IndyCar heads to Phoenix for the second round of the season after it kicked off with a bang in the opening round at St Petersburg. This will be the first oval of the season which means that there will be some driver changes which we’ll come to shortly.
Race 1 at St Petersburg was massively unpredictable, going down to a penultimate lap duel which ended in heartbreak for Robert Wickens after he was assisted into the wall by Alexander Rossi. This lead to Sebastien Bourdais taking his first win since his horror Indy 500 crash, repeating his stellar start to the season that he enjoyed last year. Honda locked out the top 6 while Penske and the rest of the Chevrolet’s seemed at a loss to explain their lack of pace, something that they’ll be hoping to reverse for Phoenix.
The rookies did well over the weekend as a whole; most lacked the final decent finishing result, Wickens and Matheus Leist for example, but they showed credible pace throughout practice and qualifying. However, Phoenix is going to be a whole different kettle of fish because, for the majority of the rookies, it will be their first experience of an oval weekend.
Phoenix was the fourth race of the season last year so is a bit earlier this year, meaning we have even less of an idea of the running order than when we were here last. The last running of Phoenix was won, in dominant fashion, by Simon Pagenaud in what was a Chevrolet whitewash while Honda struggled for pace and were unfortunate enough to have nearly half their runners wiped out in incidents. The main one of those incidents came on the first lap when Mikhail Aleshin, now in LMP1 with SMP, spun mid-corner and took out Marco Andretti, Bourdais, Max Chilton and Graham Rahal. Rossi and Takuma Sato also eliminated themselves in separate incidents to amount to a disaster weekend for Honda.
Ovals have a slightly different format to street courses, there are only two practice sessions for Phoenix and qualifying is done on a solo basis, the race itself will be run over 250 laps.
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The driver changes between St Petersburg and Phoenix are as follows… Pietro Fittipaldi will take his first turn in the #19 Dale Coyne after Zachary Claman De Melo started off the season in their pre-agreed car share. Ed Carpenter will take the wheel of the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing car from Jordan King, he will also do this for all the remaining oval rounds. Kyle Kaiser will get his first taste of IndyCar in the solo Juncos car, taking over from Rene Binder who kicked the team’s first season off.
Trying to predict who’s going to be strong this weekend isn’t an easy task but you can be fairly sure that the more experienced oval drivers will be stronger than those who are seeing an oval for the first time. Penske and Chevrolet are expected to make an improvement on their substandard weekend at St Petersburg while Honda will be hoping to avoid a repeat of their awful Phoenix GP last year. Realistically, we won’t have a clue about the race until well, the race but qualifying on Saturday should give some sort of idea about the order, even if it is distorted by mistakes or crashes.
You can catch practice and qualifying on any of IndyCar’s streaming channels while the race itself will be shown on the BT Sport/ESPN channel in the UK. The timings, in UK time, are as follows:
Practice 1 – 10:00pm
Qualifying – 1:00am
Final Practice – 4:00am
Race – 2:30am
Given the rather unreasonable times, there will be no Twitter commentary from us for either qualifying or the race but there will be a race report and various follow up articles as usual.