For the second-straight year, Helio Castroneves showed his intricate knowledge of the fastest way around Phoenix Raceway’s 1.022-mile oval during Beach Whiskey Outback Steakhouse Qualifying Day. The 41-year-old Brazilian and driver of the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet set a new one-lap record (18.8701 seconds, 194.975 mph) and consecutive two-lap (37.7538 seconds, 194.905 mph) record to earn the pole position and win another “Speed King” crown for this year’s running of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway.
Castroneves’ Penske teammates Will Power (second fastest), Josef Newgarden (fourth) and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud (fifth) were close behind, split only by J.R. Hildebrand (third) in the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing. In total, seven cars broke the speed record set by Castroneves a year ago.
“It was a really good lap,” said Castroneves. “Obviously, it was a great team effort, and the REV Group guys did a phenomenal job to put in all the details. The car was hooked, and when the car is hooked, you just have to go for it. The Firestone tires did a good job at improving. Obviously, the conditions helped a little bit for us to be faster than last year. I think already five cars broke the track record from last year, so it shows that there is a lot more downforce in the evening than the afternoon from last year.”
Earlier in the day, Bobby Santos claimed his first pole at Phoenix Raceway. During qualifying for the Phoenix Copper Cup, the native of Franklin, Mass. posted the second-fastest lap ever for USAC Silver Crown cars at Phoenix Raceway. Santos, who won the Midget portion of the Copper Classic here in his last appearance at the venue in 2009, set a blistering pace of 25.362 seconds (141.945 mph), just off the record of 25.317 seconds (142.197 mph) set by Dave Steele in 2004. Two-time series champ Kody Swanson of Kingsburg, Calif., was second fastest.
Fans were also treated to exhibition runs by 40 vintage Indy cars as part of the inaugural Vintage Desert Classic, including 10 cars that won at Phoenix and two more that led significant portions before having mechanical failures.
The family aspect of racing was visible throughout the day in the Phoenix Mini Copper Cup as the USAC Quarter midgets staged qualifying and heat races for competitors age 5 to 16 in 13 categories on a temporary 1/20th of a mile oval set up on the DC Solar Power Pavilion.
The 100-lap Phoenix Copper Cup race takes the green flag at 3 p.m., while the feature event – the 250-lap Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix – is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!