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IndyCar Phoenix Preview

Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan enter Turn 3 during the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway. [Photo by: Chris Owens IMS Photo 2016]

Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan enter Turn 3 during the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway. [Photo by: Chris Owens IMS Photo 2016]

by Paul Gohde

Verizon IndyCar Series-Race 4 of 17

Finally, an oval. After three races on street/road courses, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series moves to the Arizona desert southwest of Phoenix for the Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix on Saturday night, April 29th.

 Phoenix Facts: The Phoenix International Raceway is a 1.002-mile distorted oval first opened in 1964. Saturday’s 250-lap, 255.5-mile race, will be the 63rd Indy car event contested at the track (1964-2005 and 2016-present).

A Bit of History: The present-day Phoenix facility replaced a one-mile dirt oval at the Arizona State Fair Grounds that had held Champ car races near downtown Phoenix since 1950. Roger Ward won the final race at the Fairgrounds in 1963, while A J Foyt captured the inaugural at Phoenix International on his way to winning 10 of 13 events on the 1964 USAC schedule. Scott Dixon won IndyCar’s 2016 return to the desert after a ten-year hiatus. Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Chevrolet led 155 laps as the race ended under caution after an Alexander Rossi crash with two laps remaining. It was the first win at the track for both Dixon and Ganassi. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power completed the podium. Al Unser Sr. won here six times during his long career. Past Phoenix winners entered for Saturday night’s race include Tony Kanaan (2), Helio Castroneves and Dixon.

2017 So Far: Josef Newgarden won at Barber Motorsports Park last week in just his third run for Team Penske Racing. His win for Chevrolet broke Honda’s two-race win streak (Sebastien Bourdais at St. Petersburg and James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach). Leader Will Power was forced to pit with a slowly deflating tire that opened the door for Newgarden who held off Dixon and Pagenaud in the final 14 laps. Power returned to the race after pitting and finished 14th, 26-plus seconds off the winners pace.

In the series’point race Bourdais remains in the lead with 117.2 points. Dixon is next (-6) with Newgarden close in third (-7) followed by Pagenaud (-10) and Hinchcliffe (-15).  *Race winners in italics.

The Grid: The regular 21-car field is entered at Phoenix with two changes. JR Hildebrand is back for Ed Carpenter Racing after a one-week layoff at Barber while recovering from a hand injury sustained at Long Beach. Ed Carpenter, who races only ovals, gets his first taste of competition on the high-speed Phoenix oval, replacing his team’s road course pilot Spencer Pigot.

Notes: TV, NBCSN, Race-Saturday, 9:00p.m. ET, live / Qualifying-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, taped…Phoenix is the first of six ovals on the Indy Car calendar. Next oval is the Indianapolis 500…Phoenix International held two Indy car races in a year 19 different times…Dixon, who won for Ganassi Chevrolet in 2016, returns to Phoenix in a Honda-powered car, also for Chip…Parnelli Jones won the inaugural pole spot back in 1964 at a rather slow 114.822mph while Helio Castroneves grabbed the pole when Indy Car returned to the track last year with a considerably quicker fast lap of 192.631mph…

Our Take: Speed and aero are paramount at Phoenix. If you are a Chevy fan Helio Castroneves (Penske Racing) is a good bet while a long-shot might be Ed Carpenter who likes to go fast on ovals. If you like Hondas, you can’t go wrong by putting a $ or $$ on 2016’s winner Scott Dixon, while a Honda dark-horse might be James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports).

Final Words: Takuma Sato (No. 26 Andretti Auto Sports Honda) “Phoenix is an incredibly fast short oval. The sensation of the speed going into Turns 1-2 is very impressive, which means it is quite physical, too, and it’s pulling 5 Gs. The open test we had at the track in February feels like such a long time ago and it was both productive and difficult. This track has been a little unkind to me in the past, but the team is preparing the best car…It will be my first oval race with Andretti Autosport, so I’m excited to go back to Phoenix.”

 

 

 

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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.”