Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet and a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, became the “Speed King” at Phoenix International Raceway last year when he won the Phoenix Grand Prix's pole position by setting a new track record lap speed of 192.631 mph and a two-lap average of 192.324.
During the two-day open track testing session, Castroneves was asked to officially break ground on the "Phoenix Raceway Project powered by DC Solar," a $178 million modernization of the facility which includes enhanced amenities for fans, teams, and sponsors.
The modernization will reposition the start/finish line to Turn 2 in the 1-mile oval's famous dogleg while other upgrades include a completely redesigned infield featuring a first-of-its-kind fan zone, greater fan access to victory circle and a new pedestrian tunnel connecting the infield to new seating areas featuring in-seat wifi connectivity.
"That was something," said Castroneves who used an excavator to do the honors of digging up the first shovelful of dirt. "It was the first time I was in one of those machines. Normally I'm told not to break things. This is the first time they are telling me to actually break things."
He was joined for the ceremony by Bryan Sperber, the Phoenix Raceway president, and Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations,
"When our project is completed, we will have a venue that delivers amazing fan experiences to go along with our reputation for great racing action," said Sperber. "By shifting the start/finish line to Phoenix Raceway's famed dogleg, fans will be perfectly positioned to watch one of the most exciting turns in motorsports. We are confident this move will put racing in Arizona in a whole new and exciting light."
Alexander Rossi, the winner of the 2016 Indianapolis 500, was in attendance and said he thinks repositioning the start/finish will change the end of the race "because we don't really use the dogleg (for overtaking), it won't have that big of an impact on restarts, I think. But at the end of the race, if you have two guys fighting for the win, coming side by side into Turn 1, it will be an event, no doubt.”
"I think it's very cool that the fans will be so close to that and it's unlike any other track and anytime you can get the fan experience higher and anytime we can engage the fans and be with them, it's only a positive for everyone," Rossi added. "It's better for us, it's better for the track, it's better for the sport.”
Rossi added the reposition will open up the winner's circle to better share the normally exclusive environment with the fans who spent the race cheering on the drivers, “that is super positive and something I look forward to."
The project will not be completed until November 2018, and will not be in place for this year's Phoenix Grand Prix weekend, set for April 28-29, the fourth race on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
Written by Nicole Ellan James