CASTRONEVES SHATTERS TRACK RECORD AND WINS THE POLE FOR SATURDAY'S DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY PHOENIX GRAND PRIX
It’s official - Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Chevy for Team Penske, is the new “Speed King” of Phoenix International Raceway.
The 40-year-old Brazilian shattered the track record - set 20 years ago by Arie Luyendyk (183.599 mph) - by touring the historic one-mile oval in a stunning two-lap average of 192.324 mph to win the pole for Saturday night's 250-lap Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, the first race for the Verizon IndyCar Series in the Valley of the Sun since 2005.
He is the first driver to officially lap any one-mile oval faster than 190 mph. But it wasn't easy. Many drivers found the track slicker than during a two-day test last month, and Castroneves, who was fastest during that test and won a 200-lap Indy car race here in 2002, was pushing his REV Group Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet to the limit.
On his second qualifying lap, the three-time Indy 500 winner felt his car start to slide in Turn 4, but a quick jiggle with the steering wheel brought the car back under control just inches from making contact with the outside fence. As race drivers often do, he joked about his flirtation with disaster while savoring his second career pole at PIR and the 46th of his Indy car career.
"I called that 'code brown,' " said Castroneves, who was presented with a ceremonial crown from Luyendyk in pit lane for his record lap. "It was scarier than I expected. It was a moment. It was interesting. It was in Turn 4 actually, which was something we never had [before]. The first lap was really big and I was really happy with the balance of the car. I was very surprised actually that it happened. You've got to push the limit and we definitely pushed the limit here today. But the REV Group Chevrolet was really, really strong.
"Now we have to keep pushing so, hopefully, we finish at the top. At 19 seconds a lap, it is pretty impressive. The fans that are going to be here at Phoenix are going to see the fastest cars in the world going around this place tomorrow. It's going to be amazing."
Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 Chevy for Chip Ginassi Racing and another Brazilian who is two-time Indy car race victor at PIR and winner of the 2013 Indy 500, was second fastest at 191.511 mph. Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Chevy for Team Penske and the reigning Indy 500 champ and series points leader after winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13, was third fastest at 191.366 mph as 18 of the 19 cars to complete a qualifying run topped Luyendyk's former track record.
Earlier in the day, two drivers -- Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 Honda for A.J. Foyt Enterprises, and James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports -- had tested the strength of PIR's outside wall, losing control on a surface many drivers called slicker than what they encountered in pre-season tests last month. During qualifying, Carlos Munoz, driver of the No. 26 Honda for Andretti Autosport, also made heavy contact with the SAFER barrier that lines PIR's outer edge. The SAFER barrier continues to help protect drivers as Sato, Hinchcliffe and Munoz were examined and released from the infield care center and cleared to drive in Saturday night's race.
Kyle Kaiser, driver of the No. 18 Mazda, earned the pole for the Indy Lights race with a two-lap time of 43.8334 seconds and average of 167.872 mph. He is joined on the front row by Ed Jones, driver of the No. 11 Mazda (43.9288/167.507). Kaiser was also fastest in the second practice session. This is his first career pole on an oval.
"We stayed aggressive with the setup and made really good changes," Kaiser said. "So going out, I was really confident in the calls we made, so I just kept it flat and hoped for the best. That's all you can do."
Though PIR has hosted more than five dozen Indy car races, Saturday's event will be the first race to be conducted under the stadium lighting at the track. The 90-lap Indy Lights race is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. (PT) while the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix will take the green flag at 6:15 p.m. (PT).