By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel
This weekend INDYCAR heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the first time since 2005 and there’s a palpable buzz for the return to the high-speed short oval. It’s a big weekend for both of INDYCAR’s flagship series as both the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Phoenix and the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix will go racing on Saturday. The combination of the week to week unpredictability in both series and the first time at the track in over ten years should make for an exciting weekend of action.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens/INDYCAR
Indy Lights: Indy Lights Grand Prix of Phoenix, Saturday April 2, 2016 4:30PM (ET) – Lights races on ovals are extremely tough to pick but I think Felix Serralles looms large this weekend. He won at the first short oval on the schedule at Milwaukee last year with Belardi Auto Racing and his current team, Carlin, swept the top two spots at the other short oval at Iowa with Max Chilton taking the win. RC Enerson has to be a popular pick as well because he’s the top returning oval driver from last year, returns with the same team, and has really improved he’s gained more experience in the series. The results from the test sessions from Phoenix in February back that theory up as well (Practice 2 – Practice 3). Belardi Auto Racing’s Zach Veach has plenty of oval experience as well and looked strong in his return to the series at St. Pete so expect him to be a strong factor as well. My pick to win: Felix Serralles
Verizon IndyCar Series: Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, Saturday April 2, 2016 8:30PM (ET) NBCSN – This one is a tough race to call but thanks to testing and having a few roughly similar tracks in recent years it’s possible to make some educated guesses. Only four drivers (Carpenter, Castroneves, Dixon, and Kanaan) have previous experience Verizon IndyCar Series experience at Phoenix but Kanaan and Castroneves’ wins were so long ago that it’s hard to say how relevant that is this year. Testing results from Phoenix in February can give some indication of who will be fast but even then it’s hard to say who was working on what in their fastest lap of the test weekend. However, combining those test numbers with results from short ovals last year at Milwaukee and Iowa I feel confident in predicting who should be challenging for the win on Saturday night. After strong showings at both Milwaukee and Iowa last year I have to think that Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, and all the Penske cars will be strong factors this weekend. Sebastien Bourdais’ dominant win at Milwaukee and Top 10 showing at Iowa last year lead me to believe he’ll be up there once again and I like Will Power out of the four Penske cars due to his hunger to make up for not starting at St. Pete in the season opener. My pick to win: Josef Newgarden
My fantasy.indycar.com picks: Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais