The second round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series took place at Phoenix International Raceway. The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix marked the series return to the one-mile oval for the first time since 2005. The race was won by the defending series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.
New Track Record In Qualifying
Helio Castroneves of Team Penske qualified his No. 3 Chevrolet on pole on Friday. The first lap of his two-lap qualifying effort was the fastest ever at Phoenix International Raceway with an average speed of 192.631 mph, breaking the 20 years old record set by Arie Luyendyk. The front row was completed by another Brazilian, Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing. The second row was also claimed by Penske and Ganassi cars with Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya third-quickest and Ganassi's Charlie Kimball fourth-quickest, all using Chevrolet power
Friday was a big disappointment for Honda. Already in the morning's practice session, Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Enterprises and James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had crashes and their cars couldn't be repaired for the qualifying. The Honda teams couldn't match the pace of the Chevy teams as the best Honda driver Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport qualified in 11th place, beating only one of the Chevy cars.
Castroneves And Montoya Suffer Flat Tires, Dixon Claims Lead
The start of the race didn't see big changes in the front. Castroneves led the race ahead of Kanaan, Montoya, and Kimball. The best start was seen from Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Honda-powered No. 28 Andretti Autosport machine; Hunter-Reay climbed five positions from 12th to seventh place.
After around 20 laps, Montoya passed Kanaan for second place. Some 20 laps later the lead changed for the first time as Castroneves suffered a right front cut tire, with Montoya inheriting the lead. To make things even worse for Castroneves, the first caution of the race came out before the first round of scheduled pit stops which made him unable to gain the laps he lost on his early pit stop.
Montoya remained in the lead after the pit stops under caution. Scott Dixon who had started in sixth place was fourth when the caution came out and gained two positions at the pits to climb into second place, in front of his Ganassi teammate Kanaan.
Montoya led the field after the restart until some 30 laps later he suffered a similar flat tire has his Penske teammate Castroneves, sending him two laps down from the new leader Dixon.
The second caution came out when the race was closing on its halfway. Carlos Munoz had made contact with the wall exiting Turn 4. This was an unlucky caution period for his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay who had just made his second pit stop and fallen down from the lead lap.
Dixon remained in the lead of the race. However, once it restarted two more caution periods soon followed. A lap after the restart, Charlie Kimball and Josef Newgarden made contact in Turn 1 with Kimball spinning and bringing out the caution. Once the race restarted, it remained under green only for few laps as Sebastien Bourdais hit the wall in Turn 4 while getting passed by Juan Pablo Montoya. By then, Ryan Hunter-Reay had got back onto the lead lap. Once again, Hunter-Reay had a brilliant restart and climbed from seventh into fifth place while Dixon continued in the lead, followed by Will Power of Team Penske.
The last round of pit stops had started when Ed Carpenter crashed exiting Turn 4. Once again Hunter-Reay was unlucky with the caution, having pitted just before it and falling from the lead lap. Scott Dixon retained his lead after the stops under caution while Simon Pagenaud jumped from fifth into second place, ahead of his Penske teammate Will Power.
The race restarted with 41 laps to go. The top three didn't see changes during those laps and Scott Dixon achieved his 39th career-victory, tying Al Unser for fourth in all-time victories. The podium was completed by the Penske drivers Pagenaud and Power who had failed in the qualifying, starting the race only in 10th and ninth places, respectively. Tony Kanaan made it into fourth place from seventh at the last restart, completing the top four for Chevrolet-powered cars. The best Honda driver was Graham Rahal for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in fifth place, after having qualified only in 19th place.
The race finished under caution that came for an incident by Alexander Rossi with three laps remaining.
Simon Pagenaud In Championship Points Lead
Simon Pagenaud achieved has achieved the second places in both of the season's first two races and leads the championship. The Phoenix winner and defending champion Scott Dixon trails Pagenaud by four points. The winner of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Juan Pablo Montoya, finished in ninth place in Phoenix after having suffered the flat tire, and is nine points behind Pagenaud. Ryan Hunter-Reay is in fourth place with the 10th place of Phoenix and the third place of St. Petersburg, 27 points from lead.
The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17.