AVONDALE, Arizona – High winds this afternoon threatened to wreak havoc on the only practice at Phoenix Raceway prior to tonight’s Verizon P1 Award qualifying session for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
It didn’t faze the 21 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers who completed 1,204 laps without incident on the 1.022-mile oval before the session was cut short three minutes shy of its scheduled two hours when the gusting winds kicked up enough desert sand to hamper visibility. Josef Newgarden paced the practice with a best lap of 192.108 mph (19.1517 seconds) in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY PHOENIX GRAND PRIX: Practice results; Qualifying order
Newgarden, winner of last weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, may be a frontrunner to capture the pole position this evening, but he has a host of worthy competition. Single-car qualifying begins at 11 p.m. ET and streams live on the NBC Sports app and RaceControl.IndyCar.com. A taped replay airs at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, ahead of the same network’s live telecast of the 250-lap race.
“I’ve never heard of a 'dust storm caution,' but this is Phoenix," Newgarden said. "It’s the desert so I guess you get that. This is the windiest I have ever seen this place. It makes it difficult. It was a tough practice session. It’s the wind gusts that make it so tricky. You have some consistent wind and then you have gusts of 40 mph.
"It was a tough session but I feel like we had speed. We had speed at the test here (in February) and I feel good about the No. 2 Hum Chevy. I think it’s fast, so as long as we don’t mess it up, we should have a car that is capable of being up towards the top. You just have to try not to make a mistake in the wind."
Following Newgarden in an all-Chevy top five on the practice speed chart were: JR Hildebrand in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet (191.681 mph, 19.1944 seconds); Helio Castroneves, the 2016 Phoenix pole sitter, in the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet (190.844 mph, 19.2786 seconds); reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet (190.831 mph, 19.2799 seconds); and Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (190.560 mph, 19.3073 seconds)
“The guys have done a really good job,” said Hildebrand, who sat out last week’s race recovering from a broken bone in his left hand sustained in a crash at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9. “I feel pretty good physically with my hand so far. We had a really good test here and our expectation was to come back here and be competitive.
“I felt really good with the runs that we made. We definitely tested the limits of what we can do. I think we can get that little bit of speed that we were missing.”
Scott Dixon, winner of last year’s Phoenix race when his Chip Ganassi Racing team was using Chevy power, was sixth fastest overall and the top Honda runner in practice at 190.051 mph (19.3590 seconds).
Newgarden is scheduled to go 14th in the qualifying order tonight, Hildebrand 16th. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan drew the first and 21st spots in the qualifying order, respectively.
This weekend’s race is the fourth of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season but first on an oval. Phoenix Raceway has hosted 62 Indy car races dating to the track’s opening in 1964.
Saturday's race airs live at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Watch Marco Andretti turn laps at Phoenix Raceway via his visor cam during today's practice: