By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
The Verizon IndyCar Series will make its return this weekend to the Valley of the Sun for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The race weekend is scheduled for April 28-29, 2017
About the Race
The race will be round four of seventeen for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Phoenix will be the first oval track event of the season, in a schedule that features six oval races.
IndyCars returned to the track last season after an absence of 11 years. The defending race winner is Scott Dixon, who drives the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Staged as a a Saturday Night event, the race will run 250 laps for a total race distance of 255.50 miles. The winner will be presented with the A.J. Foyt Trophy. The trophy was named after the legendary driver recognizing him as the first ever winner at PIR back in 1964.
The weekend will also feature action from the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series, The Desert Vintage Classic as well as a concert from rock band, Eve 6.
About the Track
Located in Avondale, AZ, Phoenix International Raceway sits like an oasis in the desert surrounded by cactus-covered hillsides.
The track is a modified oval that features a dogleg on the backstretch. Measuring at 1.022 miles the course is relatively low-banked. Turns one and two are banked at 11 degrees, as is the dogleg. Turns three and four are a bit flatter at only 8 degrees, while the front stretch is a mere 3 degrees.
Having opened in 1964, the Raceway has hosted USAC, CART, NASCAR, The IRL and Sports Cars over the years. Owned and operated by International Speedway Corporation, the current seating capacity is 51,000.
Over the years, several changes have been made to the layout, including a redesign of the infield road course in 1991, a redesign of Turn 2 in 2003, and lights added in 2005. In 2010, the dogleg was reconfigured, progressive banking was added to the turns, and the pit lane was changed from asphalt to concrete. The infield road course was also sealed off and closed for good.
Another round of major renovations are planned for the Speedway that will make their debut in 2018. New grandstands, a redesigned infield complete with a fan-zone, new suites, escalators and elevators, and a solar-powered midway are among the upgrades in progress. Once the new grandstands and suites are in place, the seating capacity will be reduced to approximately 45,000.
The track was purpose built for open-wheel racing, featuring USAC and then the CART Series from 1964-1995. Phoenix began to host NASCAR lower division races in 1978. Adding the Cup Series in 1988, the track now hosts two races per year for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
When the CART/IRL split occurred in 1996, Phoenix was one of the few tracks that moved away from CART and went with the fledgling IRL. With dwindling attendance, as the IRL began to add road racing to its schedule, Phoenix dropped off of the open-wheel calendar in 2005, although the track remained as a test facility for the Series.
Lat season’s return was highly anticipated, as teams, drivers and fans were pleased to be coming back to a facility with such a rich racing history.
The list of Phoenix winners reads like a who’s-who of racing royalty with names like Foyt, Rutherford, Andretti, Ruby, Mears, Unser, Bettenhausen, Sneva, Rahal, Luyendyk and Fittipaldi among others.
Phoenix International has been the host of some very seminal moments in racing history.
In 1970, a young driver named Swede Savage out-dueled Al Unser and Roger McCluskey and made a last lap pass to take his first, and only, USAC win.
In 1987 Roberto Guerrero failed post qualifying inspection, and started at the back. During the event, he drew a stop-and-go penalty, but still managed to win the race.
In 1988, with the Winston Cup Series making its debut at Phoenix, Alan Kulwicki took his first Cup win. He proceeded to take his victory lap in the wrong direction, to be able to wave at the fans. Thus, the Polish Victory Lap was born.
In 1993, Phoenix was the site of the last win for a true racing legend, Mario Andretti. 53 years old at the time, he is the oldest winner of an IndyCar race.
In 1997, privateer Jim Guthrie mortgaged his house to keep his racing team afloat, and held off a charging Tony Stewart to take his one and only IRL win.
About the Field
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed, top-to-bottom lineups in all of racing.
Three of the drivers have previously won at Phoenix. Tony Kanaan has two wins, while Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon have one win apiece.
The reigning Series Champion is Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Team Penske. Pagenaud, who hails from Poitiers, France, is in his third season with Team Penske, and 2016 marked his first series title. The current points leader is Sebastien Bourdais who won the season-opener at St. Petersburg, and followed up with a second place at Long Beach in the Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
Sixteen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, six have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and five are Indy 500 winners. There will be one true rookie in the field, with Ed Jones behind the wheel of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. ECR Team owner, Ed Carpenter will run his first race of the season as he runs an oval-only schedule splitting the seat time of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.
Drivers in the series represent twelve different countries around the globe, making it a truly international field.
About the Series
The current Verizon IndyCar Series was born out of the Indy Racing League, which absorbed the rival ChampCar World Series in 2008. In the years since the reunification, the series has seen steady growth in attendance and television ratings.
The positive growth in recent years bodes well for the Series that is owned by Hulman and Company. The centerpiece of the series is the Indianapolis 500, which will run for the 101st time in May. Mark Miles is the Chief Executive of Hulman and Company, and Jay Frye is the President of Competition and Operations for the Verizon Indycar Series.
Teams in the series use a common chassis, the Dallara DW-12, named in honor of the late Dan Wheldon, who did much of the development testing of the car. The chassis has aerodynamic components that differ according to the engine manufacturer. The 2017 rules called for a freeze on aero-kit development, in anticipation of a common aero package for 2018.
Chevrolet and Honda are the engine partners for the Series with each supplying a 2.2 Liter V-6 turbocharged engine to the teams that are capable of producing over 700 hp at 12200 rpm. All cars in the series run Firestone Firehawk tires.
Where and When to Watch
Tickets for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix can be purchased here. Raceday Grandstand seats range from $60.00-$75.00 and kids under 12 only $10.00. There are also a variety of two-day, pit pass, and VIP packages available
Television coverage of qualifying and the race will be provided by NBC-SN. Race coverage will begin at 9:00 PM EDT on Saturday April 29. Coverage can also be found streaming on the Verizon IndyCar Series You Tube Channel, Facebook Page or at http://racecontrol.indycar.com/
Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Fans can also keep up with all of the action on the IndyCar Mobile app provided by Verizon Communications.