A.J. Foyt Racing Race Report: Phoenix Grand Prix

PHOENIX – The ABC Supply team can take away some positives from Saturday night’s Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway: Carlos Munoz claimed his second Top-10 finish in four starts and Conor Daly was charging his way through the field before a shift line burned up his chances at a top-8 finish.

Munoz, who qualified 19th and Daly, who started alongside him in 20th, actually benefitted from their rear of the grid slots tonight. A full course caution slowed the race before it barely got started.

Mikhail Aleshin, who started seventh, spun entering Turn 1, triggering a multi-car crash which took out row 5 (Marco Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais) as well as 13th starting Max Chilton and 17th starting Graham Rahal. No one was hurt, but five cars were sidelined before a lap was completed.

Both Munoz and Daly were able to slide past the debris field on the bottom part of the track without any serious damage to their cars or tires.

When the race resumed after 21 laps of caution, Daly began passing people, including his teammate Munoz. Three laps into his run, Daly was running 13th. By the time of his next pit stop, Daly was 11th and battling Ed Carpenter for 10th (Carpenter eventually placed seventh). It was during that pit stop that Daly’s troubles began.

As Daly left the pits, he couldn’t get the car to shift out of first gear.  Returning to the pits, Daly waited while the crew analyzed the troubles and determined the car had to go behind the wall for repairs. The working theory is that fuel leaked on to the exhaust header which sparked a flash fire and subsequently burned the shift line. It would take nearly 70 laps of the 250-lap race to repair.

Meanwhile Munoz was running 16th when he pitted on lap 68 and then he began moving forward as well. After those rounds of pit stops, Munoz was in 12th. He was chasing Charlie Kimball for 11th when Takuma Sato brushed the wall on lap 137 and brought out the caution flag. He wasn’t injured in the incident.

Race strategist Larry Foyt told Munoz to pit during that yellow and it was then that Munoz began complaining about the steering being too heavy. Foyt told him to just hang in there because they still had a 100 laps to go.

Munoz did just that. And as two more cars had problems, Munoz gained two more spots to finish 10th.

“It was good to get a top 10 finish,” Munoz. “We just kept our nose clean the whole night. It was a really physical race and got more physical as the track gripped up. At the end I was just trying to hold my line and get to the finish. We still need to improve speed-wise but we are getting better and better with this ABC car.”

Although Daly rejoined the race 70 laps in arrears, he was running speeds comparable to the leaders. For him the race had become an extended test session. He placed 14th which is his best finish with the team so far.

“The ABC guys gave me an awesome car,” Daly said later. ‘We had it in qualifying but we just didn’t have the information yet to know how much to trim. We put ourselves back there but it’s a process and we learned we can be a lot more trimmed for qualifying. In the race we had a great mechanical balance. And the whole stint the car felt great. We were making progress, pulling away from people, catching other guys and I really enjoyed that. It’s a shame what happened but four races in a row, we had some issues but things will turn our way. I’m really proud of the team because we worked so hard to get it back on track and as soon as we did, the car was just as good as it was. It was really fun to drive again and I know it was fast and that’s the good part.”

Simon Pagenaud won the race by nine seconds over his teammate Will Power. JR Hildebrand, who missed last week’s race in Alabama due to a broken hand, returned to the cockpit and finished third—which is also where he started. The winner’s other teammate Helio Castroneves finished fourth. Scott Dixon rounded out the top five.

The Verizon IndyCar teams head to St. Louis tomorrow for Tuesday’s one day Open Test at Gateway Motorsports Park in preparation for their race there Aug. 26. The next race on the schedule is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis which takes place on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 13.