DIXON WINS DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY PHOENIX GRAND PRIX WITH RECORD SPEED FOR INDY CARS AT PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
High speeds, strategic pit stop gambles, unexpected mechanical problems and amazing car control came into play Saturday night in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. When the dust settled, it was reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, who scored his first victory at Phoenix International Raceway.
Though the 250-lap race was slowed by six caution flags, including a final one with two laps to go when Alexander Rossi grazed the wall, Dixon still recorded the fastest-ever winning speed -- 139.822 mph -- in the 52-year history of the legendary one-mile oval. He held off Simon Pagenaud of Penske Racing by .06825 of a second to score the 39th win of his storied career, tying Al Unser for fourth on the all-time Indy car winners list. It was the first Indy car race run under the lights at PIR and the first at the venue since 2005.
“It was definitely one of the toughest races on these short ovals," said Dixon, a 35-year-old New Zealander. "It’s our first time back here and definitely I think we can make some adjustments for next year to get some more side-by-side stuff going on. I’m just so happy for the team. Team Target did an amazing job. It’s fantastic to have the lightning bolt back on the car. It’s the first win for this team at Phoenix, so Chevy did an amazing job. I can’t give enough credit to, obviously, the crew. The pit stops were flawless, the strategy, we stretched out the fuel to where we needed to, and managed to put some good laps down early on. They did the best they could, I just tried to keep it on the track. I can't wait to come back next year."
Dixon qualified sixth fastest and carefully moved up once the field started to encounter lapped traffic. He benefitted from nearly identical problems from two members of Team Penske. Pole sitter Helio Castroneves, who earned the nickname “Speed King” when he became the first driver in history to top 190 mph for a lap at a one-mile oval during the time trials, led the first 39 laps before a flat right front tire sent him high in Turn 1. The three-time Indy 500 winner used every bit of his skill to keep his Penske Dallara-Chevrolet off the wall as he slowly rolled back to the pits.
Castroneves’ teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, took over the top spot and led for 56 laps before he also got a flat right front tire, displaying masterful car control to avoid the outside barrier. But the slow trips to the pits and the time for service left both stars two laps behind. Though they fought hard to get back onto the lead lap, they could never again get close to the leaders.
When Montoya slowed, it was Dixon who inherited the lead on Lap 95. The four-time series champion withstood attacks from two other Penske drivers, Will Power and Pagenaud, as well as his own teammate, Tony Kanaan, over the final 155 laps to take the checkered flag. Power finished third followed by Kanaan as Chevrolet engines swept the top four positions. Graham Rahal was the highest-placed Honda pilot in fifth.
Earlier in the day, Kyle Kaiser put on a dominant performance to win his first Indy Lights race. The California driver led all 90 laps Saturday after qualifying on the pole.
"It was fantastic the whole race," Kaiser said. "The Mazda engine was strong from start to finish. The Cooper tires didn't wear at all. I thought that was going to be a huge factor. It was fantastic. I had no issues doing identical laps from Lap 1 to Lap 90."
Ed Jones finished second, and R.C. Enerson, Santiago Urrutia, and Dean Stoneman rounded out the top five. There was one caution for a spin by Heamin Choi, who was uninjured.