By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
For 30 years, Belle Isle Park has been the site of the Detroit Grand Prix and a cornerstone of the INDYCAR calendar.
Whether it’s known as the site of the climatic scene from the dreadful 2001 film Driven or Marco Andretti utilizing his skills in the wets while running a set of dry Firestone tires in 2019, Belle Isle has had memorable moments.
It’s even the site of Helio Castroneves’ maiden CART win in 2000 where he debuted climbing the fence after each victory. Thus, the “Spider-Man” nickname was born.
This Sunday’s running of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will just be a single race after years of being a doubleheader. It’ll also be the last held in Belle Isle as INDYCAR will head back to the streets of Detroit in 2023, where Formula One and CART hosted races from 1982-1991.
Therefore, it’ll be the last time that a recent tradition will happen for the race winner. That being jumping into the fountain after a hard fought race.
Now a week removed from the 106th Indianapolis 500, several news have spread the INDYCAR paddock. Notably, one pertaining this weekend and another focusing on the 2023 campaign.
One full-time racer won’t partake in the Belle Isle swan song and that’s Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott. Following a hard crash at Indy, he wasn’t medically cleared to race. Instead, the pilot of the No. 77 Chevrolet will be “Super Sub” Santino Ferrucci, whose fresh off his fourth top-10 Indy 500 result in as many races.
It’ll be the second time Ferrucci will substitute a driver with the previous being at Texas when he filled in for Jack Harvey, who had a practice crash one day prior to the green flag. In that effort, Ferrucci finished ninth.
“Although I am happy to be back in the car, it’s unfortunate for Callum under the circumstances,” said Ferrucci in a press release. “I hope his hand heals really quickly and he is back on track soon. I’m just here to help with the team and see if we can get them a really good result and bring in some different knowledge from my experience in Detroit.
“I am looking forward to having some fun and carrying the momentum I have from Indy. I can’t thank the guys over at Juncos Hollinger enough with in trusting me this weekend and hopefully it goes really smoothly.”
Ilott’s rookie rival Kyle Kirkwood also made the news after being announced as Alexander Rossi’s replacement at Andretti Autosport next year. To no one’s surprise, Rossi will drive for Arrow McLaren SP, joining Pato O’Ward who had recently signed a contract extension.
For now, Kirkwood’s excitement to be back with the camp he won the Indy Lights title is there but the focus remains clear — continuing to deliver solid efforts for A.J. Foyt Racing.
“I have worked extremely hard this season and will continue to work harder every day for the A.J. Foyt team,” said Kirkwood. “I want to thank the entire team at A.J. Foyt Racing for giving me the opportunity to compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The group on the No. 14 car have been incredible and I am beyond grateful to them for all the amazing experiences we have been able to share together so far this season.”
The seventh round of the championship trail also serves as the site where last Sunday’s main protagonists scored key victories. Top-two finishers of the Indy 500 Marcus Ericsson and Pato O’Ward are poised to continue their momentum and go for a legitimate title push.
Especially Ericsson, who took over the championship lead from Will Power following his Indy 500 victory. His smile was more apparent because winning twice since Belle Isle meant the drought won’t have to last as long as it did prior to last June.
“(Last year) was my first win in, like, eight years I think,” said Ericsson last Sunday. “Good I didn’t have to wait another eight years for the next one.”
The field will look to write one last memorable chapter in Belle Isle as they have 70 laps to navigate around the temporary street course.
By the Numbers
What: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 7 of 17
Where: The Raceway on Belle Isle – Detroit, Michigan (Opened: 1992)
When: Sunday, June 5
TV/Radio: USA Network 3:00 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 160)
Track Size: 2.35-mile temporary street circuit
Race Length: 70 laps, 164.5 miles
2021 Race Winners: Marcus Ericsson – No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started 15th, five laps led) (Race No. 1) & Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet (Started 16th, three laps led) (Race No. 2)
Track Qualifying Record: Takuma Sato – No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:13.6732, 114.831 mph – June 4, 2017)
From the Driver’s Seat
Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
“I love Detroit. I think we’ve had a great month (at Indianapolis). Very, very, very good result for us to get our championship in good position again. I’m excited to go. Yeah, for the rest of the championship.”
Last Time in Belle Isle
Throughout the doubleheader, Team Penske ruled the competition until the absolute bitter end.
In Race No. 1, it was Will Power’s race to lose but two red flags marred the competition. The first being a horrific crash involving Felix Rosenqvist, who couldn’t compete for the next two races. The other being Romain Grosjean crashing late in the race, which brought the field back to pit road again.
The latter stoppage played a major role in Power losing the race due to having problems with his ECU and couldn’t get his car going. Therefore, the race was now at the hands of Marcus Ericsson, who was looking for his first major auto racing win in eight years.
Ericsson got the job done and became the latest winner from CGR. But for the Swede, it was a surreal moment.
“Felt like we had some more pace, but just couldn’t find a way by. Then, the last red flag. First it was a bit frustrating, but then I thought that this is our opportunity to win this race,” said Ericsson.
“Really fired up to try to go for it, try to get by Will. I felt like we were a bit stronger in the beginning of stints. I thought we could have a chance to get by him on the restart towards the end there.
“Unfortunately he had that problem, which I feel bad for him. He did a great job today. But we’ve had some bad luck these last couple years. I felt like it was about time we had some good luck, so I’ll take it,” Ericsson continued.
“Just had to finish it off with clean restart and clean laps. I think I did a really good restart, then just control it till the end.
“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been working very hard for this. The team has been working very hard, believing in me. It just feels great.”
In Race No. 2, Oliver Askew filled in for Rosenqvist while another Penske driver had the race in control. That being Josef Newgarden who had led every single lap.
However, another late-race caution by Grosjean bunched the field up. It allowed Pato O’Ward to chase down Newgarden and the two battled wheel-to-wheel with three to go. Both kept from crashing in the thrilling duel, but the advantage went to O’Ward who went on to score his second career win.
Like Ericsson, O’Ward had to work from deep in the field to achieve their wins in Belle Isle.
“I knew I had a great car. I made a stupid mistake in qualifying, didn’t transfer. I started in the back, so I knew it was going to be tough,” said O’Ward.
“I knew I had to fight my way literally to the front because I remember after the last pit stop Taylor was like, okay, this is the order, everybody has one pit stop, everybody is reset, so it’s like, well, we’re staying here unless we have a yellow and I can ship it.
“So yellow came out, and that’s where I — I have a lot of faith in myself whenever the car is wiggling around. I know I’m very strong on cold tires, so I took advantage of it, got by people and got her done.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, June 3
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, June 4
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. – Peacock)
- Indy Lights Race No. 1 (11:20 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (12:35 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, June 5
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. – Peacock)
- Indy Lights Race No. 2 (12:00 p.m. to 1:20 p.m. – Peacock)
- Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – USA Network)