Phoenix Preview: Casablanka Edition


There’s so much construction taking place at dusty ISM Raceway at present, the facility’s practically a blank slate. Fitting, as so too is the young IndyCar season. No one quite knows how it’ll all end. Exciting possibilities – and temporary setbacks – exist for all involved in the upcoming Phoenix Grand Prix.

Pondering that great roulette wheel in the desert formerly known as PIR, we couldn’t help but think of the Bogey-Bergman gin joint classic Casablanca and that even the director didn’t know the ending. Like magnificent open wheel oval racing, the thoroughly entertaining movie from 1942 winds up to a thrilling crescendo. Similar to the beloved film, IndyCar on oval tracks is unsurpassed in its splendor. Plus, there’s such an intriguing international cast; and get a load of the gams on those new Dallaras! Here’s looking at you, Phoenix.


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IndyCar tested at the soon to be reconfigured ISM (Ingenuity Sun Media, in case you’re wondering) Raceway in February. Takuma Sato led an all Rahal Lanigan Letterman revue. The prospects of Sato on pole alone are enough to conjure the stuff parts bills nightmares are made of. Judging by St. Peteplus the combination of driver inexperience and loose new cars traveling at oval speeds – Phoenix’ll make Rick’s Café Américain look tame by comparison. And Rick’s had drunken, singing Nazis.


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Play it again, Seb. The French resistance fighter Bourdais did exactly that, lucking into a repeat at St. Pete thanks entirely to Mr. Rossi. More on him later. SeBass poses little threat on fast tracks like ISM, his last oval win coming at the sadly defunct Milwaukee Mile. That was nearly three years ago and to do it, he got high.

Playing the role of French collaborator like an Oscar winner, Simon Pagenaud won last year going away. He and the rest of Team Penske struggled mightily in this season’s debut, however. At least he and Newkid didn’t wreck on the first lap, like Power. The previous year, Scott “the new Taku” Dixon won under caution and then promptly apologized in IndyCar’s not so triumphant return to the desert. Prior to that, IndyCar avoided Phoenix for a decade. You have to be as ancient as TK to have raced there pre-hiatus. Speaking of Kanaan, he managed wins back to back in 2003-4, back when he still could drive.


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As time goes by until the next race – and by, and by – let’s assess where things stand after that wild season opener. The standings look a lot like they did last season, when Bourdais won the first one and then proceeded to steadily fade. Furthering our casa blank-a theme, everything’s wide open as the real season’s about to begin. Don’t be shocked – shocked! – when the usual suspects (e.g. Penskes and Ganassis) reassert their Vichy like control.

On the rookies – here’s looking at you, kids – Wickens’ performance for SPM was impressive at St. Pete right up until the moment he was rudely bumped out of the way with two to go. With his “American blundering,” Indy 500 winner Rossi wasn’t exactly beginning a beautiful friendship with the middle aged Canuck, though rivalries do make for engaging drama. Just check out the anthem competition at Rick’s for proof.


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As predicted, AA’s rookie Zach Veach was best in class in Florida, but otherwise the greenhorns were lackluster to terrible – like Jack Harvey for Shank/SPM and Foyt’s Matheus Leist. We emphasize, these are their respective teams for the time being. If one were into gambling, it’d be a smart bet that changes.

As wheels begin to spin at the remote desert locale, let’s hope the final product is worth viewing – and not something to be sorry for again. If nothing else, it’s good old fashioned oval racing to look forward to, even though the sets – much less the ending – remain works in progress.






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