DETROIT – There’s a new car for Verizon IndyCar Series competition in 2018, but it’s still the same old challenging track at Belle Isle Park. And the drivers love it.
Ryan Hunter-Reay led practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street course noted for its concrete surface and constant bumps. Friday’s practices are the only scheduled for the doubleheader race weekend, with qualifying and races scheduled each of the next two days.
With all 23 entries driving cars equipped with the universal aero kit that debuted at the start of the season for the first time in Detroit, Hunter-Reay posted the top practice lap in the last of two 45-minute sessions, at 1 minute, 16.3598 seconds (110.791 mph).
“Oh, it’s certainly busy out there, I can tell you that,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion driving the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport. “I don’t think anybody would be 100 percent satisfied with the balance that they have, but that’s the choice. It’s a lot of fun around here. You really have to wheel the car to get it done.”
All four Andretti Autosport cars finished in the top 10 in the practice sessions. Following Hunter-Reay on the combined timesheet were teammates Marco Andretti in fifth, Alexander Rossi in eighth and Zach Veach in 10th.
“Hats off to the Andretti Autosport team,” said Hunter-Reay, whose best finish in 13 Belle Isle starts was second place in 2013 (Race 1). “We came here with a much better car this year. I was really happy with the balance, even to start out with. The car was basically doing the fundamentals that I needed it to do, the front was working well, and from there we just kept chipping away at it.”
Scott Dixon was second on the day with a lap of 1:16.3667 (110.781 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The 2012 Belle Isle winner said he also enjoys racing on the rough track surface, even with the new car that generates significantly less downforce and makes it even more difficult to negotiate the bumps.
“I find this place always tricky, no matter what,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion who is fourth in the current standings after six races. “Any generation of car that I’ve been in, and even if you go back to the previous Dallara, it’s always difficult around here. It’s very bumpy, it’s very physical, it’s very hard to get right, but I think that’s what makes it so much fun, too.”
James Hinchcliffe, who missed last week’s Indianapolis 500 when he was bumped from the field in qualifying, was third overall in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda. Brake issues limited the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers to 11 laps in the first practice, but he was much happier in the afternoon.
“Even on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) before I went to the reds (Firestone alternate tires), the car got miles better, really just sorted it out and the track came alive,” Hinchcliffe said. “Then we put the reds on and managed to get a solid time out of it.”
Will Power, who won the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil five days earlier and is the points leader, was 12th on the speed chart (1:16.8647). Graham Rahal, who won both races of the Detroit weekend a year ago, was sixth (1:16.7098).
Qualifying for the first race of the weekend – with the field split into two groups that receive 12 minutes of track time each – starts at 10:55 a.m. ET Saturday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). The 70-lap race airs live at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Qualifying for Race 2 is set for 10:45 a.m. Sunday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with race coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. that day on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.