By: Tanner Watkins
May 30, 2019 | 12:00 PM
Few men are as universally-respected in the IndyCar paddock as one Roger Penske. That notion applies to any race weekend on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule – but perhaps even more so when the series visits Belle Isle Park.
Penske, 82, has spent more than a decade working to revive the Detroit date on IndyCar’s calendar and drivers across the series have made their appreciation felt before embarking on the doubleheader weekend that begins with Friday practice.
Among those drivers is Graham Rahal, who swept the doubleheader weekend in 2017 and can recall memories from when his father Bobby raced in Detroit during the early 1990s.
“I remember vividly coming to the race as a kid. It’s always been a great event, but Mr. Penske, Bud Denker and everyone have done a great job,” Rahal noted.
“We came back and it was bumpy, and since then, the paving job they have done is amazing. The restoration of the fountain and everything they have done has transformed the entire place. Between my dad winning the first race on Belle Isle (in 1992) and the almost-perfect weekend I had in 2017, Dad and I have a lot of pride in coming here.”
Another driver with previous Detroit success is Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais. While the Frenchman has never had the opportunity to race for Penske, his appreciation for a job well done in Detroit has been carefully observed from afar over the years.
“Roger and his staff have done a great job with the Detroit Grand Prix,” added Bourdais. “Every year it just gets better – even if the weather doesn’t always cooperate. The atmosphere is fantastic, the improvements to the facility are great, and the staff is courteous and helpful. It’s just a great event. The weekend is unique with two races, which is tough on the team, but it’s the same for everyone.”
And last but not least, Penske’s former series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power understands the importance of performing well at the Detroit Grand Prix.
While winning at Indianapolis is certainly priority number one, making an impression in the Motor City is nearly as important with Penske’s multiple business partners looking on in a Detroit showcase race.
“The month of May in Indianapolis takes a lot out of you, both mentally and physically,” Power said earlier this week. “You can’t let up after the Indy 500, though, because we have another huge weekend in Detroit. Outside of Indy, this is the race we want to win. It means so much to Roger (Penske), the Penske Corporation and the city.”
For the three aforementioned drivers, they represented all but one of the current competitors who have won twice at the Detroit street circuit – Scott Dixon being the other. Since Power is the only Penske-contracted driver in the bunch, it is interesting to see two Honda-powered guys like Bourdais and Rahal give that sort of public props to Penske.
Their words mean a lot in representing what Penske has meant to this race and the revitalization of Belle Isle Park.
While the race has faced some bouts of public uncertainty in recent years surrounding environmental impact and tourist restrictions, one thing cannot be argued: IndyCar would not be in Detroit this weekend if it wasn’t for Roger Penske, and those within the series know how incredible of a job he has done to solidify this event as a staple on the championship calendar.
Header image by Karl Zemlin/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.