Grandstands were packed and the grid was set at 3:50 p.m. Sunday afternoon for the start of the second Detroit race around Belle Isle.
Instead, the field took another 28 minutes to get to the green flag.
The pace car, driven by General Motors vice president Mark Reuss spun as it tried to lead the pack off the grid. The car made contact with the wall between Turn 1 and Turn 2. Only pole sitter Alexander Rossi made it past the incident.
All other cars ended up stuck behind the carnage.
The field shut down their engines, which meant not only did the track need to be cleaned up and the damaged pace car removed, but each IndyCar needed to be re-fired and sent around to form the grid.
The backup pace car, piloted by Oriol Servia, also needed to be fitted with a transponder before it could take on its duties.
“There’s all kinds of blind corners and bumps,” Servia said before the race got underway. “It’s not as easy as it looks from your couches.”
While under red flag conditions, teams were allowed to inspect tires for damage. They could make no other adjustments to the cars. This was a problem for Rene Binder, who stalled behind the field during the pre-race incident. The team opted to make repairs and suffered a two-lap penalty as a result.
By the time the Detroit GP actually went green, it was 4:18 p.m. and officials, facing running out of broadcast window time, committed to the full 70 laps. The race ended with less than 10 minutes to spare before the broadcast time ended.
The green flag didn’t last long. After the green flag waved, Spencer Pigot spun into a wall at the exit of Turn 5 and promptly stalled. Sebastien Bourdais, trying to avoid Pigot, ended up with a flat tire. The race went green again after five laps of cleanup.
The remainder of the second Dual stayed green. Lap 22 saw debris scatter the track after Santino Ferrucci spun and tapped the curb. With extensive front end damage, Ferrucci made it back to pit road to end his day.
“I’m just upset, being a rookie, that I made a rookie mistake coming out of the pits and spinning the car,” Ferrucci said after the race.
Avoiding Ferrucci’s spin, Pigot took more damage and ended his race on Lap 26. Bourdais found trouble on Lap 39, kicking up first as he spun in Turn 2. Bourdais continued around the track, but was significantly off the pace.
Rossi’s pole placement worked well for him. He pulled ahead for most of the race. With less than ten laps to go, Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared on the scene. Hunter-Reay closed the gap from 16 seconds to less than six-tenths of a second in just a handful of laps.
Rossi might have been able to hold him off, but locked up the brakes on Lap 65 and slid into the Turn 3 runoff. Will Power and Ed Jones, running behind Hunter-Reay couldn’t catch the new leader. They rounded out the podium for Detroit’s second race.
“That was going to be a heck of a fight at the end, but good thing we pressured him (Rossi) into it and we’re here in victory lane,” said Hunter-Reay. “It’s awesome – this car deserves to be where it is right now. That was a heck of a car, heck of a strategy, great in the pit lane and I drove my rear end off.”
The future of the Detroit GP
Race chairman Bud Decker and Detroit mayor Mike Duggan both talked about IndyCar returning to the Belle Isle street circuit. 2018 was the final year of the current contract, and the race has been hotly protested in the last few years.
In his pre-race comments, Duggan thanked Roger Penske for bringing the race back to Belle Isle next year.
No announcement had been made from Penske. After the race, Decker said he would be applying for the necessary permits to bring the race – and the doubleheader format – back for 2019.