AVONDALE, Ariz. – As the saying goes, “old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”
It’s been the case thus far at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix weekend, and a pattern front-row starters Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan look to extend in the 250-lap race tonight that marks the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Phoenix International Raceway following an 11-year absence.
CLICK HERE: Starting lineup; PIR qualifying highlights
Castroneves, 40, won the Verizon P1 Award for collecting the pole position April 1 in record-setting fashion. Kanaan at 41 the oldest full-season driver, will start outside his Brazilian friend on Row 1 tonight (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advanace Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). They are two of just four drivers competing this weekend who have raced Indy cars on the historic 1.022-mile oval in the past.
Call them crafty, wily, veterans or just plain old, it doesn’t matter as long as they are running up front and grabbing headlines.
“We're still going,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and a PIR race winner in both 2003 and ‘04. “You guys can call us whatever you want, but as long as we're still winning …”
Castroneves, who earned his 46th career Indy car pole April 1 (fourth on the all-time list), is a believer that experience will prevail tonight under what many drivers are saying will be the most physically demanding conditions of any Verizon IndyCar Series track this season.
“Especially the way you run in the cars and in these conditions and things like that, it just shows that it's not about age; it is just a number,” said Castroneves, who put the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevy on pole with a two-lap speed average of 192.324 mph.
Castroneves’ first lap of 19.0997 seconds (192.632 mph) set the track record that stood for 20 years and was more than 9 mph quicker than Arie Luyendyk’s old standard. Castroneves has one win (2002) and a pair of runner-up finishes at PIR, and is eager for more.
“I always keep trying to improve myself, developing, whether it's an oval or a road course, always trying to push the way,” Castroneves said.
The challenge is stout at PIR. At speed, drivers are absorning the effects of more than five G-forces through the corners while turning laps in less than 20 seconds. There’s no time to blink, much less for rest.
“It’s such a short track, doing 190 (mph) average and it’s 1 mile long, you have to be on your toes the whole time,” said Simon Pagenaud, starting 10th in the No. 22 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet. “And with traffic it’s going to be even more the case.”
Pushing through the field will be challenging on the tight oval, particularly when approaching slower traffic. Juan Pablo Montoya, another of the old dogs up front, starting third in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy, is hoping for some mutual respect throughout the field.
“I think passing’s going to be tough,” said Montoya, also 40 years old and the Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader on the strength of his season-opening win at St. Petersburg on March 13. “I think once the leaders get to the back of the pack, timing is going to be really important. You will see some passing, but it’s going to be tough. There’s going to need to be a lot of respect from the other drivers.”
The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix is the second of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. The next race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17.