By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
Earlier this evening, the Verizon IndyCar Series made its much-anticipated return to Phoenix International Raceway.
When all was said and done, it was Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon standing tall in victory lane at the Diamond Desert West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
“It was tough, definitely one of the toughest races on these short ovals.” said Dixon, a four-time series champion, “The car was super-fast. I think we had the best car out there on strategies and pit stops.”
Dixon was followed to the line by Penske Racing teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power in a race that finished under caution. Dixon’s Ganassi teammate, Tony Kanaan, took the fourth position as Graham Rahal came home fifth.
For Dixon, the win was the 39th of his career, and his 20th on an oval track. Tonight’s win puts him into a tie with Al Unser for fourth on the all-time win list.
With second place, Simon Pagenaud now finds himself leading the points standings after two races.
“That’s good news,” said Pagenaud. “That’s exactly what we want to do. This is not our strong suit, short ovals, but if we can be strong, that’s a good sign.”
Starting from pole, Penske racing driver, Helio Castroneves led from the green, as Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay shot up from eleventh to fifth at the start. From there, the race quickly became processional as the cars found it difficult to pass.
Castroneves led handily followed by Tony Kanaan. Third-placed Juan Pablo Montoya was able to muscle around Kanaan, taking second, shortly before leader Castroneves slowed with a cut right front tire.
Montoya then took over and paced the next 56 laps in his Penske-Chevrolet before suffering an oddly similar tire problem.
Taking the lead on lap 95, Dixon stayed out front for the remainder of the 250 lap race.
An old friend once told me, there is nothing exciting about a Scott Dixon win. He just makes it look too easy.
While Dixon certainly made it look easy, the major reason for the lack of excitement had more to do with the aero package than any domination on Dixon’s part. The cars seemed rather unstable in dirty air making passing a near impossibility without the benefit of a restart.
The bulk of the excitement was created by Ryan Hunter-Reay who, on three occasions, was able to make up major ground on a restart by running the high line of the course.
Hunter-Reay’s day was derailed not once, but twice by pitting under green, and then seeing the track go to yellow shortly afterwards.
Another bright spot in an otherwise dull race was the solid performance of rookie of Max Chilton, making his second start in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and his first on an oval in an IndyCar.
Chilton ran strong all day, close to the front, eventually finishing seventh.
“Chip Ganassi gave me a fantastic car,” Chilton said. “Obviously, Scott won this event, T.K. flew past me with about 10-15 to go, so maybe I didn’t have necessarily the fastest car, but I think as a team we had a very, very strong car.”
The race ran 250 laps, 255.50 miles at an average speed of 139.822 mph. The field was slowed by cautions six times for a total of 52 laps. The only major contact of the day saw Ed Carpenter put the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet into the wall coming out of Turn 4 onto the front straightaway.
The Verizon IndyCar Series travels next to California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17th.
Diamond Desert West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Race Results
1. (6) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 250, Running
2. (10) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 250, Running
3. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 250, Running
4. (2) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 250, Running
5. (19) Graham Rahal, Honda, 250, Running
6. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 250, Running
7. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 250, Running
8. (15) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 250, Running
9. (3) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 250, Running
10. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 250, Running
11. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 250, Running
12. (4) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 250, Running
13. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 250, Running
14. (14) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 250, Running
15. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 249, Running
16. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 249, Running
17. (13) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 248, Running
18. (22) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 248, Running
19. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 246, Running
20. (16) Luca Filippi, Honda, 243, Running
21. (5) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 195, Contact
22. (21) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 116, Contact
Image: Chris Owens/INDYCAR