Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand believes that IndyCar’s Phoenix Grand Prix on April 29 should feature plenty of action due to the teams experimenting with different setups.
Hildebrand, who set the fastest speed in the two-day test at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this month, said he expects there will be passing, as the 1.022-mile track “sort of encourages errors” in both setup and driving.
He told Motorsport.com: “I think the test saw people try a lot of different setups and with such a restricted amount of tires [just six sets over 12 hours of running] I’m pretty sure people didn’t get through everything they wanted to do.
“So when we come back in April for practice, there’s still going to be a lot of experimenting, I think. Two months on, the track’s going to feel different – different weather, USAC cars running there that weekend. When you get a bunch of unknowns, things start to happen. I mean, there were accidents even in the test as people tried different stuff.
“In race setup, you want as much mechanical grip as you can so you’re not towing around a serious amount of drag. I think Josef [Newgarden] and Helio [Castroneves] looked like they were good and could follow each other quite closely. And that’s what a lot of this is about – being able to do that without piling on a ton of downforce because you’ve got good mechanical grip. But getting nearer that edge is obviously going to make the car less forgiving.
“So I think the racing is going to be difficult but good. It’s not a place where you’re going to get a lot of totally legit, full-on passing, but you’ll see a lot of guys getting jammed up, and if you’re a guy who’s able to look ahead, keep up the momentum and work through a pack of cars getting jammed, that’s going to go a long way.
“I saw a lot of cars that were getting really loose in Turns 1 and 2 when they got close to other guys, and that was costing them all down the back straight which gave you a major run on them. I actually came out of 2 at one point and had to get hard on the brakes to avoid plowing a car that had gotten loose in front of me.”
Asked if his car had handled well in traffic, Hildebrand said: “We weren’t all the way there – we were in the middle of a race run when I had my issue at the end [clipping Will Power’s Penske, sending the ECR-Chevrolet into the wall].
“It wasn’t quite good enough in a traffic situation, but we were definitely getting closer. If we get our stuff together and head in the right direction during practice, I feel we should be very strong.”