Photo from foxsports.com
As IndyCar returns to Phoenix for the first time in over a decade, fast paced surprises await race fans in the springtime desert.
Phoenix International Raceway’s been the sole haunt of those nattering NASCAR nabobs since the speedy set split after last racing there in 2005. IndyCar’s kiss off saw Sam Hornish, Jr. win for the second time at Phoenix, beating Tony Kanaan who’d won the previous two. Helio‘s also won at PIR for the Cap’n – once – in 2002. In all of IndyCar, TK and Helio are the only two still in the field old enough to ever have run in the desert. Question is, can these two codgers reclaim their former glory?
The first IndyCar race occurred at the brand spankin’ new PIR way back in 1964. Not surprisingly, it was won by the bigger than life A.J. Foyt in a Watson/Offy. Phoenix was favorable for the never dry Foyt, as he went on to win three more times during his long career. He’s joined by other multiple winners and legends of the sport including Lloyd Ruby, Mario Andretti, Al Unser and perhaps the best named racer of all time, Gordon Johncock. Here’s to reclaiming IndyCar history in Arizona.
Photo from autoracingmemories.com
PIR is an oval – albeit a dog legged, relatively flat one – so we’re loyally, though levelly enthusiastic. At least Miles and company haven’t eliminated all of ’em yet. It’ll be a crap shoot for the series though, as they haven’t raced the new aero kits on the unknown – at least to all but a few – egg shaped track. Logically, at least for IndyCar, they’ll be running the road course aero kit package and not the oval package. Makes sense, doesn’t it? As a result, expect some typically lengthy debris cautions and for Dallara to continue recouping its costs in the desert.
Photo from cffl-racing.com
Michael Andretti‘s been “worried about the show,” as apparently those ludicrously large front wings on road course aero kits don’t provide enough down force for him. Michael wants still more – MORE! – added. Else, he warned ominously, the series may “screw up” the racing. What, like he did at Milwaukee? Obviously, we hope Andretti’s wrong – again – and point out that his son‘s more than likely to screw things up, anyway.
Photo from foxnews.com
Even in a Honda, AA’s Ryan Hunter-Reay is the master of short ovals like Iowa where he’s won three of the last four, although at just 7/8s of a mile Iowa may be better described as a midget oval. Flat and kinky, Phoenix is an entirely different animal, however. Helio in his Penske/Chevy topped the recent test sessions in the desert at over 190 mph. That’s over fifty miles per hour faster than NASCAR’s top qualifying speed earlier this year.
Photo from sports.usatoday.com
In that lesser, slower series that races primarily on ovals, Kevin Harvick’s utterly dominated lately having triumphed in six of the last eight races at PIR. And we thought Juan’s Indy and St. Pete repeats were bad. But seriously, it’s great to see IndyCar reclaiming the desert from those slow, fugly, glorified demolition derby cars. IndyCar’s “Phoenix Grand Prix” should be an oasis for race fans in the southwest, despite its wildly misleading moniker.
Don’t look for Hornish to repeat, since he’s been out of IndyCar for years now. Probably not gonna be Kanaan either, who’s also been out of IndyCar for a while – he just hasn’t admitted it yet. Who will win IndyCar’s riveting return to Phoenix is anybody’s guess, although we wouldn’t put it past the series villain. Scary thought, isn’t it? Hopefully and maybe – just maybe – a surprise winner will emerge to give Penske’s bad boy his just desert.