For the first time since 2005, the Verizon IndyCar Series will race at Phoenix International Raceway, in this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
However, while America’s premier open-wheel series may not have visited the Avondale, Arizona, circuit in over a decade, Saturday’s return should feel all-too familiar for most of the drivers, teams and fans at the track.
Going into this weekend’s event, 61 Indy car races have been held at Phoenix since the track opened in 1964.
The first Indy car event at Phoenix came on March 22, 1964, early in the track’s debut season. That day, A.J. Foyt led all 100 laps from the front row to dominate the 100-mile USAC Champ Car Series event in just under 56 minutes. Foyt would go on to win three more times at the 1.022-mile facility from 1965 to 1975.
Foyt is one of many legends of IndyCar’s past to claim victories in the Arizona desert. Mario Andretti made his way to victory lane in Phoenix for the first time in 1966, and added another victory the following year. Brothers Al and Bobby Unser combined to win eight of 17 events from 1968-1976, a feat that would be bested when Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford took nine of 16 events – including a string of five-straight victories – from 1973-1981.
Other notables including Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears, Michael Andretti, and even journeyman Robby Gordon earned victories at Phoenix. Mario Andretti furthered his legend at the facility, earning two of his final three career victories at Phoenix in 1988 and 1993 – a full 27 years after his first win at the track.
With so much history at Phoenix, drivers throughout the field will be eager to add their name to the list of victors at the flat oval.
Two drivers in the paddock are already listed as winners at Phoenix. Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan each triumphed at the facility before IndyCar’s decision to leave the facility in 2005. Castroneves earned a lone victory in 2002, with Kanaan earning back-to-back wins in 2003 & 2004.
History aside, much of the IndyCar field will be making their debut at Phoenix on Saturday. Three drivers – Max Chilton, Luca Filippi and Alexander Rossi – will be making their first Indy car starts at any oval. Chilton and Rossi are competing in their first IndyCar season after previously running in Formula One. They, along with Conor Daly, are Sunoco Rookie of the Year award candidates.
While many haven’t competed on the Phoenix oval – Charlie Kimball and Ryan Hunter-Reay have starts on the road-course – the majority of the field saw time on the racing surface during a late February test session at the track. Simon Pagenaud topped the sessions with a 19.2-second, 190.747 mph lap around the oval, a full four tenths of a second faster than Arie Luyendyk’s official 19.605-second track record.
This will be the first of five oval races for IndyCar in 2016, and the only one preceding the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. The Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (June 11), Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway (July 10) and ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Aug. 21) also sit on the 2016 calendar.
Practice 1: 1:00 p.m – 2:15 p.m. ET
Qualifications: 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. ET
Final Practice: 9:15 p.m. – 9:45 p.m. ET
Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix: 9:00 p.m. ET