Simon Pagenaud

AVONDALE, Arizona – With but a single hour of practice this afternoon prior to qualifying for the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix, even the leading drivers from the session weren’t sure what to expect when the quest for the Verizon P1 Award ensues later in the day.


Simon Pagenaud, the defending race winner, popped in a lap at ISM Raceway as the session was ending that vaulted him to the top spot of the 23 cars. Pagenaud’s last of 34 laps on the 1.022-mile oval was clocked at 182.375 mph (20.1738 seconds) in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

“It’s really difficult out there for everyone,” Pagenaud said. “It’s really slippery, it’s really hot, so it’s really hard to get the car right. The Menards car is good. We still have some work to do, but I think it’s just a matter of the track coming in. Everybody is going to get better.”

Josef NewgardenFollowing Pagenaud on the time sheet was two-time ISM Raceway winner Tony Kanaan, with a lap of 182.313 mph (20.1807 seconds) in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. In his 21st season of Indy car racing, Kanaan admitted the track is trickier to drive with the new car for 2018 that features the universal aero kit and less downforce.

“It seems a lot slipperier than the test,” Kanaan said, referring to the two-day open test at ISM Raceway in February. “Of course, the wind and the temperature is a lot hotter than the test so we’re running quite a bit slower. I don’t know what to expect.

“It’s going to be tricky, for sure.”

Sebastien Bourdais, the series points leader after winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11, was third fastest in the incident-free session with a lap of 182.138 mph (20.2001 seconds) in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.

Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi locked down the fourth and fifth spots in the practice. Hunter-Reay turned a lap of 182.010 mph in the No. 28 DHL Honda, with Rossi at 181.881 mph in the No. 27 Honda.

“It’s a lot lower grip from the test, for sure,” Rossi said. “It’s about 25 degrees hotter. It’s hard work out there but I think we rolled off with the car pretty strong, so that’s always a positive. The trick here is as qualifying starts, it starts to get dark. It’s going to be quite a show for the fans at dusk and hopefully we can have a good race car and put it on pole.”

Single-car qualifying, with each car turning two timed laps to determine the pole winner, begins at 8 p.m. ET and airs live on NBCSN, and the NBC Sports app, as well as the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network available on Sirius 214, XM 209 and

“Pole position is important, but it’s not everything,” Pagenaud said. “It’s about having a good car over a long run (in the race). I think we have that. I’m confident and I’m having a blast around here. It’s a fun track.”

A final 60-minute rel="noopener noreferrer" rel="noopener noreferrer" practice under the rel="noopener noreferrer" lights streams live on starting at 11 p.m. Live race coverage of the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix, the second of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, commences at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.