Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was smooth, fast, and seemingly unable to put a wheel wrong Saturday night, to win the Verizon IndyCar Series Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway. It was his thirty-ninth IndyCar win and his first at PIR. Dixon was honored to learn that he’s now tied with Al Unser Sr. for the fourth most indycar victories.
The race ended under a caution brought out two laps from the finish when Rookie Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda grazed the wall. IndyCar doesn’t do Green-White-Checkered Flag finishes.
Dixon made history by becoming the first Indycar driver to have a victory in twelve consecutive seasons, more than any other Indycar driver. The previous record was 11 consecutive seasons, with three drivers in that catgory, including Saturday night’s polesitter, Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet.
Dixon’s victory was the 101st Indycar win for Chip Ganassi. All but one of Dixon’s victories have been with Ganassi.
Scott Dixon is the first winner of the new, special perpetual A.J. Foyt Trophy, made of Grand Canyon onyx, presented by Bryan Sperber, president of PIR. Also present was namesake Foyt.
Artist Bill Patterson continued the PIR tradition of painting the winner’s car in Victory Circle. The track now has a celebrated collection of Patterson’s unique motorsports art.
Dixon didn’t think it was that easy. He said “It was definitely a tough race. It’s good to have the lightning bolt back on the car. We had the best car out there. We had good pit stops leading the most laps, and winning the race.”
Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet finished second and now leads the points. “Good news. First time I’ve led the Championship.” He has 83, ahead of Dixon with 79.
Will Power finished third said “I’m very happy with the race after missing the first round, dealing with a few health issues. It’s good to be back in the car. I was worried about how physical it would be. I had a lot of fun out there. Very happy to finish the race. Passing was hard.”
Tony Kanaan got the race’s fastest lap of 186.403 mph/19.7379 seconds on Lap 215, and finished fourth. “At the end it was fun, even though we screwed up.” After reviewing the incident with Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet, Kanaan said “I need to apologize to him.”
Graham Rahal was the top Honda, finishing fifth. He said “It was a tough race. Unfortunately the competition has five miles an hour over us. Thank goodness Chilton (Rookie Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet) couldn’t get past me. He’s a rocket. He had the fastest car tonight.”
Chilton, who finished seventh, was the top Rookie. The other Rookies, Rossi and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda finished fourteenth and sixteenth, respectively, with Rossi on the lead lap, and Daly one lap down. Rossi possibly could have finished higher, but was penalized for pitting to early in one of the cautions and put to the back of the pack.
Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda ran well for much of the race, getting as high as fourth at one point. However, he pitted under green just prior to a caution and ended up a disappointing tenth.
Besides Dixon – last year’s IndyCar Champion, the only other leaders were pole sitter Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Each suffered right front flat tires while leading, which put them a lap down. Castroneves finished eleventh and Montoya finished ninth.
Castroneves on his eleventh-placed finish after leading the first 39 laps from the pole, “It’s very frustrating. Once you got in the back, there wasn’t much movement, not much passing.” Castroneves suffered a right front flat necessitating a slow ride back to the pits for a tire change. Magic pit stops put me in the front and that’s spot on.”
Montoya said “Mine wasn’t a cut tire. Mine, I picked-up a vibration and every time I followed somebody, the vibration kept getting worse and worse. I passed (James) Hinchcliffe and the vibration was unbearable and I put wheel on it and it just blew up completely. It wasn’t like a cut tire that just goes down. I was like completely done. So, it’s kind of disappointing.”
The standings after two races: Pagenaud, 83; Dixon, 79; Montoya, 74; Hunter-Reay, 56 and Kanaan, 54.
The crowd was better at the track than it seemed on TV. The parking lots and other areas were packed, according to some insiders. It appeared to some as though the attendance was higher than the 20,000 Sperber is quoted as saying. Either way, this was good news all around, especially after an eleven-year indycar hiatus and a weekend filled with competing, adrenalin-inducing activities including an air show. And the new title sponsor, a new local Indian casino, is intrigued and very pleased with being involved in motorsports, and is interested in exploring it more.
There were six cautions for 56 laps, taking 44.07 minutes. And IndyCar kept to its policy of bringing out the sweepers with each caution, to clean the high and dirty lines. Five of the six cautions were for contact, but no drivers were injured. Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet was assessed a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact after his contact with Josef Newgarden/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Kimball finished twelfth. Newgarden finished sixth, amazing when one considers the disastrous pit stop Newgarden had with his fueler having mega difficulty with nozzle placement during one of his pit stops.
Newgarden’s team owner and co-driver, Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet backed off after racing Power, and got caught out, and hit the Turn four wall. He only races the (five) oval events, so was understandably disappointed.
Twenty of the twenty-two starters finished the race, fourteen on the lead lap.
According to IndyCar statisticians, there were 229 passes, and the average speed was 139.822 mph.
Sunset was at 6:51 pm but the Musco lights had already been turned on full blast since late afternoon. Still, it seemed to my untrained eye that the first 20 or so minutes must have been brutal on the racers driving head on into the blazing sun.
The temperature was in the low eighties with almost no breeze at the start, although the wind picked up a modicum, so one could actually see the flags.
PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS