Reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon says the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2 will be challenging to drive, but believes the current downforce package should provide a good race for the fans.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s four-time champion said there will be enough variation between cars to create passing opportunities.
However, he warned against increasing downforce, as team owner Michael Andretti had suggested would help improve the show.
“The problem when you do that is it just gets too easy to drive for the first 20 or 30 laps of a stint,” he said. “Then you start running with people you don’t really want to be running with, so you start taking chances.
“And it turns into a mini pack-race. You definitely don’t want that at this place.”
He went on: “Some people are going to say less [downforce] is better, some are going to say more. But I think where we’re at right now is going to make a pretty good race.
“Is it going to be hard to pass? Yep – but I think it’s going to be possible. It’s about picking the right time and managing your car throughout a stint.
“Strategy-wise too, whether you run more trimmed or run maximum downforce, there will be a variance out there.”
Tire compound works with downforce
On the subject of managing the car and tires for a whole stint, Dixon said the Firestone compound was fine and suggested they were a by-product of the downforce package.
“The last run we did, we ran it out, so we did 50 or 55 laps, but we were probably a little lighter on downforce than I’d like to run,” he said.
“The left front’s wearing hard, so the vibration gets pretty bad after about 35 laps, but they seem pretty good.
“It’s a hard tire, but with the speeds we go through on the banking, you have to have that – unless we went down a totally different road of taking a bunch of downforce off and taking a softer tire. But it’s probably too late for that.”
Preferred PIR before
Although Dixon said he was happy to be racing in Phoenix once more, he admitted he preferred the pre-2011 format.
“It’s changed a lot,” said the 35-year-old who is entering his 15th season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “It’s been NASCAR-ified! More banking, smoother.
“This track used to be quite fun because Turn 2 really closed in on itself and that made it hard. Now, once you get through the middle of the turn, you’ve got an easy exit. I’m sure for Cup cars it makes it much easier, but for us… you don’t have to finish the rest of the corner.
“In its previous form, if you had a really good car, you still had to help it finish the rest of the corner but [if you got it right] you could get a really good run on someone down the back straight.
“It’s still a good track – 190mph on a one-mile track is pretty fast! But I prefer the old-school ovals like Milwaukee. The very banked tracks have proven they’re not suited to our cars.”
• Scott Dixon has joined Motorsport.com as an IndyCar columnist. Look for his first story next month, as the IndyCar season opens in St. Petersburg, and Dixon competes in IMSA's 12 Hours of Sebring in the Ford GT.