While bucket loads of energy and attention is poured into the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (and rightfully so), there is another race weekend ahead and it needs just as much support to keep INDYCAR racing healthy.
One of the more unique events on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar is upon us as the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix features a two-day doubleheader of action on the beautifully-restored Belle Isle street circuit.
This week, 23 drivers will hit the track for 140 laps of heart-pounding action as the field tries to dethrone Graham Rahal as the king of Detroit. The second-generation driver is the defending race-winner after sweeping both 70-lap races on the street circuit in 2017.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will not only have the defending race-winner on their side with Rahal, but Takuma Sato will visit the track this weekend as the current qualifying lap record holder following his performance with Andretti Autosport last year.
The race weekend will provide an interesting schedule structure, as always, with all practice sessions occurring on Friday. Teams will hit the track for two 45-minute sessions throughout the day on Friday before a 20-minute pit stop practice to close the afternoon.
Qualifying for each race will go off at approximately 10:45 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, preceding the 3:50 p.m. Eastern start times for each of the doubleheader races.
Check out some of the headlines we are following entering race weekend in Detroit.
Power parlays month of May to championship lead
At the conclusion of the rain-soaked Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, Will Power left Birmingham barely hanging onto 10th place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings and even less in the way of confidence.
The Team Penske driver had made an early exit from the 82-lap race when he lost control of the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet and smacked the inside of the pit wall. Despite heading back out to the track after his team made the necessary repairs to finish the race, Power had already set his sights on Indianapolis.
“I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather… just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”
And boy did it ever?
Two weeks later, the Australian native captured the crown jewel of IndyCar racing by winning the Indianapolis 500 this past Sunday.
In a matter of 15 days, Power has vaulted himself from 10th to 1st in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings with the help of his victory at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, a 3rd place qualifying effort from the Indy 500 and of course, cashing in on the double-points haul that the Indianapolis 500 pays.
While the lead is slim – Power holds a two-point advantage over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi – that is a hell of a lot better than what the alternative was at the end of April.
Now the focus shifts to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of Belle Isle, another opportunity to gain twice as many points in one weekend as a normal INDYCAR event pays. Power is a two-time winner in Detroit and understands the change of gear needed to move on from Indy.
“This has been an amazing week so far,” Power said. “When you want something so much (like the Indianapolis 500 win) and it finally comes true, that your hard work has paid off, it is a great feeling.
Now we have to focus on Detroit with the No. 12 Verizon team because I don’t want to experience a hangover from the win when we are leading the points.”
Bourdais looks for continued Detroit success
Starting with last weekend’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais is now on a tour of tracks in which he was unable to participate at during 2017 due to his gruesome injury in last May’s Indy 500 qualifying.
The injury kept Bourdais on the sidelines for races at IMS (Indy 500), the streets of Belle Isle, Texas, Road America, Iowa, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Pocono before he made an incredible return at Gateway Motorsports Park on August 26, just over three months since shattering his pelvis.
In his absence the Frenchman was a spectator for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, a doubleheader weekend event where Bourdais had stolen a win in both 2015 and 2016.
In those years he finished 1st twice, 8th and 14th, respectable results and vast improvements from earlier runs with Dragon Racing and KVSH Racing.
Instead of being a question mark on the calendar, Detroit has become an opportunity for the 39-year old Champ Car master.
“The weekend (in Detroit) is unique with two races, which is tough on the team but it’s the same for everyone,” said Bourdais. “Obviously, I have had some success there winning a race the last two times we were there (missed 2017 due to injury), but I haven’t really qualified well. That is something we have to work on because qualifying is so important on that circuit.”
Still 8th in the championship standings, Bourdais and his No. 18 SealMaster Honda team lost five positions in the points following a perplexing accident in last weekend’s Indianapolis 500. A wiggle in the north chute at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway escorted Bourdais from the race on lap 137.
“Unfortunately, Indy didn’t go the way we wanted,” admitted Bourdais. “But the SealMaster Honda No. 18 team has been pretty strong on the street circuits this year. We just need to keep working hard, keep digging and have two strong performances this weekend if we’re going to get back in the championship race.”
While he mentions necessary improvement to the team’s qualifying pace at Detroit, thus far in 2018 it has not been an issue for Bourdais and engineer Craig Hampson.
The team’s worst qualifying effort of the season was in the first race of the year at St. Petersburg – in a race that they won – and it was backed up by a Verizon P1 Award at Phoenix in the very next event.
Since then, Bourdais has qualified a respectable 9th (Long Beach), 3rd (Barber), 3rd (IndyCar GP) and 5th (Indianapolis 500).
All business aside, the four-time Champ Car champion has been pleased to watch the race grow under the watchful eye of Roger Penske and looks forward to another trip to the Motor City.
“Roger (Penske) and his staff do a great job putting on the Belle Isle races. The atmosphere, the facility, every year it just gets better and better.”
For Bourdais’ sake, he hopes his results continue to do much of the same.
Ferrucci poised for INDYCAR debut in place of Fittipaldi
While Dale Coyne Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi continues to recover from leg fractures sustained in a May accident at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Formula One reserve driver Santino Ferrucci will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend in place of the Brazilian rookie.
As the agreement was announced prior to Zachary Claman De Melo’s solid run in the Indianapolis 500, Ferrucci joins the fray and will be the third different driver to pilot the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for DCR this season.
Turning 20 years old today, Ferrucci has spent the last three years as a test driver for Haas F1. The past two seasons he has been a regular in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, though he has not placed any higher than 6th in an F2 race driving for Trident.
Despite those finishes, the Woodbury, Connecticut native feels prepared for the opportunity ahead of him this weekend.
“Coming from F2 into INDYCAR, I’d say my race craft is going to be OK,” Ferrucci said on May 18. “Racing in Europe is very hard, just as it is in INDYCAR. There’s a lot of experienced drivers in both fields, so the feeling I will hope to be the same.”
Ferrucci has not won a major open-wheel race since 2015 when he took victory at Manfeild: Circuit Chris Amon in New Zealand. That year he placed 3rd in the Toyota Racing Series championship behind current Williams F1 driver Lance Stroll and French prospect Brandon Maïsano.
Dixon remains championship caliber despite slow start
While it hasn’t been a perfect start to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship for Scott Dixon, with all things considered it has been good enough.
Following Dixon’s podium finish in the Indianapolis 500 this past weekend (and his 11th career top-10 at the Indy 500), the New Zealand native has kept himself firmly in the championship hunt despite the uphill climb Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 9 PNC Bank team has faced.
Currently Dixon is 4th in the points battle, just 25 marks off of Indy 500 winner and new points leader Will Power.
Remarkably, Dixon has not lead a lap thus far in the 2018 IndyCar campaign. You would have to go all the way back to the 2005 season to find a start to the year where Dixon had yet to lead a lap though six races.
On Sunday, Dixon was the only driver that placed within the top-10 finishers that did not lead a lap. He is also the only driver in the top-10 in points that has yet to lead a lap.
The 37-year-old will look to change that trend with a strong showing in this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, where he and 22 other entrants will get their shot at two races in two days.
“Detroit is always a big challenge. It’s physical, it’s mentally tough on the drivers, and you have to get everything right to get your car handling correctly there,” Dixon notes. “You focus on the month of May for over three weeks in Indianapolis and then you have to get back to the championship mindset immediately facing you at Detroit. And on top of that, it’s the only doubleheader of the season.
“We’ll be ready to go in the PNC Bank car this weekend and hopefully have another good points weekend with the No. 9 team.”
Fast Facts for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix
Race Weekend: Friday, June 1 – Sunday, June 3
Track: Raceway at Belle Isle Park, a 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street course (clockwise)
Race Distance: 70 laps / 164.5 miles (both races)
Push-to-Pass Parameters: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 15 seconds per activation. (for each race)
Firestone Tire Allotment: Nine sets primary, four sets alternate (weekend). Teams must use one new set of primary and alternate tires in each race.
Event Website: http://www.DetroitGP.com
INDYCAR Website: www.IndyCar.com
2017 Race Winner: Race 1: Graham Rahal (No. 15 SoldierStrong / TurnsForTroops.com Honda); Race 2: Graham Rahal (No. 15 SoldierStrong / TurnsForTroops.com Honda)
2017 Verizon P1 Award Winners: Race 1: Graham Rahal (No. 15 SoldierStrong / TurnsForTroops.com Honda) 1:13.9681, 114.374 mph; Race 2: Takuma Sato, (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda) 1:13.6732, 114.831 mph.
Qualifying Lap Record: Takuma Sato, 1:13.6732, 114.831 mph, June 4, 2017
ABC Race Broadcasts: Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3 (3:30 p.m. ET)
Allen Bestwick is the lead announcer for ABC broadcasts alongside analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. Rick DeBruhl and Jon Beekhuis are the pit reporters.
Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Anders Krohn with Jake Query and Nick Yeoman in the turns. All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice and qualifying sessions are available on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.
At-track schedule (all times Eastern)
Friday, June 1
11:20 a.m. -12:05 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1
3:10 – 3:55 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2
4 – 4:20 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice
Saturday, June 2
10:55-11:25 a.m. – Race 1 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), IndyCar.com (live)
3:03 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit #1 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)
Sunday, June 3
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Race 2 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), IndyCar.com (live)
2:59 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit #2 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)
Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media.