Photo: Walter G. Arce Sr. /ASP Inc.

Friday INDYCAR/IMSA Detroit Happenings

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

DETROIT — The NTT IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship each race this weekend on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit in what is the biggest showcase for General Motors on the U.S. motorsports calendar. The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit (NTT IndyCar Series) and Chevrolet Sports Car Classic (IWSC) play host to special circumstances on both series’ calendars so let’s look at the Indy car calendar first.

Detroit marks the only doubleheader weekend on the calendar for the NTT IndyCar Series with 70 lap races on Saturday and Sunday. This of course follows the Indianapolis 500 and with double points on offer at Indianapolis and normal points on hand in Detroit, that places Detroit as one of the three most pivotal weekends of the season.

Honda might have an edge on street circuits this year, this despite Chevrolet winning at the season-opening race in St. Petersburg. Their drivers led all three practice sessions with Scott Dixon leading the first, Alexander Rossi leading the second and Ryan Hunter-Reay leading the pit stop/warmup session. However, the combined results for all sessions shows that Honda and Chevrolet have the top four split evenly between them.

Rossi went to the media center after practice and revealed that after going around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, working on a street circuit like Belle Isle can be a bit of a challenge.

“I think the biggest thing is mentally getting back to explaining things for me,” said Rossi. “I’m actually struggling right now. You’re so used to kind of a very specific way of thinking, a thought process, right? It’s around the oval and the Speedway.

“You come here, it’s like getting back on the bike from the muscle memory. Going fast isn’t that big of a deal. When the engineers are talking to you, ‘What’s it doing?’ You’re trying to get out of the mindset of the oval car in a way. That for me is the biggest thing today. I feel stupid with words.”

Meanwhile both Rossi and 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden admitted that they briefly looked at last week’s Indianapolis 500.

“Yeah, I watched the last 12 laps, then I shut it off. I knew what happened,” said Newgarden.”

“I watched the start, then shut it off,” said Rossi. “I haven’t watched the whole Indy 500. I don’t have the mental longevity. I roughly know what happened.”

The first race for the Dual in Detroit will air on NBC starting at 3:00 p.m. ET. The second race is Sunday and will also air on NBC at the same time.

Moving to IMSA, this is an important weekend for two particular parties in DPi. Juncos Racing has a new driver in Victor Franzoni and the Brazilian is keen to impress since his deal came together almost at the last minute.

“It was really really tight again,” said Franzoni. “The only race I’ve done this year was Daytona, until now I haven’t driven anything and the last two weeks for Juncos Racing was really crazy with a lot of stuff going on (at Indianapolis). I found some people to help me in Brazil so in the end we could put everything together and make this race happen.

“It wasn’t the best option we had going straight to a street course, but I think it was still a great opportunity for us to learn and start to work together and it’s been good. The track is really difficult and the car is the fastest car I’ve driven in my life but I think we are learning every session that we go out.”

Franzoni is the 2017 Indy Pro 2000 champion, the second step on the Road to Indy. Having won that championship with Juncos Racing, the Brazilian did the 2018 Indy Lights season but not winning the championship limited his options for 2019. He did the Rolex 24 for Via Italia Racing in the GTD class in a Ferrari 458.

Tristan Nunez is also looking for a chance to help Mazda Team Joest to rebound from a double podium finish. For the team, a win is the only acceptable answer after having gone winless in the DPi era so far and are the only manufacturer to still be winless.

The team found an issue in the first practice session and fixed it ahead of the second session so the No. 77 entry had a lot of catching up to do in the second session. However, qualifying third (No. 55 entry) and seventh (No. 77) did not do the team any favors in seeking their first win.

“I think everyone here in this program was disappointed with the 2-3, usually a 2-3 finish you’re excited, you’re pumped up but we’re so close to getting that last piece of the puzzle and getting that win.

“We all want it so bad for Mazda, especially for John (Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North America). I mean, that guy flies so many days out the year to meetings, races, you name it, anything that there’s racing going on he’s there so we really wanted it for him mainly and for the brand.”

Juan Pablo Montoya qualified on pole in his No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX/05 DPi ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves in the No. 7. Montoya brought the No. 6 across the finish line first at the last IMSA race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and is looking to repeat.

GTD was a tossup as Park Place Motorsports was awarded the class pole position following a camber infringement on the pole-winning No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW. However, given that Acura are second and third and Lexus are fourth and fifth, this might be a battle of the high-performance brands of Honda and Toyota, respectively.

The 100 minute race starts Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.