April 01, 2016

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) Takuma Sato lost control coming out of Turn 1 and spun his car into the wall, obliterating the back end. A few minutes later, James Hinchcliffe lost his car in the same spot and had the same result.

A half hour into the first practice session at Phoenix International Raceway and all the concerns about excessive speed at the one-mile oval were already being realized.

Just wait until they start racing Saturday night.

''For us to be going around Phoenix in 19 seconds pulling 6G is ridiculous,'' Team Penske owner Roger Penske said. ''If something happens, there's no human being who could catch it.''

IndyCar returns to Phoenix this weekend for the first time since 2005. The track was repaved two years ago and the apron coming out of Turn 2 was widened, so it's quite different from the last open-wheel race in the desert. The drivers had a test in February to prepare and everything was fast - close to dangerously fast.

Helio Castroneves eclipsed 190 mph to break the 20-year-old IndyCar track record by 7 mph, and 18 of the 21 drivers bettered the record set by Arie Luyendyk. Castroneves was nearly 50 mph better than the NASCAR record set by Jimmie Johnson last year and his lap of 19.2735 seconds was six seconds faster than Johnson's.

Speeds already started pushing the needle forward on Friday.

Ed Carpenter hit 192.400 mph to break the track record in the opening practice session and 16 drivers went faster than Luyendyk's record before the session was over.

Six more drivers eclipsed the record in qualifying, including Juan Pablo Montoya on each of his two runs. Castroneves had the best run, hitting 192.324 mph.

It could get even faster for this weekend's 250-mile race. The testing and qualifying were done during the day, when the track had less grip. Saturday's race will be at night, meaning the track will be cooler, the grip better and the speeds up.

With little room to pass, it figures to be an exciting night for the fans, a grueling one for the drivers.

''For those that haven't had the opportunity to see our cars going about 19 seconds a lap, it will be really cool to see how fast we're going through the corner,'' Castroneves said. ''I feel in the race there will be a lot of battles, so it will be very interesting.''

With higher speeds, the drivers will have little time to save their cars if they started to losing control.

The cars go much faster at superspeedways - more than 220 mph - because there's more room to ramp up the speed. But hitting 190 mph at a short track may actually give them less reaction time, as Sato and Hinchcliffe - who were both OK - found out during their opening practice sessions.

''As soon as you feel it, it's almost too late,'' Hinchcliffe said. ''It all happens too quick.''

It's not just the cars the drivers and their teams are worried about.

With so much speed and downforce, the drivers will pull a sustained 5Gs through the corners, possibly up to 6Gs. That will make Phoenix one of the most demanding races on the circuit in every way.

''Physically, this will be the most demanding race of the year, I believe,'' Letterman Rahal Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal said.

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