HRH Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet continued his reign at Phoenix International Raceway by topping night practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series with a lap of 186.298 mph. He has the pole for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
Chevrolet continued its dominance throughout the session – at one point all eleven Chevrolet twin-turbocharged V-6 cars on top. At the end Honda broke through to eleventh position, first with Graham Rahal/No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda and James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The final order was Chevrolet 1-10, with RHR, Hinchcliffe and Rahal ahead of Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 Team Hydroxycut Chevrolet running 11-14 in that order.
The session had but one short caution for track inspection, and the session was extended five minutes for accommodation.
Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Devilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet ran the most laps – 64, and finished fifth.
Despite having crashed hard in the morning session, Hinchcliffe’s team put the car back together and he got nine laps of practice. Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda did not get out for the session as the team is still working on his car from the morning’s crash.
Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet again was top of the Rookie class. Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda was seventeenth, and Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb AHA with Curb-Agajanian Honda was eighteenth.
Friday was a mostly cloudless day, and the rosy desert sunset came with the last checkered flag on the shiny Indycars.
Kyle Kaiser/No.18 Juncos Racing has the pole for Saturday’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of Phoenix race with a lap of 167.872 mph. This is his second pole this season, as he had one of the two at St. Pete. With Friday’s pole point he is now tied for the points lead with Felix Serralles/No.4 Carlin, who had the other St. Pete Pole and won the first race and was fourth in the second. Kaiser finished second and third in those two races.
This is Kaiser’s second season with Indy Lights. His 2015 teammate was Spencer Piggott, who was the 2015 Indy Lights Champion and will run selected 2016 IndyCar races – including the Indianapolis 500 – with Rahal Letterman Racing. Kaiser said that year of experience gives him a different mind set and a whole lot more confidence. He said the Phoenix track is hard to pass on, so the start is key, and lapped traffic will be a factor.
Second through fifth were Ed Jones/No.11 Carlin, Rookie Santiago Urrutia/No.55 and RC Enerson/No 7-Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian, and Serralles.
Zach Veach/No.5 Belardi Auto Racing crashed in the afternoon practice and was a non-starter for qualifying, relegating him to the rear of the grid.
Townsend Bell was confirmed as the fifth (and last) Indianapolis 500 driver for Andretti Autosport. Team owner, Michael Andretti, said the deal just came together recently and everything fell together in a week. “We’ve run five cars at the Indy 500 for a long time now. This will be the tenth time for Townsend, and his ninth consecutive start. If you look at his record at Indianapolis, he does very well there. I feel like if we can put a good car under him, he has a good shot at winning the race.”
Bell said “I think I’ll benefit from being part of a strong, multi-car team with a winning pedigree at Indy. They won recently (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014).”
The NBCSN TV Analyst said he was unconcerned about the lack of time he would have in the car before running the race. “It will take a day or two to shake off the rust. I will need extra energy that week. But, I have good teammates. I come with experience, but also with an open ear.”
Team Owner Michael Andretti said sponsorship information could be announced at the Long Beach race in two weeks.
Bell was quick to point out, after joshing from Mario Andretti, that while he knew that Mario might still have one last Indy 500 in him, he-Bell-was cognizant of today’s date – April 1 – that “I’m coming back tomorrow to make sure it’s real that I have this ride.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Contrary to his bragging on Facebook that he was winging his way to Bahrain after a call from Ron, Oriol Servia was hanging with his race buddies at PIR.