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IndyCar: Phoenix Grand Prix Preview

Charlie Kimball on track at ISM Raceway. [credit Jamie Sheldrick / Spacesuit Media]

 

Charlie Kimball on track at ISM Raceway. [credit Jamie Sheldrick / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series moves west Saturday for Race 2 of 17, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at I.S.M. Raceway’s 1.022 mile distorted oval.

RACE FACTS: Indy cars have raced here since the track’s inaugural was captured by A.J. Foyt in 1964. One of six ovals on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar schedule, Saturday night’s race will run for 250 laps/255.5 miles on the moderately banked (8-11 degree) track. This will be race No. 64 here, though dirt track Indy cars ran at the Arizona Fairgrounds dirt mile in 1915 and again from 1950 – 63.

PREVIOUS PHOENIX RACES: Al Unser Sr. has won here six times while A.J. and Mario Andretti have captured four each. Of the 23 drivers entered this weekend Tony Kanaan has won here twice (2003-04) while Scott Dixon (2016) and Simon Pagenaud (2017), have visited victory lane once each. Pagenaud, driving for Team Penske, started fifth last year and assumed the lead mid-race, stretching the winning margin to 9.10 seconds at the flag as only three cars finished on the lead lap. Seven cars were eliminated due to contact, five of them in a crash on lap one.

2018 SO FAR: The season opened traditionally at St. Petersburg, FL almost a month ago, with rookies giving the series’ veterans all they could handle. First-timers Robert Wickens (SPM Honda), Matheus Leist (AJ Foyt Chevrolet) and Jordan King (Ed Carpenter Chevrolet) made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying. Canadian Wickens led the most laps until the final restart when Alexander Rossi slid up the track in Turn 1 and bumped Wickens out of the race while attempting a pass for the lead. Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne Honda) slipped past the scene and won for the second year at St. Pete. The Frenchman leads the Series’ points (51), followed by Graham Rahal (-11), Rossi (-15), James Hinchcliffe (-19) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (-20); all in Hondas. Josef Newgarden was seventh in the first Chevrolet as Honda swept seven of the first eight finishing spots.

THE FIELD: IndyCar reports a 23-car entry for Phoenix. Pietro Fittipaldi (grandson of two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson) replaces Zachary Claman De Melo at Dale Coyne Racing for oval races, while Jack Harvey isn’t entered here after competing at St. Petersburg for Michael Shank.

NOTES:

  • The Phoenix race weekend will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s final Indy car career win at Phoenix in 1993.
  • The I.S.M. Raceway at Phoenix has been undergoing major track and facility remodeling which should be finished by the fall NASCAR event.
  • Starting on the pole is important at this sometimes one-groove track. The race has been won 16 times from that up-front spot.
  • Eleven Chevys and 12 Hondas are entered for Saturday night’s running.
  • TV: Friday Qualifying – NBCSN, 8:00 p.m. ET Live / Saturday Race – NBCSN, 9:00 p.m. ET Live

OUR TAKE: The 2018 aero package seemed to even out the competition at St. Pete last month and is likely to do the same at Phoenix. Rookie Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist and Zach Veach should do well but the high speed Phoenix distorted oval will likely be figured out by veteran oval pilots. Look for a Penske driver (Pagenaud or Newgarden) to bring Chevrolet to the front, while Rahal or Dixon could continue Honda’s St. Pete domination.

FINAL WORDS: Takuma Sato (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda  “We had quite a successful test (here) in February. Obviously the temperature and conditions will be different but it gives us a good indication of the new aero kit on this track…The sensation of speed and G-forces here are impressive…As we expected for St. Pete, the reduction of downforce affected the racing a lot. At Phoenix, it is now difficult to go flat out, in fact no one ash gone flat yet…The tire management is going to be even more important. At the end of a stint it’s going to come down to who manages their tires better because there will be big degradation for sure due to lack of downforce.”

 

 

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”