A race finishing under yellow is often criticized by fans, but on this night at Phoenix International Raceway, Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon had the field covered as the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion avoided the problems that plagued those who started ahead of him to win the Diamond Desert West Valley Grand Prix of Phoenix, the first event on the quick one-mile oval known as Phoenix International Raceway since 2005.
Starting sixth on Saturday night, Dixon slowly worked his way forward as problems threw a wrench into the plans of those who entered the race as the favorites. In case of the victims of misfortune, two came from the Team Penske stable. Pole sitter Helio Castroneves was the first to hit trouble as a flat right front Firestone tire ended his run upfront after leading the opening 39 of the event’s 250 laps. His teammate Juan Pablo Montoya took command, but would also suffer a flat right front tire forcing him into the pit lane unscheduled on lap 95. At this point, Dixon vaulted to the lead and despite challenges from Tony Kanaan, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud among others, the driver known as the Ice Man held on to claim his 39th career Verizon IndyCar Series victory.
With the event ending under caution just two laps from the finish due to debris witnessed by track spotters, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, aided by a quick final pit stop would secure runner-up honors on the evening, followed by teammate Will Power earning a podium finish in his first start of the season, after concussion-like symptoms forced him out of the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, despite the fact he had claimed the pole position the day before the opening event.
Kanaan earned his second straight top ten to open the 2016 season by placing fourth, while despite lacking pace in qualifying, Honda driver Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drove a consistent race from start to finish, vaulting from 19th place to finish fifth. After placing last at St. Petersburg, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden rebounded Saturday night to finish sixth. It was a challenging night for Newgarden however, who had to overcome contact with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball suffered just before the halfway point of the event. The incident would not be the only one suffered by ECR on the evening as team owner Ed Carpenter crashed out of the race with just over fifty laps to run whilst running fourth.
Max Chilton placed seventh as the highest Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, with KV Racing’s Sebastian Bourdais placing eighth. Montoya, who won the season opening Firestone Grand Prix last month, overcame the flat tire to salvage a ninth place finish. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top ten, but may have suffered the worst luck as opposed to any other driver in the field. After gaining five positions on the start and running as high as third during the second half of the event, the 2014 Indy 500 champion was forced to pit twice under green for fuel and was trapped a lap down on both occasions when the caution came out for accidents involving other drivers only moments later.
Castroneves, who like his teammate Montoya would get back onto the lead lap before the finish, would settle for 11th place at the checkered flag.
After a week off, the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to California for the most prestigious of the street course events on the schedule, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17th.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for continued coverage of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.