OBSERVATIONS: Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix
For an oval event, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway didn’t give me enough sizzle to come away with a total smile on my face as the ending saved the day from being a total waste.
When it comes to oval racing, you expect there to be exciting side-by-side racing, with impressive overtakes. However, for the most part, that was missing from Saturday night. It’s understandable as the drivers were fighting to find grip anywhere at times, fighting the steering wheel even on the bottom groove. So to expect them to go into a second line that’s unproven – you may be asking for too much.
Now it wasn’t totally impossible, though, as Ryan Hunter-Reay showed on multiple restarts. Alexander Rossi also became the man of passing, making a total of 52 passes to get himself up to sixth with 20 laps to go, including having to unlap himself following a pass-through penalty.
But with the overall lack of passing, strategy of course became a premium and thankfully was displayed so we got some intrigue mid-race and didn’t just fall asleep watching. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) figured it out first when they brought Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe in before anybody else for the second round of stops under green, and it paid off to them jumping up to first and second. Of course, they got beat at their own game due to Josef Newgarden and Ed Jones the next round. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off to show your hand early.
Then came the caution with 15 laps to go that changed everything.
To be honest, I was absolutely surprised that Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Rossi all stayed out while the rest of the leaders pitted. I know track position is huge, and yes it’s been tough to pass, but the tire speed difference proved to be a big deal. Didn’t they learn that virtue of their own pit strategy?
So really, it was no surprise that Newgarden was able to make his way from fourth to take the win. However, he did make it dramatic in those passes that he pulled to make his way to the front, especially going to the outside of both Hinchcliffe and Rossi in turn one.
In the same breath, Wickens proved that he is certainly worthy of that ride after all the skepticism entering the season with his runner-up. That drive he put together in his first ever oval race, including the way he worked at defending the lead for the time he did, was just beautiful. You combine that with how he performed at St. Petersburg before the incident and it’s going to be great watching him blossom.
Even with Hinchcliffe fading at the end to sixth, SPM has also proven that they’re ready to play this season with speed shown at both totally different events, including a fourth by the driver of the No. 5 Honda at St. Petersburg. If you compare where they are now until last season, the changes are certainly paying off thus far.
Sebastien Bourdais looked to be set to head into a perfect world once again, backing up his victory from St. Petersburg. Except, it just seemed nothing went right with his race day.
The car didn’t even get off pit road for pace laps accordingly, going into stall mode. It was nice to see SPM step up and help them out. That said, his troubles didn’t end there as the first trip down pit road, he overslid, making contact with one of his crew members slightly – oh, and that was under a caution that came out for his teammate Peitro Fittipaldi breaking something in the suspension. The reason for him sliding on pit road was simple – he stated post-race that he forgot to scrub off his tires before entering.
Bourdais has proven that he can be fast and a contender, but as a veteran, you cannot make mistakes like this as they certainly prove costly with having to make a trip down pit road under green for a pass-thru penalty.
When Charlie Kimball led practice last night, there was hope for Carlin Racing to begin to turn around their early slump. However, that wasn’t the case as neither Kimball or Max Chilton performed to expectations, falling down a lap early to the race leaders. Based on the first two races, you have to begin to fear about them possibly missing the Indianapolis 500 field and failing to qualify with how far they are off. Could you imagine that with their talent levels?
Team Penske rarely has wrinkles in their armor, but that showed on Saturday night when Will Power was out of the race following an incident. He initially blamed Rossi with an anger display on the radio, but afterwards calmed down some in how the move was made by his fellow competitor.
- It felt good to see Leigh Diffey back on the Verizon IndyCar Series broadcast. Nothing against Alan Bestwick, but Diffey is a better fit when it comes to open-wheel.
- The friendship and jokes between Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden may seem like child’s play at times, but it was nice of the broadcast to show that. The personalities are what will draw some fans to become a fan of a certain driver, and in return, tune in more often to watch.
- The pre-race featured on Bourdais narrated by Robin Miller was really well done. It showcases the story that Seabass has, and makes you appreciate his success this year that much more.
- While I praise the broadcast, can I also mention there were too many commercial breaks in the final stretch? Let’s clean that up, please.
- I was surprised when Matheus Leist‘s tire rolled onto the track that IndyCar didn’t throw a caution. However, the tire stayed on the apron so there was no harm, no foul – but it would’ve made the race interesting. That said, his spin around on pit road and almost catching that official should earn him a fine.
- The equal aero kits have really caused the competition to be even across the field – which is always good for race fans as you get diversity and intrigue.
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