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IndyCar wins new fans at PIR: by Keith Jones

Verizon IndyCar Series Desert Diamonds West Valley Inaugural Phoenix Grand Prix

Avondale, ARIZ. (April 3, 2016) – “I can’t believe how fast they’re going!”

“This is so intense! Those cars are super fast.”

“This is insane! Look at how close they’re running!”

These were just a few of the spectator comments heard in the grandstand Saturday night during the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix IndyCar race at Phoenix International Raceway.

After an 11-year absence IndyCar no doubt gained some new fans this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Keith Jones

Photo courtesy of Keith Jones

The crowd, estimated at around 20,000, was a little bit of everything: old timers, families with young kids – decked out in t-shirts of their new favorite drivers, millennials and everything in between. Many had only seen stock cars droning around PIR, so the nearly 50 mph increase in speed was obvious and made an impression.

The race itself was good, with Scott Dixon dominating at the front after starting sixth. You may not have seen it on TV, but back in the pack there was plenty of action and passing on the front straight and entering turns 1 and 3.

Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay put on a clinic on how to pass – although their results didn’t show it – on what many drivers predicted would be a one-groove track. Numerous drivers showed incredible car control saving slides toward the wall as tire wear or passing racers upset their cars’ balance.

Photo courtesy of Keith Jones

Photo courtesy of Keith Jones

Thankfully after some hard crashes on Friday only a few wall grazes and spins happened during the race. One of those included fourth place running Ed Carpenter, who was looking like a potential contender before he got up into the gray in turn 4 and slid down the wall stopping near the start/finish line.

Others making contact were Sebastien Bourdais, Carl0s Munoz and Alexander Rossi, who brought out the caution flag with two laps left, leading to the race finishing under yellow.

Scott Dixon simply had the field covered. The outcome really wasn’t affected by the late caution. Simon Pagenaud finished second to take the series points lead, followed by Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal.

“It was tough, definitely one of the toughest races on these short ovals,” Dixon said. “The car was super-fast. I think we had the best car out there on strategies and pit stops.”

Photo courtesy of Keith Jones

Photo courtesy of Keith Jones

It was a record-setting night for reigning Verizon IndyCar Series Champion Dixon: his 39th career win ties with Al Unser for fourth on the all-time Indy car victories list, and the 12th  consecutive season with a race win to set a record all his own.

“For me, I feel very privileged to be racing, being an Indy car driver, being part of the Verizon IndyCar Series, and then being part of Team Target,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Chevrolet-powered cars dominated the weekend starting with Helio Castroneves’ record shattering pole run of 192.324 mph. Marco Andretti (11th) was Honda’s fastest qualifier, while Rahal was best in class for Honda with his 5th place finish during the race.

“It was tough to pass,” Rahal said. “I felt like I had a really good race car. Unfortunately, our competition had about a 5 mph advantage on us, I feel like. I was just doing everything I could to get it.”

Castroneves took advantage of his pole start to lead the first 39 circuits, but catching lapped traffic led to a battle with Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan.

A heart-stopping three-wide run down the front straight saw Montoya get by and Castroneves slide toward the first turn wall. His right front tire had deflated and his was one of many great saves of the night.

“Unfortunately, we cut a tire. There was never an indication there was any problem with the tire so by the time we realized it was going flat, it was too late,” said Castroneves. “Everything was going so smooth, it was too good to be true.”

Montoya held the lead for the next 56 laps until he too was victim of a right front tire puncture. It was Dixon in control from then on.

Verizon IndyCar Series Desert Diamonds West Valley Inaugural Phoenix Grand Prix

“I think it was good race and a good start for us coming back to Phoenix for the first time,” said Dixon. “Can we improve on the racing here? Absolutely. And I can’t wait to come back next year.”

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