Former Phoenix Champs Will Lead Field to Green in Arizona

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04CJ1060Leading up to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix race weekend, Helio Castroneves mentioned his fond memories from Phoenix International Raceway, particularly when he started from pole and won in 2002. History might be repeating itself. Friday afternoon gave him another memory for the vault with a 2-lap average of 192.631 mph, earning him the Verizon P1 award and a new track record. 11 years have passed since the last IndyCar race on the Arizona track.

The man alongside Castroneves on the way to the green flag, will be another Brazil-born driver: Tony Kanaan (No. 10, Chip Ganassi Racing). Their birthplace is not the only thing the two in common – in addition to a slew of wins and poles, Castroneves and Kanaan are the only active drivers in the field to have wins at Phoenix. Kanaan’s wins came back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. Having that experience up front will hopefully set an example for a smooth, safe and exciting race. The two Indy 500 Champions will without doubt, set one heck of a pace for the entirety of the contest.

Eight more Chevys rounded out the Top 10 with the 11th Chevy separated from the group – that car being No. 11 of Sebastien Bourdais (KV Racing), who found himself back in P15 amongst the 10 qualifying Hondas. Please note: Takuma Sato (No. 14, AJ Foyt Racing) and James Hinchcliffe (No. 5, SPM) were unable to make qualifying attempts due to the extensive damage to the cars after accidents in the afternoon practice session – they will start P21 and P22.

Marco Andretti was the fastest qualifying Honda, with his No. 27 UFD machine starting from P11 tomorrow. Surprisingly, Graham Rahal and the RLL Racing Team struggled to find the right set up all day. Their qualifying effort left much to be desired for the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda team – landing in P19.

04CJ0832AThe only car to attempt qualifying but not complete both laps was the No. 26 of Carlos Munoz, who suffered a hard back-end impact into the wall just after taking the green. He was visibly hurting when the Holmatro Safety Team assisted him out of his Andretti Autosport Honda, but after a trip to the infield medical center, Munoz was released and cleared to drive. He explained to Robin Miller (with an introduction by Mike Kitchel) that he suffered some soft tissue damage to his knees but had every intent of driving for the practice session this evening in Phoenix.

During post-qualifying interviews, multiple drivers encouraged local fans and viewers to come out to the track this evening for night practice, promising an entertaining show and sneak peak into what they have in store for tomorrow’s race. The practice under the lights starts at 6:15 p.m. MST tonight.

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Photos by Chris Owens/IndyCar