By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
AVONDALE, Ariz. — The Verizon IndyCar Series returned to action this weekend with a two-day test at the Phoenix International Raceway, which saw the stars and the cars pound the pavement in a highly anticipated return from a five-month absence.
Daly’s debut goes up in smoke
- Conor Daly’s afternoon session ended early as his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet suffered an oil leak after logging just seven laps. His engine was repaired and he took part in the evening session. His fellow new AJ Foyt Racing teammate Carlos Munoz struggled in the morning session and logged the 18th quickest time.
Still no sponsor for Scott
- Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda sported a plain white livery today. A team representative confirmed to the Motorsports Tribune that sponsorship issues for the four-time IndyCar champion are still being sorted out. Dixon ended the weekend with the eighth quickest time on Saturday and the 11th quickest time overall on Sunday.
Newgarden and Team Penske contingent quick
- Team Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden shined throughout the two-day test, pacing Friday afternoon’s practice with a best lap of 19.3511 seconds. He followed that up with the ninth quickest lap of the night at 19.7256s and ended up third on Saturday afternoon, right behind his former boss and teammate Ed Carpenter.
- 2014 series champion Will Power was in the top five in the first three sessions and ended the fourth session with the 14th quickest time.
- Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud found himself in the middle of the field both days. Helio Castroneves also had a mediocre first day but improved to fourth during the Saturday afternoon session and eighth during the night.
ECR showing muscle
- The Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet duo of Ed Carpenter and team newcomer JR Hildebrand were quick right out of the gate. Hildebrand set an unofficial new track record of 19.0401 seconds (193.234 mph) of Saturday afternoon. Carpenter was second quick at 19.1223s (192.404 mph), also under the track record.
Andretti Autosport finding their form
- Ryan Hunter-Reay led the final session of the test with a 19.3932-second lap. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda sliced and diced his way through the field several times last year on his way to finishing 10th.
- Marco Andretti’s new lease on life was seen in full force this weekend. Andretti topped Friday’s evening session with a lap of 19.4541s (189.122 mph) and backed that up with the third quickest lap on Saturday night.
Dale Coyne Racing up to speed
- The Dale Coyne Racing Hondas were quick in the afternoon session as Sebastien Bourdais and IndyCar rookie ran 6th and 7th in Friday afternoon practice. Jones completed his oval rookie orientation program at Phoenix earlier this week.
New tire combination
- Firestone brought out a new tire combination for this weekend’s test. The package utilizes the short oval compound on the left side and the right side is the superspeedway compound with a grippier tread. A Firestone representative reported to the Motorsports Tribune that the changes could increase oversteer and will make the tires take a few laps longer to get up to temperature.
AJ Foyt Racing struggles early, finds footing in late session
- The new AJ Foyt Racing team drivers of Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly were both short on pace this weekend. The pair never were quicker than 17th over the course of the first three sessions.
- The final session saw Munoz and Daly step up to sixth and seventh quickest respectively.
Three crashes in Turn 2 on Saturday
- After an uneventful Friday, Turn 2 became a trouble spot on Saturday. Alexander Rossi crashed in the afternoon session, which sidelined him for much of the day as his No. 98 Napa Auto Parts crew repaired the car before returning to the track for a handful of laps in the evening session.
- Graham Rahal crashed in turn 2 during the Saturday night session. The damage was minor, but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team elected to not repair the car and left the track early.
- Takuma Sato became the final victim of the night and crash hard in Turn 2, ending the No. 26 Andretti Autosport team’s night an hour early. The Japanese driver managed to set the fifth quickest lap of the session earlier.
Incidents in final hour
- After a nearly uneventful 2 days of running, things got a little chaotic with one hour left in the test. Josef Newgarden and Sebastien Bourdais touched wheels going into turn one, sending Bourdais sliding towards the wall. The Frenchman maintained control of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda but was not pleased with Newgarden’s actions.
- After setting the fastest lap in track history in the afternoon, JR Hildebrand’s night ended 20 minutes early. He made contact with Will Power on the backstretch which knocked the front wing endplate off his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. That sent him into the turn 4 before sliding to a stop alongside the front stretch wall.
Chevrolets quick during day, Hondas at night
- Competition swung from one end to the other as the Chevrolet-powered cars dominated the afternoon sessions while the Honda squad rose to the fore at night. Chevrolet was the dominant force last year, claiming eight of the top ten spots.
Race title sponsor coming together
- The local Desert Diamond West Valley casino sponsored IndyCar’s return to PIR last year but is yet to be confirmed for this year. Track president Bryan Sperber told the Motorsports Tribune that talks with the casino about returning are ongoing but nothing is confirmed yet.
Groundbreaking for Phoenix Raceway Project
- Work has officially started on the Phoenix Raceway’s $178 million renovation project.
- The track will be flip-flopped as the start-finish line will be moved to the exit of Turn 2. Pit road will be extended to reach the new starting line.
- The 29-year-old front stretch grandstands will be torn down and the Allison Grandstands in turns 1 and 2 will be upgraded to stadium style seating rather than the traditional bench seating. Escalators and elevators will be built as well.
- The infield will also see massive changes as the garages and media center will be rebuilt and a fan midway will be constructed.
- The current 32 suites will be renovated and 19 new ones will be built.