It was windy and warm, with the temperature dropping incrementally from the high of 87 degrees F at Phoenix International Raceway for the one and only practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The two-hour session was relatively trouble-free, with no driver drama. There were four cautions – three for track inspections, and one for dust. The inspections were for checking and sweeping after track conditions caused concern for tires. One was for a bolt, and one was for metal car parts. The wind was blowing at 18 mph, flags stiff and fluttering in the wind. It didn’t seem that hot, and the temperature dropped several degrees during the session, down to 79 degrees F by the time the session was over. But it felt colder and windier, and was only going to get worse for qualifying. It must have been really windy on top of the Turn Two Grandstands for the spotters.
Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the fastest at the Checkered Flag, with a lap of 192.108 mph/0.19.1517. He was one of at least six different drivers who took a turn on top. ““I’ve never heard of a ‘dust storm caution,’ but this is Phoenix. It’s the desert so I guess you get that. This is the windiest I have ever seen this place. It makes it difficult. It was a tough practice session. It’s the wind gusts that make it so tricky. You have some consistent wind and then you have gusts of 40 mph.”
JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka was on top for a spell and finished up second overall. This is his first race back in the car, after missing last weekend’s race at Barber due to his broken hand. Hildebrand had it braced up, with a variation on the brace he usually wears, but not much in the way of changes in the car. “To change it, we’ve moved things around, remade some steering wheel grips and things like that. But that’s all things that guys do between weekends kind of anyway.”
He was asked about the wind. “The conditions were, like, as crazy as I’ve seen them at a track in a long time. Just the amount of wind that we had, obviously as you guys were I’m sure very clearly aware, like the dust and all that kind of stuff was pretty crazy looking. For tomorrow it’s going to be a guess what downforce level you want to run and those types of things just to get through the race and be good in different types of situations in the race.”
His teammate and team owner, Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, spent a lengthy process in the garage diagnosing what appeared to be a fuel leak. JR wasn’t concerned about similar problems with his car. “No. I think it was just an isolated incident. Yeah, no stress on our side.”
Third through fifth were the other three Team Penske Chevrolet drivers, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Rev Group, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards, and Will Power/No.12 Verizon. It was a top five sweep for Chevrolet. Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was sixth overall, but during the session, he had been on top for the most laps.
PHOTOS: L-R, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon.
Power turned the most laps of all, 79. Carpenter turned the fewest – 17.
Another car which spent time in the garage was Marco Andretti/No.27 Oberto Beef Jerkey Andretti Autosport with Lendium Honda. The team said they were just making some changes, and he went back out with five minutes or less to go. He ended up nineteenth, with 24 laps.
Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda is celebrating twenty years in indycar racing, and Thursday he celebrated with his fellow Brazilian, Castroneves, who also has met the same milestone.
Each team receives nine sets of Firestone tires, all oval-designed for PIR and Gateway Motorsports Park. If by chance a team’s car loses a tire due to something beyond their control, such as a bolt or car metal on the track, the team can opt to replace that tire.
During the practice session, the Firestone Tire Tempers check and monitor the tire temperatures of all four tires of a race car when it is in the pits, and then sharing the information with the team. Susie Jensen is a veteran Tire Technician, working for Performance Tire Service Company , a contractor of Bridgestone, and has worked in the IndyCar Series for years.