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Indy cars return to Phoenix this Weekend

sm-Conor-Daly-PIR

It’s been 11 years, and boy are we glad they’re back. The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend for the 250-lap (255.5-miles) Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix under the lights on Saturday night.

sm-Josef-Newgarden-PIRPIR was built for Indy car racing in 1964 and enjoyed legendary status among open wheel drivers and fans alike for its high speeds and great racing. Those who’ve been to past races will agree the overtaking is breathtaking, and we should see more of the same in 2016.

Expect speeds around 50 mph faster than NASCAR runs at PIR.

With cooler weather on tap, average speeds are likely to be higher than the 190-mph laps run in the open test here in February. Look for the official 183.599 mph record to be shattered during qualifying on Friday afternoon.

New aerodynamics and stout tires have everyone guessing about how many grooves will develop. As the tires wear and the race develops a rhythm, you’ll see the savvy drivers figure out different lines and watch for aggressive passes into the first and third turns. Past races saw three- and four-wide on the front straight.

smMarco-Andretti-PIR“It’s a tough track and I know it’s changed a bit over the years with some resurfacing, so it will be interesting to see how it handles now. I love the area and Arizona is a great part of the world. There are a lot of fans in the area and I hope they are as excited as we are to return and go racing there again,” said reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.

This is the first of five oval races on the 16-race 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Phoenix was always considered a “tune up” for the Indianapolis 500, the next oval on the schedule. Juan Pablo Montoya claimed the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13.

Four drivers entered this weekend have previously raced Indy cars at PIR: Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Castroneves (2002) and Kanaan (2003 and 2004) are the only past PIR winners entered in this year’s race.

Three drivers, Max Chilton, Luca Filippi and Alexander Ross, will make their first Indy car oval start this weekend.

Past winners of the Phoenix race read like a Who’s Who of Indy car racing: Castroneves, Kanaan, Arie Luyendyk, Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Tom Sneva, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Unser, Lloyd Ruby, Bobby Rahal and Mario Andretti. Al Unser has the most wins by an Indy car driver at the track (six).

“Exciting is the word that comes to mind when I think about Indy cars returning to Phoenix. To go back there where Indy car racing has such a storied past is cool. It’s also cool as my dad won here before, and dominated in 1992 to score the team’s first win. I think we can make a great run of it and hopefully get Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing another victory in the desert,” said second-generation driver Graham Rahal.

sm-Juan-Montoya-PIRRookie of the Year candidate Conor Daly is looking forward to the challenge of close racing and high G-forces at PIR.

“I definitely think of this track as probably one of the biggest challenges we’ll face all year. The cars are super on the limit in Phoenix and it’ll be tough for everyone. It’s a whole new physical set of challenges, obviously the track is very difficult physically,” said Daly.

Phoenix International Raceway will honor one of the greats of worldwide motorsports by presenting the A.J. Foyt Champions Trophy to the winner of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Foyt won the inaugural Indy car race at PIR, the Phoenix 100, on March 22, 1964. He then went on to win a record 67 Indy car races and seven IndyCar championships as a driver, including the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977, as well as the IndyCar championship in 1998 and Indianapolis 500 in 1999 as a team owner.

The official start time of the Phoenix Grand Prix on Saturday, April 2 has been changed to a 6:15 p.m. local time. The Indy Lights Series Race earlier in the day has also been changed to a 1:30 p.m. local time start.

Visit PhoenixRaceway.com for ticket information. The race will be televised live on NBCSN.

Verizon IndyCar Schedule at PIR:

Friday, April 1

9:00 a.m. – Gates Open

9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. – Indy Lights Practice

10:00 a.m. – 11:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series Practice

1:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. – Indy Lights Practice

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series Qualifying

3:00 p.m. – Indy Lights Diver Autograph Session, INDYCAR Fan Village

4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series Driver Autograph Session, INDYCAR Fan Village

4:30 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. – Indy Lights Qualifying

6:15 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series Final Practice

6:45 p.m. – Concert on the Fan Midway Stage Featuring The Instant Classics

Saturday, April 2

10:00 a.m. – Gates Open

1:30 p.m. – Indy Lights Race (90 laps, 90 miles)

3:00 p.m. – Legends Appearances, Fan Midway Stage

4:15 p.m. – Pre-Race Concert by Better Than Ezra, Fan Midway Stage

5:24 p.m. – Driver Introductions, Pre-Race Stage on Fan Midway

6:15 p.m. – Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, Verizon IndyCar Series Race (250 laps, 250 miles)

Photos courtesy IndyCar.

Words by Keith Jones.

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