RECAP: DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY CASINO PHOENIX GRAND PRIX
After a two-lap average from each driver of the Andretti quartet, Alexander Rossi claimed the top starting position for Andretti Autosport. Both Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay earned their best starting spots on ISM Raceway's 1.022-mile oval snagging fourth and eighth, respectively.
Marco Andretti and his Oberto Circle K team struggled during both the practice and qualifying sessions before discovering a mechanical issue that led to the third-generation driver's car dragging on the track during his qualifying attempt. After working diligently to fix the issue, the team was confident in the No. 98 for the 250-lap race.
Zach Veach drove his car low into the corner causing a bobble for the rookie driver. After recovering, Veach drove his car back to pit lane unscathed and settling for a 23rd-place grid position.
CHASING THE CHECKERS.
Phoenix's ISM Raceway saw Round 2 of Verizon IndyCar Series championship under a perfect Arizona night sky. Alexander Rossi’s race was looking bright from the start until the first round of pit stops tossed a wrench into Rossi’s momentum. Upon entry to the pit box, the No. 27 slid past its marks, striking a crewman and collecting a drive-thru penalty. With no injury to the Military To Motorsports crew, Rossi served his penalty and fell to the back of the field, one lap down. In 111 laps, Rossi drove his way from P22 to P14, earning his position back on the lead lap and tallying up 53 passes for the night. The yellow flag was shown on Lap 229 for what would be the final caution period of the night, and the question arose – stay out and maintain (and even gain) track position or pit and have fresh Firestones for a late-race shootout? The No. 27 team took the stay-out route and Rossi brought his ride across the line in third, collecting a second podium finish in as many races and placing himself second in the championship heading into Round 3.
DHL driver Ryan Hunter-Reay is a proven force on the short ovals IndyCar calls home, and skillfully placed his No. 28 Honda into contention Saturday night. The racing veteran took to an aggressive start, gaining positions before the race’s first yellow flag waved on Lap 41, bringing Hunter-Reay to pit lane for the first of four stops of the night. Hunter-Reay recovered from pit lane mishaps to lead five laps in the 250-lap event. During the final caution period of the night, Hunter-Reay’s strategy brought him to pit lane for a fresh set of shoes, but the race did not return to green with enough time for the 2014 Indy 500 champ to make his way to the front. Hunter-Reay collected a second-consecutive top-five finish.
Third-generation racer Marco Andretti came to Phoenix ready to drive his way to Victory Lane on weekend honoring the 25th anniversary of the 52nd and final race win of grandfather Mario Andretti’s career, but victory in the desert wasn’t in the cards for Andretti and his crew. Andretti drove an aggressive race full of a veteran’s skill and determination, but the No. 98 - dressed in a throwback Newman/Haas 1993 livery - lacked the downforce needed to advance on track. Behind on wing adjustments, it was the last stint before the car settled into a competitive rhythm on the racetrack. Despite the on-track competitiveness, the Oberto Circle K crew brought Andretti in and out of the pits flawlessly all night with swift pit stops.
Rookie Zach Veach was the last driver in the 23-car field to see the green flag but drove a steady race and held his own amongst the series veterans. Showing as high as 10th (Lap 177), Veach placed himself and his Group One Thousand One chariot cleanly mid-pack running flag to flag on his way to a 16th-place finish on his first IndyCar short oval. Veach now holds 603 laps of experience in his Verizon IndyCar Series career and sits second in the points battle for Rookie of the Year honors.