Phoenix Grand Prix - Day 1 Overview & Qualifying Results
The song rattling around in everyone’s head for Friday’s IndyCar practice session could have been “Everyone knows it’s Windy”. At times during during the session, when the windstorms whipped up, it looked like an old timey Western movie or a scene from Mad Max. Needless to say, it did affect the practice, even halting the session a few minutes early when the ever changing wind turned into a full fledge sand storm...
With this being the only practice prior to qualifying, (or for the weekend for that matter) teams had to split their practice time between trimming the car and doing qualifying sims in preparation for the afternoon qualifying session, and testing out race trim. Especially those teams who struggled during the test here in February.
Unlike last year, the 2 hour session was incident free, other than several cautions for track inspections. Ed Carpenter too had an eventful session, having to bring the car back to the garage, and remove the engine to replace the fuel cell. His day would go from bad to worse, with a poor showing in qualifying, dropping him the the back of the field to start Saturday's race. A master on the ovals, look for him to carve his way through the field and perhaps chance a different fuel strategy from his speedy teammate.
As predicted, Chevy showed their mettle, capturing the top 5 spots at the end of the session, 4 of which belonged to Team Penske, the top spot honour going to Penske neophyte Newgarden, with Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand sneaking into the 2nd spot to break up the Penske party.
Top Honda showing on the day was last year’s race winner Scott Dixon.
Qualifying again was surprisingly uneventful. Not a single incident. But with the change in track conditions and temperature, the first couple of qualifiers were definitely at a disadvantage, though Power, who ran second, managed to break both the one and two lap track records, to place him at the top of the pylon, at least until his Penske teammates made their appearances, he managed to best 2 of them, but, not surprisingly, Castroneves, current track record holder, went out and obliterated his record times, and held on to the pole position with only Hildebrand and final qualifier Kanaan posing any threat.
In the end though, it was Helio wearing the goofy “Speed King” crown (and really, would it suit ANY one else??) and hoisting the Verizon P1 award, his 49th career pole.
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet): "People don't realize that qualifying is extremely difficult. I took it to the limit - I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good. The conditions were really difficult today in practice - the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice). My engineer did a phenomenal job and obviously everybody at Team Penske - the REV Group car was really fast. Qualifying is one thing - the race is another - but I'm really confident going into tomorrow."
CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet): "We were pretty stuck - we had way too much downforce. It was very comfortable-still had too much understeer. But it was just too much downforce-I was flat as soon as I got into Turn 1. It was easy-too easy. It's a shame."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "A pretty solid run for us, based on how practice was, especially after the conditions, so we weren't sure what to expect. Big credit to the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys - we've been rolling off the truck with a good car all year. For us, we had a little too much understeer on that run; we were flat both laps, pretty secure. I tried adjusting the car a little bit, but 20-second laps around here, you don't have a whole lot of time to make a difference in cockpit control. We'll see where that stacks us up, and if it brings us a top 10 (starting position), that puts us in a decent place."
MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "We had an issue during our run ... not the best issue to have especially during qualifying. The car was really good, and that problem happened last minute so it was too late to solve it. Anyway, I'm happy with where we are at the moment, so we'll see how the rest of qualifying goes and where we end up tomorrow."
MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): "That was tough tonight. I gave it my best and I was happy with the job I did with the Gallagher car, but we need more and we're going to talk as a team tonight to see what we can do to get better for the race. We had a good result here at Phoenix last year and we're shooting for that again this year."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): "The ambient conditions changed a lot from practice to qualifying. We found a lot and learned that we were a bit too conservative in qualifying. We came up a little short and we know we can trim out a bit more for the race in the NTT Data No. 9. It was a little bit too easy which means we have room to go faster which is good for the race tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): "We had a good qualifying today. The No. 10 NTT Data Honda looks fast and I'm happy with where we're starting tomorrow. I have a strong track record here at Phoenix, so I definitely think we can get around those Chevys tomorrow and win from sixth."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Conditions were better (during qualifying) but it was tough going second in line cause of all the dust that had blown on the track. So I was very unsure on the first lap but the Verizon Chevrolet felt really good honestly. Helio (Castroneves) actually ran a little less downforce than me - so he trimmed more - so he was really fast. Good run - good starting position and we'll see what we can do tomorrow."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "I'm disappointed in qualifying. Not sure what happened. The balance wasn't there on the first lap. On the second lap I was pretty good but there was so much difference between the first and second laps speed-wise that it cost us quite a lot of positions I think. But we'll see what we've got and go from there."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): "It was tough today; the wind played a lot of games. We didn't get a qualifying sim in during practice due to the conditions so we took a flyer, a complete guess, and the rear of the car was actually better than it has been. After what we had been struggling with all day, which was rear-end related, to go into qualifying with a lot of understeer was a shocker. I just didn't anticipate it enough and get the tools adjusted enough. The United Rentals guys are working hard. They will give me good pit stops tomorrow and we'll try to work our way forward."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Sonny's BBQ Honda): "Not a bad run in the Sonny's car, but just not quite good enough. We're kind of fighting amongst ourselves in the Honda camp, and we're P5 in that group. It's OK, it's not great, but at the end of the day it's a tough run. You have to go straight out and all of a sudden you have to pull that lap and get your timing right. I wasn't quite aggressive enough and I didn't quite get the car spooled up enough on Lap 1. We'll keep pushing and see where we end up tomorrow."
ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "The Boy Scouts car was pretty good. Obviously, the conditions were much different to practice, a lot cooler and a bit less wind. It was so much cooler that I wasn't quite confident on the first lap and I had a little bit of push and I struggled a bit with understeer but otherwise it was decent. I think we have a better car than where we qualified, so I feel confident we can move forward tomorrow."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "The guys did a great job turning the car back around and having it ready for qualifying. We just didn't have the balance we needed and we'll have to make our way forward from the back of the field tomorrow night."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "I'm glad to be up there in the top three. The car has been good here from the test to rolling out today for practice. We had a good, strong run. It's so difficult to pick your downforce level in these varied conditions. We saw the Penske guys roll out with a little less than where we were at, but frankly, our cars are really good in race trim. Ed (Carpenter) and the No. 20 car will be hauling it from the back, but he'll be someone to watch in the race for sure."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "Qualifying was okay - it was a reasonable, I think given the circumstance and the kind of ghastly and unpredictable practice we had. In the qualifying (simulation) we really didn't go that deep and being the first driver of the team we actually went quite conservatively and maybe just paying a little for that now. But I think it's going to be okay."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Oberto/Circle K Honda): "I had the Oberto/Circle K car pretty wrung out for the situation. I didn't get to do a (qualifying) run in practice and that really, really hurt us. I sort of reacted to the glaze of the front tire and had a lot of understeer on the out lap, but that was just the characteristic of the tire coming in so I reacted in the cockpit when I probably shouldn't have. I would have been better just driving it and not touching the cockpit tools - but that's what you learn in practice. Without that, we just sort of went for it. It was really trusting our work, and we do good work in testing. We went back to a setup from two months ago here in testing and it rebounded and that's a good confidence builder going forward."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "We just missed it by a tick - that's all it really takes here. We had just a little bit of an imbalance. It was really tricky earlier today (in practice) with the wind and the gusts and the sand storms. I remember coming out of Turn 4 at one point and it was a wall of orange dust coming at me. It was an interesting day, I've never really had that in a race car. Hopefully we can make the DHL car similar to last year. Last year we had a good run and we made some great passes and restarts. I'm not really sure what to take from today for tomorrow."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): "The conditions were really different from this afternoon. The wind slowed down and the ambient really changed from earlier. I think we were a little conservative with how we took the car to qualifying, but I feel really good about the Novo Nordisk car in race trim. I'm confident we'll have a good car for tomorrow night and I'm looking forward to 250 laps of good racing."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti/Curb Honda): "I think I could have gotten more out of the No. 98 tonight. I was expecting (qualifying) to be a lot more complicated than it was, so in hindsight we probably should have been a little more aggressive. With only one practice session and how bad the conditions were earlier, it was logical to be a little bit conservative. There a lot of racing to do tomorrow and we'll try to work our way up."