Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

ISM Raceway IndyCar Musings: Friday

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

Friday was the practice and qualifying day ahead of Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, the first oval in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season and it was a definite day of unpredictability.

Preseason testing had Rahal Letterman Lanigan at the top of the time sheets, but after the first session Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato were 17th and 18th, respectively.

Chevrolet had the top two positions with Simon Pagenaud first and Tony Kanaan second ahead of five Honda cars in succession.

Alarmingly, Carlin occupied both 22nd (Charlie Kimball) and 23rd (Max Chilton) in the opening practice session, but the opening practice session was in the daylight on a slick and ultra-hot track, which temperatures aren’t indicative of what will be seen in the race.

One bright spot among the opening session was Kyle Kaiser in 13th. Right behind him in the opening session time sheet was Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi who scored his penultimate IndyCar win at ISM Raceway in 1994.

Qualifying had an interesting result to it in that Sebastien Bourdais qualified on pole. It was Dale Coyne Racing’s second ever pole position and Bourdais’s first oval pole in 12 years.

It was a banner day for almost every rookie driver. Robert Wickens was best of the rookies qualifying sixth ahead of Fittipaldi in 10th, Kaiser in 14th and Matheus Leist in 16th, all of whom were ahead of 2016 ISM Raceway winner Scott Dixon.

The last rookie, Zach Veach, qualified last after touching the apron during his qualifying run that meant he qualified over 2.7 seconds slower than Bourdais.

Carlin were 21st and 22nd in the qualifying order, while immediately in front of them was Marco Andretti. Andretti is racing with a throwback livery to grandfather Mario Andretti’s final victory in 1993.

There was a final practice session at night and what makes this session interesting is that Kimball led the field and was the only driver that lapped faster than 20.5 seconds. Dixon was second in the session ahead of Kanaan, Alexander Rossi and Gabby Chaves. Chaves was a surprise given that his opening practice session time had him in 19th which is where he qualified.

However, given that the race begins at dusk and goes to nightfall, this could bode well for Kimball, Dixon and Chaves.

The race goes green Saturday at 6:40 p.m. Phoenix time, which would be 8:40 p.m. eastern time.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.