Wickens Leads Impressive Honda Effort in Phoenix
• Robert Wickens rebounds for second-place finish at ISM Raceway
• Alexander Rossi charges to third place after early penalty
• Honda drivers claim five of top six finishing positions
AVONDALE, Ariz. (April 7, 2018) – Six Honda drivers led a total of 137 laps in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, with Robert Wickens claiming a second-place finish in his first career Verizon IndyCar Series oval event.
A late-race caution, and the resulting decision by some teams to pit for fresh tires while others elected to stay out and maintain their track position, helped determine the final outcome. Wickens, one of the drivers to stay on track, led the field when the green flag flew for the final time on Lap 243, with seven laps remaining. But Joseph Newgarden, on fresh rubber, needed only three laps to pull off an outside pass of Wickens and claim the victory.
Honda drivers, meanwhile, claimed second through sixth at the checkers. After starting fourth and running third through the first 40 laps, Alexander Rossi was assessed a drive-through pit lane penalty after striking a crew member during his first pit stop. The penalty put Rossi a lap down, but a combination of speed and daring passes saw him return to the lead lap. One of the drivers electing to remain on track during the final caution, Rossi was unable to hold off Newgarden but successfully passed James Hinchcliffe to finish third.
Scott Dixon, who struggled with understeer during the first two-thirds of tonight’s 250-lap race, made chassis adjustments at each pit stop. On new tires for the final run to the checkers, he finished fourth, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay in fifth, with Hinchcliffe rounding out the top six for Honda.
Video recaps from this weekend’s Honda IndyCar Series action at ISM Raceway are available on the “Honda Racing/HPD” YouTube channel. Produced by the Carolinas Production Group, the video packages can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/HondaRacingHPDTV.
Tonight’s event at ISM Raceway was the first of three consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series races in April. The series continues next week with the April 15 Grand Prix of Long Beach, followed by the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 22.
Robert Wickens (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) started 6th, finished 2nd: “It [this finish] means a lot. My goal coming into this was to finish every lap. Even on that last restart, leading and knowing there were only the three of us that stayed out [on track], my thought process didn’t really change. Even if I finished fifth, I would have been kind of, well, a little bit disappointed but still happy that I got even a top five on my first oval race. I feel like I’m setting the bar a little bit high for myself. Hopefully, we can get our season going now. I think we made up so many places through the pits like tonight on both of our cars. We came into the pits under yellow in fifth, I came out fourth. Then on the green flag stops, recycled out P1 and P2 [with teammate Hinchcliffe]. It was a remarkable job by the guys, by the team. I think our pace was really strong tonight. It went by actually a lot quicker than I was expecting. I had a lot of fun out there, especially the middle part of the race when James and I were fighting for the lead. We had a good little battle a couple times. I was smiling under the helmet. It was fun.”
Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport Honda) started 4th, finished 3rd: “We had a strong start, but then had a mishap on the first pit stop. It was unfortunate, but the important thing is that my crew is okay, that’s always my first concern. I didn’t challenge the [pit] box that hard. I went to turn right to line up [in the pit box] but [the car] just went straight. Then we didn’t get the yellow we needed, so we had to completely un-lap ourselves and come back through the field. The Military To Motorsports Honda was by far the best car on track, I think, and it deserved to win. It wasn’t meant to be today, but I’m happy to stand on the podium.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on tonight’s race: “Given the challenges we’ve faced on short ovals in recent years, finishing second through sixth tonight is marked improvement. But knowing the speed that our teams had, it’s a disappointment not to come away with the victory. Robbie [Wickens] is showing amazing aptitude in his adjustments to IndyCar racing and these new circuits, coming away with a second-place finish after his near win at St. Petersburg. And hats off to Alexander Rossi, charging through the field from a lap down on pure pace alone to finish an impressive third. Also, it is worth noting Scott Dixon’s performance tonight, going from 18th to fourth – all in the second half of the race. It’s a very rapid turnaround to Long Beach next week, but we’re looking forward to successfully defending our victory from James Hinchcliffe there last year.”