifying
23:00 ET / 04:00 GMT (Saturday morning) – Final Practice
Saturday 7 April
21:30 ET / 02:30 GMT (Sunday morning) – Race
Where can I watch the Phoenix Grand Prix?
Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the ISM Raceway website for more information.
In the United Kingdom, television coverage is limited to just the race itself. Race day coverage will start at 2:00 AM on BT Sport 3.
In the United States, television coverage for the Phoenix Grand Prix will be provided by NBCSN, with added broadcasts on Facebook and YouTube courtesy of IndyCar.
How can I keep up to date with all the action over the weekend?
If you cannot make it to ISM Raceway for this weekend’s Grand Prix of Phoenix, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of not just this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions, but for all on-track action throughout the season.
Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.
Where is ISM Raceway?
7602 S Avondale Blvd, Avondale, AZ 85323, USA