IndyCar Downforce Drama
Stokes Phoenix Event
Drivers, Crews, Forced To Make Adjustments On An Unfamiliar Course, But Winner Scott Dixon Downplays Those Who Lamented The Lack Of Competitive Passing
By Joey Hancock
Modern Times Magazine
April 4, 2016 — The sun went down and the heat turned up as the Verizon IndyCar Series took the track at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday night for the first time in 11 years with Scott Dixon coming away with the win after a dominating performance.
“It was a tough fight up there tonight,” Dixon said. “Probably one of the toughest short ovals I can think of in recent history with how you had to manage the tires, fuel mileage, strategy and for me tonight a lot of the credit goes to the team. Strategy was perfect, the pit stops were just amazing and the setup was fantastic on the car.”
As the race went on multiple cautions slowed the pace of the Desert Diamond Valley West Phoenix Grand Prix field to an average of 139.822 mph, but the cautions and Dixon’s dominance wasn’t what caught most people’s eye during the race.
A lack of competitive passing during green flag runs was frustrating for drivers, fans and other big names of racing who took to social media to speak out about the issue.
NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson tweeted during the race on the lack of competitive passing saying, “I’m so thankful NASCAR is taking the downforce off our cars. These IndyCar guys haven’t made a competitive pass yet. #LowDownForceIsTheWay.”
Dixon said the issue is a tough situation and the series can and will make the racing better for next year’s race.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “Can we make it better? Yeah. I mean this is our first time back here and I don’t know what you can expect out of that and I think everyone did an amazing job. Yes, there were some cautions and some accidents and some things like that but it’s tough coming back to tracks with packages you don’t really know what to do with.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series only had one weekend of testing in late February before taking the track for the race Saturday night causing some of the issues, as Dixon said, with the packages the cars were set up with, but Dixon wasn’t hearing any of it about the lack of competitiveness.
“The downforce question, it’s easy to drive from the backseat and everybody has their two-cents, but it needs to be looked at and everybody is going to comment on it,” Dixon said.
The racing next year at PIR will definitely be better, Dixon said as more information comes in from the race and the teams and series has a chance to look over the data.
“I think we can definitely make a better show,” he said. “It’s tough to come back here, yes we have run some test days here, but it’s very hard to make changes when you don’t really know how it’s going to play out in the race. I think tonight was a little conservative on some sides and I think the question is, can we make a better show, and absolutely we can.”
Simon Pagenaud, driving the No. 22 Chevy took over the series points lead with a second place finish and said he is content with the result and continuing to build as a championship contender is what is on his mind.
“Everything that didn’t go well last year is going well now,” he said. “Today is definitely, I had a lot of help from my guys and also had a great race car thanks to the team so we have to keep doing exactly that.”
Pagenaud also spoke of the difficulty to pass and said he wanted to have a chance to make a move for the lead as he was closing in on Dixon late in the race, but too many risks were involved for that to happen.
“Being behind him we had the pace,” Pagenaud said. “It’s so difficult to pass and there was no interest for me to take that many risks to try. I was trying, don’t get me wrong, but there is only so much you can do at the end of the race.”
Third place finisher, Will Power, who did not compete in the series opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. due to an inner-ear infection, said it’s a long season and he just needed for things to fall into place and get a good result in the race.
“For me it was just finishing tonight and see how it goes as the season goes along,” Power said. “See what happens at the end (of the season).”
Helio Castroneves set on the pole of the Desert Diamond Valley West Phoenix Grand Prix with a track record speed of 192.324 mph and set a staggering pace out of the gate leading the first 39 laps until a right rear tire failure caused him to pit early allowing Juan Pablo Montoya to take the lead position until a flat right front tire of his own forced him to relinquish the lead on lap 95 giving Dixon the point which he would never give up.
The night ultimately went to Dixon, as he led 155 of the 250 laps. It was his 39th series win, which puts him in a tie with Al Unser Jr. for fourth place on the all-time wins list.
“I can’t say enough about the Verizon IndyCar Series and getting us back to Phoenix,” Dixon said. “Seeing the passion the fans had this weekend and at the test and the enthusiasm at all of the autograph sessions and how excited everyone is to have us back here. That’s what it’s all about. We have to keep pushing and growing the sport and it’s a great way to do it.”
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