(AVONDALE, AZ) – Armed with a fresh set of tires, Josef Newgarden charged from fourth place in the last seven laps to win the Phoenix Grand Prix under the lights Saturday night. The defending IndyCar Series champion beat rookie Robert Wickens by 2.9946 seconds on the ISM Raceway’s 1.022-mile oval to collect his eighth career victory.
Newgarden, in the No. 1 Chevrolet, was among eight lead-lap drivers who made a pit stop for a new set of tires during the race’s second caution period, when Ed Jones hit the Turn 4 barrier on Lap 229 of 250.
Phoenix Grand Prix Official results
Wickens, teammate James Hinchcliffe, and Alexander Rossi elected not to pit and led the field on the Lap 243 restart. Taking the restart in fourth place, Newgarden immediately roared past Rossi and Hinchcliffe on the outside through Turns 1 and 2 before setting his sights on race leader Wickens.
On Lap 247, Newgarden again took the high line into Turn 1 and maneuvered past Wickens, driver of the No. 6 Honda. Rossi, in the No. 27 Honda, finished third.
“The team did such a good job,” Newgarden said. “The car was good, the strategy was better, the pit stops were the best. I’m really proud of them and what they did. I think they deserved the win tonight.”
With the win, Newgarden also took the championship lead after two of 17 races. The seventh-year IndyCar driver has 77 points, five more than Rossi and seven ahead of Sebastien Bourdais, who was the winner of the season-opening Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
“I think we were a top-five car tonight, for sure,” Newgarden said. “But I struggled a little bit with the balance, so it was difficult for me to force the issue until we got to the end when I had a tire advantage. I kind of bided my time for that. I was trying to be calm tonight and make it to the finish.”
Newgarden’s winning speed of 147.395 mph set a record for a race at ISM Raceway, as well as the number of lead changes (12) and drivers who led (nine). The race was slowed by just two caution periods, for single-car incidents involving rookie Pietro Fittipaldi on lap 41 and Jones on lap 229. Neither driver was injured.
Bourdais, who started from the pole after winning the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying on Friday, and Rossi were penalized for hitting crew members on their first pit stops. The ensuing drive-through penalties put each driver a lap down. Bourdais finished 13th but Rossi, who made an incredible 53 on-track passes, 19 per cent of all passes made in the race, charged back to reach the podium.
“The only reason I was able to do that was because the team gave me an unbelievable car,” Rossi said. “As I said, we spent so much of our time and brain effort and research in the time between the [February] open test and [race weekend] focusing on tire life. Hopefully, it’s something that we can keep an advantage on people going forward for the next short ovals.”
The next IndyCar Series race is the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 15. It airs live at 4pm ET on NBCSN and the IndyCar Radio Network.
Starting from the 5th slot in the No. 5 Honda, Canada’s James Hinchcliffe reflected on finishing the team’s two cars in the top six.
“Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have done an incredible job since the test here in February when we were at the bottom [of the time sheets], to get two cars in the top six in both qualifying and the race,” Hinchcliffe said. “Huge congrats to Robbie (Wickens) on his first podium.”
All in all a good day on the track for Hinchcliffe.
“I’m proud of the guys,” he said. “Stinks to lose a couple spots so late in the race like that when we were running at the top all day, but good points day, and huge for the team.”