By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit for the Verizon IndyCar Series is halfway down with KVSH Racing and Sebastien Bourdais taking a big win in Race One. Let’s take a look at some of the talking points coming out of Saturday.
1 ) Is Detroit really the place to be after Indianapolis?
The Verizon IndyCar Series is coming off of the biggest Indianapolis 500 in the League’s history and heads straight to Detroit, a city that has been suffering from population loss, urban decay, high crime rates and municipal bankruptcy for the better part of four decades.
Now, city decline aside, is a double-header street race really the best way to capitalize on the momentum and press coverage generated by the Indianapolis 500? Just look at the fact that the series tends to quickly fade out of the popular consciousness in June, and four years of the Belle Isle Grand Prix have done nothing to stop it.
I love road racing, and I understand it very well. I will concede however, that it can sometimes become confusing, even for a guy that has been watching for almost 40 years. When I envision this through the eyes of a new fan, and cars begin pitting as early as the third lap to go off-sequence, this has the potential to absolutely confuse the heck out of someone, leaving them bewildered and disillusioned.
For many years, in the pre-split era, the Milwaukee Mile was the traditional stop for the first weekend in June. The one mile oval would not only pack the grandstands, but produce a great race. Sadly, that track has seen a steady decline since the split and all attempts to re-generate fan interest in that market have failed miserably.
The Texas Motor Speedway, with their powerful marketing machine, actually made for a nice stop after Indy before Detroit was added back to the calendar in 2012. Because Roger Penske promotes the race on Belle Isle, the Dual in Detroit takes that coveted date. However, I can’t help but think that Texas, or (dare I day it?) a return to Michigan’s 2.0 mile oval might continue the momentum of Indy is a more satisfactory fashion than what we have right now.
2 ) Conor Daly will win sooner rather than later
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, Conor Daly, found himself leading an IndyCar race for the third time this season, and his efforts were rewarded with a second-place finish. Were it not for a quick stop for fuel late in the going, he may have taken his first series victory on Saturday.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, what impresses me the most about this young man is not the fact that he is leading, but the poise and maturity that he displays while at the front of the field. Daly remains absolutely focused, hits all of his marks and executes team strategy to a tee. The podium is a shot in the arm for the team that is still rebounding from a miserable Indianapolis 500 where contact with Mikhael Aleshin ended their day early.
Daly is praised by his engineers and team owner, Dale Coyne, for his feedback and I fully expect to see Conor Daly on the top step of the podium before the season is over.
3 ) The sun shines on Bourdais once again
With a fine win on Saturday, Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais has now posted at least one victory in each of his three seasons with the KVSH Racing Team. A decade ago, Bourdais was the man to beat, posting 31 wins and being crowned champion in each of the four seasons that the ChampCar Series was sanctioned by OWRS, inc. Admittedly, he was with the top team, in the best car, against a seriously diluted field after the Penske’s and Ganassi’s of the world defected to the Indy Racing League.
A failed foray into Formula One left him humbled, and he became a journeyman driver before entering the IndyCar Series in 2011. I can imagine that the wins he has collected over the past three seasons must be sweeter than the ones that came so easily during his dominant run in ChampCar, based on the underdog status.
The entire KVSH team has experienced an uphill battle in this year, losing key engineering personnel and sponsor Mistic in the off-season. Scaling their 2016 effort down to one car for Bourdais, Saturday’s win is a huge boost for the team.
Bourdais is quiet and reserved and doesn’t make a lot of splash. However, on those days that the team is on, you had better watch out. Milwaukee 2015, where he stomped the field, comes to mind.
The battle back from near-obscurity has done nothing to diminish his focus, and his talent is unquestionable. For this reason, I actually find Bourdais to be quite a remarkable human being. While I don’t believe that a top-tier ride or another Championship is in his immediate future, I fully expect Bourdais to continue to play spoiler and collect race wins.
4 ) Mixed bag for Team Penske
After a disappointing Indianapolis 500, Team Penske swept the first three qualifying positions in Detroit, led by season points leader Simon Pagenaud. With a dominating win in mind, the Penske cars ran 1-2-3-4 at one point during the race. By the end of the day, all four team cars failed to deliver a win.
Juan Pablo Montoya, after leading twice for 13 laps, lead the team with a third place finish, well behind Bourdais and Daly. Helio Castroneves had somewhat of a quiet day coming home fifth. In doing so, the Brazilian driver overtook Scott Dixon for second in the season standings. Dixon’s race ended early after gearbox troubles put him out.
Points-leader Pagenaud led a race high 35 laps, but a failed race strategy left him in 13th place after running out of fuel on the final lap. 2014 season champ Will Power was having a good run until sloppy pit work caused him to lose a wheel nut on his pit-out lap. Power finished 20th, and finds himself mired in the 12th position in points.
5 ) Andretti Autosport grounded
The Andretti Autosport Team has indeed had their struggles lately, but a highly productive Month of May saw a 1-2 finish for the team at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Rookie driver, Alexander Rossi, led Carlos Munoz over the yard of bricks, and now the team returns to the site of their last 1-2 finish. In 2015, Carlos Munoz took his maiden series victory at Belle Isle over Marco Andretti in race one of the dual.
Munoz made it into the Fast Nine Shootout for qualifying, as Marco Andretti found himself quite upset with Ryan Hunter-Reay after round one qualifying.
“My teammate f***ed me,” said Andretti, after getting stacked up behind Hunter-Reay before he could lay down a fast lap. The 2012 champion, Hunter-Reay, threw the blame on Sebastien Bourdais for creating the accordion effect that saw both Andretti Autosport drivers locked out of the top 12.
In the race, Munoz finished an eventual sixth, while Hunter-Reay charged from 15th on the grid to a 7th place finish. Marco Andretti had a miserable run, struggling with handling, and finishing a lap down in 16th.
In the meantime Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, steered clear of the drama and ran a clean race, finishing 10th after starting 17th.