AVONDALE, Ariz. – As expected, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ official return to Phoenix International Raceway is already proving to be fast and furious.
Oval specialist Ed Carpenter led the opening practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at the 1.022-mile oval with a best lap of 19.1227 seconds (192.400 mph) in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. It is the fastest lap recorded at the track and well below the official track record that has lasted 20 years, set by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk in qualifying for the 1996 Verizon IndyCar Series race with a lap of 19.608 seconds (183.599 mph).
Sixteen drivers went under Luyendyk’s standard this morning, paced by Carpenter and teammate Josef Newgarden in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet (19.1401 seconds, 192.225 mph).
CLICK HERE: Practice 1 results; Visor cam lap with Josef Newgarden
“We wanted to wait a little bit to see what the track was doing,” Carpenter said. “It was kind of a weird, choppy session with accidents and what not. But we had a really good open test out here, so we felt we were in a really good place. We wanted to go out and see what we had for qualifying and so far, so good.
“This is what we wanted. We wanted to come out here and start strong. Hopefully we can carry it through to qualifying and the race.”
Official track records may only be set in qualifying or the race itself, however, so this afternoon’s Verizon P1 Award qualifying session will likely be the time when Luyendyk – now an INDYCAR race steward – will see his standard erased. Qualifying airs live today on NBCSN (5 p.m. ET) and can be heard on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network via Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, IndycarRadio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Following Carpenter and Newgarden on the speed chart this morning were: Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet, 19.1589 seconds (192.036 mph); Tony Kanaan, No. 10 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, 19.1685, 191.940; and Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet, 19.1709, 191.916.
Two incidents marred the practice session, both single-car crashes exiting Turn 1. Takuma Sato, in the No. 14 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing Honda, and James Hinchcliffe, in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, each spun and backed into the SAFER Barrier between Turns 1 and 2. The two drivers were both checked at the infield care center, cleared and released to drive the remainder of the weekend.
“I feel OK,” Sato said. “It was a quite a big impact and (I have) a little bit of a headache, but I'm good. It was a quick spin, I lost it simply with a little bit of oversteer. We were doing a qualifying trim, so unfortunately we lost the back end and it caused pretty good damage, but hopefully we can come back.”
Hinchcliffe said his car was also in qualifying trim when he crashed.
“We … had a bunch of understeer in the car and were making small adjustments to try to dial it out,” Hinchcliffe explained. “Turns 3 and 4 is normally a bit looser than Turns 1 and 2, and we had understeer even in Turns 3 and 4, so I made a small adjustment on the front bar. Next lap, I had some understeer getting into it and the thing just snapped.
“It's a huge kick in the nuts obviously for a race we have as little track time as we have here,” Hinchcliffe added. “I feel really bad for the guys that have to fix the Arrow machine, but we'll get it buttoned up and just try to focus on what we can from here.”
Indy cars have raced 61 previous times at Phoenix International Raceway, dating to 1964, but this weekend marks the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first event at the iconic facility since 2005.