Oval rookies looking for mileage, not results, at ISM Raceway

IndyCar’s four oval rookies make their debuts this weekend at ISM Raceway. But mileage, not results, are their top priority at the Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix.

Robert Wickens, Pietro Fittipaldi, Matt Leist and Kyle Kaiser take to the track this Saturday night in what will be their first IndyCar oval race. All four tested at the track pre-season with Brazilians Leist and Fittipaldi impressing.

Fittipaldi aims to complete his first IndyCar race

Dale Coyne’s Fittipaldi is realistic about his chances and is clear on his primary objective: “It’s going to be my first race on an oval with the IndyCar and I’m a rookie so I’m going to try and do as many laps as I can, learn as much as I can.”

Pietro Fittipaldi IndyCar Dale Coyne Racing
Pietro Fittipaldi turned his first IndyCar oval laps at ISM Raceway. (Image: IndyCar/Skibinski)

At 250 laps long and with drivers pulling high G-forces in corners 1 and 3, Fittipaldi is aware of the physical challenge ahead of him: “The races are a lot longer than what I’m used to, so that is going to be new for me.”

Leist: “Phoenix will be one of the hardest races”

Fittipaldi’s compatriot Matt Leist expects a demanding race and is under no illusions about the challenge presented by the tricky 1.022 mile oval in Avondale, Arizona.

“Phoenix will be one of the hardest races for me because it’ll be my first race (on an oval) in an Indy car and also my first night race in a car ever” explained the 19-year old rookie.

Pietro Fittpaldi IndyCar Phoenix Dale Coyne
Pietro Fittipaldi during pre-season testing at ISM Raceway. (Image: IndyCar/Owens)

“I’ve done a few go-kart races at night but never a car race”, concluded Leist who will pilot the #4 ABC Supply Chevrolet this weekend. Despite his lack of oval and night racing experience, Leist is  looking forward to the opportunity with quiet confidence: “I’m pretty excited. With all the hard work we’ve been doing in the offseason, I think we’re in good shape for the race.”

Wickens hoping for an incident-free race

Following a spectacular IndyCar debut in St Petersburg last month, Robert Wickens is pragmatic about his own expectations: “I just want to make it through my first oval race incident free, hopefully, complete every lap and learn.”

“I don’t really know what to expect; we’ll just take it one session at a time”, continued the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver.

Wickens crashed out of the lead of the opening race of the 2018 season following contact with Andretti Autosports’ Alexander Rossi. But the Canadian is ready to move on to his oval debut in Phoenix: “After my first IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, it obviously didn’t go quite as planned, but there are still a lot of positives to take away from it.”

Robert Wickens Honda IndyCar St Petersburg
Robert Wickens leads for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at St Petersburg. (Image: IndyCar/Skibinski)

Fond memories and anticipation for Kaiser

Reigning IndyLights champion Kyle Kaiser is the fourth member of the unofficial ‘oval rookie’ club debuting this weekend. Driving for IndyCar new boys Juncos Racing, Kaiser is looking forward to heading back to Phoenix.

“This track will always be a special place for me since I got my first win in the IndyLights series in 2016, so I couldn’t think of a better place to have my first race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

After sitting out the season opening race in St Petersburg as teammate Rene Binder took over driving duties, the American is eager to get more miles under his belt: “I’m just looking forward to getting back in the car. The team and I have been working hard and making great progress since our first test day in Phoenix.”


Qualifying for the Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix will run April 6 from 8pm (ET) with a live telecast on NBCSCN.

The 250-lap, 255.5 mile race will be broadcast live on NBCSN from 9pm (ET) on April 7.

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