Race Report: Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix
PHOENIX – The ABC Supply team had its ups and downs Saturday night at ISM Raceway but Tony Kanaan posted the best showing for the team in its last six outings with his eighth place finish in the 250-lap race. He moved up to ninth in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings.
Starting ninth in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet, Kanaan stayed in the top-10 throughout the race which saw very little passing on track. He ran as high as seventh and never dropped below ninth. On the final restart with just seven laps to go, he mounted a charge past Ed Carpenter but was blocked in his attempt. Kanaan crossed the line in eighth.
“It was a big improvement for the team, we’ve been aiming to finish in the top-10 and we did that tonight,” Kanaan said afterwards. “We have our struggles and there are things we need to fix and we’re doing it one piece at a time. I think we had a great weekend, we were in the top-six all weekend long. I’m happy with the progress but there’s a lot more work to do.”
Matheus “Matt” Leist had a big learning curve in his first IndyCar race on an oval track. After starting out smoothly from his 16th starting slot, he ran in the top 15 until his first pit stop on lap 43. He came in too hot and slid into his pit box hitting one of the tires laid out for the stop. Making the rookie’s task more difficult was that his pit box was not on the front straight but on the curve between Turns 1 and 2, which made it difficult for the team to guide him in. The error dropped him back to 20th as he had to stop again for the team to check the front wing that had hit the tire.
On the next stop there was an error on the team’s part when Leist was sent before the left rear tire changer was finished. As he burned out of the stop, the unsecured wheel came off causing Leist to spin out in pit lane. Fortunately, he didn’t hit anything. However, the team did have to wait until the pit stop cycle was finished before they could roll the car back to the pits.
At that point Leist was seven laps down. Race strategist Larry Foyt radioed Leist that the game plan had changed. With no hope of winning the race or even securing a top-five finish, Leist was instructed to the use the opportunity to learn as much as he could. He did make several successful passes of slower cars despite not being able to improve his position.
When asked for a comment after the race, he replied, “My first oval done, my first complete race in IndyCar done, so lots of new stuff learned. We made a lot of passes which was good--not too many guys were passing. I was feeling good physically in the car, I’m not tired at all. Today wasn’t our day, wasn’t my day, but I want to say thanks to the team. I think we had a car to finish in the top-seven. Onto Long Beach now.”
There were several single car accidents where cars brushed the wall but only two caution periods slowed the race for a total of 23 laps. Defending series champion Josef Newgarden claimed the victory with his pass for the lead on lap 247. Robert Wickens finished second. Third through fifth were Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“A hard-fought day for the team all around,” Foyt said. “Tony drove hard all night but passing was super difficult and he and the 14 team did a good job to hang in there and get the top-10 finish. Matheus did a nice job, and really did exactly what we asked him to do. He had the mistake on the first stop, and we had a mistake on the second stop which took us out of contention for a good finish. He still drove a great race and it seemed like he passed more cars than anyone. He brought it home in one piece and learned a great deal here for his first oval race. The experience he gained will be a big help for Indianapolis. Both teams are looking for more in Long Beach, and we will keep building on the experience we have taken from these first two races.”
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network on Sunday, April 15 starting at 4 p.m. ET.