Track: Phoenix International Raceway
Race: Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix
Date: April 2, 2016
No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Juan Pablo Montoya
Laps Completed: 250/250
Laps Led: 1 time for 56 laps
Points Position (behind leader): 3rd (-9 pts.)
Recap: Juan Pablo Montoya looked to be in a good position to claim his second straight victory to start the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season before a tire issue derailed the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. After starting third in Saturday night’s return to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR), Montoya passed Tony Kanaan on Lap 23 to claim second place. When teammate and then race leader Helio Castroneves suffered a cut tire and had to pit, Montoya seized the lead on Lap 40. The 2015 Indy 500 winner led the next 56 laps in the Verizon Chevy but Montoya’s tire went flat on Lap 96 and he was forced to pit lane. Dropping as low as 20th in the running order, Montoya then slowly began to work his way back up front. He moved up to 14th by Lap 118 and he got past Castroneves for 12th on Lap 151. Montoya then really began turning up the heat as he improved three positions in three laps before his final pit stop of the day on Lap 203. After that, Montoya broke inside the top 10 and improved to ninth with nine laps remaining as he recorded his 24th top 10 finish since joining Team Penske in 2014.
Quote: “This was more of an attrition race because we are the fastest cars but you get hit with yellows and cut tires so it’s not a true sense of what our cars were capable of. Simon and Will showed through, but with Helio and myself we got caught up with a cut tire, so it would have been a totally different race. Phoenix is a short oval and the speeds kept up, but everybody was on alert and everybody was pretty close. I thought there would be a lot more gaps, but everyone was pretty much in the same zone. The car kept getting a vibration and then it would settle and then would go from a three car gap to a 15 to 20 car gap. Overall, the Verizon Chevy was pushing pretty hard and was still able to stay in the top 10. Not the finish we wanted, but we’ll look ahead to Long Beach and go from there.”
No. 3 REV Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Helio Castroneves
Laps Completed: 250/250
Laps Led: 1 time for 39 laps
Points Position (behind leader): 6th (-30 pts.)
Recap: On the way to what could have been a near perfect weekend in Phoenix, Helio Castroneves encountered a cut tire on Saturday night which affected his final results. Castroneves welcomed a new sponsor to Team Penske in the REV Group and it was a great opening weekend – at least early on. The REV Chevy won the pole position Friday for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix and established a new track record qualifying lap average in doing so. Looking to build on that momentum, Castroneves started the race strong, leading the first 39 laps virtually unchallenged. Then, the right front tire on the No. 3 machine went down quickly. Castroneves made a nice save to keep the No. 3 car off the wall and then he drove slowly to pit lane. After falling several laps down, Castroneves returned to the racing surface determined to revisit to the lead pack. It took a couple of more stops and some hard driving, but Castroneves reappeared inside the top-10 at Lap 195. Battling to the checkered flag, Castroneves made up the laps lost from the tire issue and secured an 11th-place result.
Quote: “First of all, it was great to start on pole and to get the track record for our new sponsor REV. I wish we could’ve done the same in the race. Unfortunately, we cut a tire. There was never an indication there was any problem with the tire so by the time we realized it was going flat, it was too late. Everything was going so smooth, it was too good to be true. Once you go slow on a one-mile oval like that it’s like an eternity to get back to pit lane. We lost a lot with that. Really, to finish on the lead lap and in the top 11 shows just how good the REV Chevy car was this weekend. It was great for the series to be back racing here in Phoenix. Thanks to all the fans that came out and we’re all happy to be back.”
No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Will Power
Laps Completed: 250/250
Laps Led: 0
Points Position (behind leader): 12th (-47 pts.)
Recap: Will Power made his first start of the season Saturday night after he missed the opening race in St. Petersburg due to an illness. His first race of the year was a strong one as Power produced a podium result and battled for the race win. Starting from the ninth position, Power fell to 10th on the opening lap and ran there for basically the first 40 laps of the race. The No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team did a great job on their first pit stop of the night as Power came to the pits in the ninth position and the car returned to the track running fourth. The No. 12 Chevy never ran outside of the top five after that point. Power moved up to third place on Lap 116 and he emerged from a Lap 122 pit stop in second place. He battled eventual winner Scott Dixon for the top spot for the next 75 laps. Power fell to third after his final pit stop of the evening but he ran hard to the finish to secure a third-place result and his 42nd podium finish since 2009, when he joined Team Penske.
Quote: “It feels pretty good to finish this race and come away with a top-three finish in the Verizon Chevy. I was a bit nervous before the race because I missed the first one of the year and was just wanting to get through this but as the race went on I got more and more energy. I started to think we had a shot to win it. The Verizon guys in the pits were just mega. They really put me in a good position all night long. We’ll definitely take third (place) and we’re excited to go to Long Beach and see if we can get the first win of the year there.”
No. 22 Devilbiss Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Simon Pagenaud
Laps Completed: 250/250
Laps Led: 0
Points Position: 1st (83 pts.)
Recap: Producing his second consecutive runner-up finish to start the season after Saturday night’s second-place result at Phoenix, Simon Pagenaud is the new Verizon IndyCar Series points leader. Terrific pit work by the No. 22 Devilbiss Team Penske crew and some patience and perseverance by Pagenaud led to his career-best oval finish on Saturday. Pagenaud started in the 10th position and ran either 10th or 11th until his first pit stop of the night on Lap 52. In what would be a theme of the race for the talented French racer, Pagenaud improved his standing with solid work from his Team Penske crew as he emerged from the stop running in seventh position. With a steady pace the distinctive orange Devilbiss Chevrolet continued to race inside the top 10 for the middle portion of the race. He entered the top five for the first time on Lap 116 and continued to try and look for opportunities to battle for the race lead. Pagenaud’s chance came as a result of his final pit stop of the evening on Lap 199. He entered the pits in fifth place and returned to the track running second behind eventual winner Scott Dixon. Over the final 51 laps of the race, Pagenaud looked for an opportunity to pressure and pass Dixon but the four-time series champ was strong and Pagenaud came home with his second consecutive second-place finish when the race ended under caution. It tied his best result since he joined Team Penske last season, equaling his effort from the season-opener in St. Pete where he finished behind Montoya. Now with 83 points to start the season, Pagenaud took control of the championship lead in the series for the first time in his career.
Quote: “I am super happy to be able to finish second here in Phoenix and I want to give a huge thanks to my team. The No. 2 Devilbiss guys were just fantastic. This is a team sport and we really proved it tonight. We saved a lot of fuel running in traffic and my guys just made it happen for us on the pit stops. Running on short ovals wasn’t our strength in the past but this result shows a lot of progress and promise for the future as well. It feels great to be leading the points right now but we need to keep it going. Hopefully we can take the next step up and add to it at Long Beach.”
Next Race: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – Sunday, April 17 at 4 pm ET on NBCSN