After a three-week break, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns with their first oval race of the season. The Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix will be the Verizon IndyCar Series’ third straight trip to the 1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona.
After competing their at least once a year from 1964 to 2005, IndyCar did not do so until 2016.
As for 2018, the season-opener to the season was back on March 11, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Here are some of the big stories from the race and a few heading into this weekend’s event.
Sebastien Bourdais repeated his 2017 triumph on the Streets of St. Petersburg, winning in the first race for the rebranded Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan. A win on Saturday would mark the first time he opened the season with consecutive wins since 2006, when he won his third of four consecutive ChampCar titles.
“Obviously, winning at St. Petersburg to open the season was big,” Bourdais noted.
“It is always great to start a season with a good result. I am not a big believer in momentum, but the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan SealMaster team knows that if we keep digging and working hard as a group we can achieve the results we want. We did not get as much pre-season testing as some other teams, but we did test at Phoenix with the new aero kits in February. We know there are going to be challenges, but I am confident we can put a competitive car on the track this weekend.”
Saturday night also marks the debut of the 2018 Universal Aero kit on an oval track. In February testing, the racal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal paced the field in all four sessions.
Rahal powered from last to second by race’s end and will be looking to continue the early-season success from February’s test and the season opener.
“I am very pleased with how the season began. I would have liked to finish one spot better, of course, but I won’t get too greedy!,” Rahal exclaimed.
“We got lucky there with some stuff, and overcame a lot with strategy, having speed when needed and keeping our heads down throughout that race. I definitely think Phoenix should be good for us. We need to focus hard on areas we were weak at during the test and find a way to make some magic happen for the One Cure team.”
No Mazda Road to Indy activity will take place this weekend, but USAC will have the .25 midgets, Silver Crown and Cooper Cup at the track on Friday and Saturday.
This weekend, ISM Raceway commemorates the 25th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s final win. Mario’s grandson, Marco will also sport a special livery in tribute to the 1993 car his grandfather took to victory.
“We had a pretty good test in Phoenix back in February – ending P6 – and we’re looking to build on that as we enter the race weekend,” Andretti expressed.
“I’m excited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my grandfather’s last win with a special throwback livery to his 1993 Newman/Haas colors. Big thanks to Oberto Beef Jerky and Circle K for coming together and helping us really throw things back properly.”
The field will see three rides change hands and 23 entries, with Michael Shank Racing with SPM driver Jack Harvey not running. The two rookies making their debuts are Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser and Dale Coyne Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi. Ed Carpenter will also begin oval duties, competing as owner-driver in his Ed Carpenter Racing entry.
Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights champion, will be making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend. The rookie did score a victory in his lone Indy Lights appearance at the track.
“I’m very excited to be making my Verizon IndyCar Series debut at ISM Raceway. This track will always be a special place for me since I got my first win in the Indy Lights series in 2016, so I couldn’t think of a better place to have my first race in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The team and I have been working hard and making great progress since our first test day in Phoenix, so I’m just looking forward to getting back in the car and showing what we’ve got.”
Fittipaldi makes his debut after winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship in 2017. He is the grandson of 1989 IndyCar Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, who won the 1994 race at Phoenix.
“I’m really excited, it’s going to be my first Indy car race and I’m really looking forward to it,” Fittipaldi said.
“We tested at Phoenix earlier this year and it went well. I learned the track and we did several race stints. The races are a lot longer than what I’m used to, so that is going to be new for me. It’s going to be my first oval race in six years.”
One rookie looking to bounce back after a disappointing start to the season is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens. The Canadian led a race-high 69 laps and looked set to be the first driver since Nigel Mansell in 1993 to win from pole in his debut.
Contact with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi on a restart with two laps to go relegated Wickens to 18th in the final running order.
“After my first Indy car race in St. Petersburg, it obviously didn’t go quite as planned, but there are still a lot of positives to take away from it. Now I’m looking forward to my first oval race in Phoenix,” Wickens stated.
“I don’t really know what to expect; we’ll just take it one session at a time. I think qualifying will be very important, so hopefully, we can do a strong jump there. I just want to make it through my first oval race incident free, hopefully, complete every lap and learn. The dream would be to have the Lucas Oil car in the top 10 at the end.”
Here is some info to get ready for this weekend’s race-
Race weekend: Friday, April 6 – Saturday, April 7, 2018
Track: ISM Raceway, a 1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona
Race distance: 250 laps / 255.5 miles
Firestone tire allotment: Ten sets primary
Twitter: @ISMRaceway, @IndyCar, #DesertDiamondPGP, #IndyCar
Event website: www.ISMRaceway.com
INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com
2017 race winner: Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet)
2017 pole winner: Helio Castroneves (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet), 37.7538 seconds (194.905 mph)
Qualifying lap record: Helio Castroneves (18.8701 seconds; 194.975 mph), set on April 29, 2017
NBCSN Race Telecast: Saturday, April 7 (9 p.m. ET, live)
NBCSN Qualifying Telecast: Friday, April 6 (8 p.m. ET, live)
Television Broadcasts: NBC Sports Network kicks off their coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, which spans 12 of the 17 events on the schedule. Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBCSN’s telecast of the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will be the pit reporters.
Video Streaming: Both practice sessions will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar)
Radio broadcasts: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network will handle radio broadcasts for all Verizon IndyCar Series events is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with analyst Anders Krohn. The turn reporter is Jake Query with Nick Yeoman and Michael Young reporting from the pits.
Each Verizon IndyCar Series race is broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCARMobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series practices are broadcasted on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Images and Fast Facts courtesy of INDYCAR Media.