By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Two weeks removed from an unforgettable Indianapolis 500, it’s back to business for the NTT IndyCar Series. The second and final scheduled doubleheader will be outside the streets of Detroit as the series makes its first visit since 2019.
Although the series most recent winner Helio Castroneves will be at Stafford for the inaugural Camping World SRX Series race weekend. There’s 25 other hungry men eager to have a strong weekend with some needing to regain confidence.
Among those is the man who lost to Castroneves in Alex Palou. He so happens to lead the championship trail after six rounds. In fact, his lead over teammate Scott Dixon is 36 points, but some of the Indy blues lingered the Spaniard.
Following Wednesday’s press conference, Palou was able to re-watch his battle with Castroneves and ready to improve. Perhaps Belle Isle could be the site where he sets his mark as the man to beat this year.
With the pandemic cancelling last year’s running, it’s one of the few remaining tracks Palou hasn’t competed.
“I’ve never been to Detroit. The track looks awesome. Looks really bumpy. I think the layout, it’s super nice as a street course. I’m looking forward,” said Palou.
“I think it’s super good for me that there’s a double race just so I can — I know I have a second chance on Sunday. Having the free practice on Friday, that’s going to help me to slip in and rethink everything that I did for the first qualifying. But yeah, looking forward.
“The Chip Ganassi Racing team had some good results in ’19 and ’18. I’m looking forward to it.”
Palou will have his work cut out for because INDYCAR handed him a six-grid spot penalty for an engine change prior to the Indy 500. Thus, the chaos have already begun before the series even arrive in Detroit.
Another driver who stands out is Santino Ferrucci. Following a stellar sixth in the Indy 500, the third Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver will have another chance to impress. Ferrucci’s next NASCAR Xfinity Series race weekend will be at Pocono Raceway later this month, thus his focus can be on IndyCar.
It’s no secret he’d love to do both disciplines, including a shot of making the third RLL entry full-time in 2022. Time will tell what he’ll end up doing, but another strong performance will help.
Especially, at a track he hasn’t had the greatest record. In four starts, including his debut weekend in 2018, his best outing was 10th in the second race in 2019. His other three were finishes of 19th or worse.
Again, the theme are leaning towards the younger guys to deliver. However, it may favor drivers with experience with 2019 winners Dixon and Josef Newgarden setting the bar. As the first half of 2021 is coming to a close, the quest for the Astor Cup will heat up.
By the Numbers
What: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race Nos. 7 & 8
Where: The Raceway on Belle Isle – Detroit, Michigan (Opened: 1992)
When: Saturday & Sunday June 12-13, 2021
TV/Radio: NBC 2:00 p.m. ET (Saturday) & Noon ET (Sunday) / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211)
Track Size: 2.35-mile street course
Race Length: 70 laps, 164.5 miles (both races)
2019 Race Winners: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started second, 25 laps led) (Race No. 1) & Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started sixth, 44 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
Ryan Hunter-Reay – No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda
“We just need to execute. We need to come out swinging right from the start, roll the car off the truck within the neighborhood on the setup that we think we like. It’s going to be an abbreviated shortened weekend.
“We have two races, but for all intents and purposes when you actually get on track to practice and qualify. It ends up being very, very rushed and very segmented. So you need to make the most of every lap on track.”
Conor Daly – No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
“I think getting back in the car right away is super. That’s what you want. I think a little bit of time to reset, rest the body a little bit. Our body goes through a lot for those three weeks.
“It’s something that I think a good reset kind of basically just — we got back into the gym, started grinding it out again, get a little bit of time to work on things for Detroit. It’s super important. Without a doubt it’s going to be the physically most difficult weekend of the year.
“I think the week off is going to help all the drivers, going to help everyone. Mentally, I’m ready to go again, ready to get back right into it. Ready to rock.”
Last Time at Belle Isle
Wet conditions were scarce in the first race which saw Zach Veach go for a spin during pace laps. Thus, the race turned into a battle against time. Inccidents would continue once the green flag waved after Matheus Leist spin and nearly collected Santino Ferrucci.
As the track conditions slightly improved, Will Power was the man on the move early on. However, Marco Andretti stole some headlines after gingerly driving around the still wet street course on dry tires. He nearly had moments where the wall nearly ended his day, but carried on and finished 15th.
Later, Ed Jones went wide in Turn 7, bringing out the caution. Some guys, including Newgarden, have already pitted. Once much of the field switched from wet to dry compounds, Power’s day went south after his right front tire wasn’t secured. Therefore, it fell off at pit exit and eliminated him from the fight.
Newgarden was now leading while Dixon, who was running in third, crashed before the race reached its final half hour. The rare mistake was a huge blow to the Chip Ganassi Racing competitor.
When the dust settled, Newgarden went on to win the race over pole sitter Alexander Rossi.
A day later, it was pure dry conditions with Newgarden leading the field right out of the gate. Further back, a multi-car crash collected many drivers including Pato O’Ward and Simon Pagenaud. Thus, the action had to be slowed down.
Power’s weekend went from bad to worse as his car lost power, but was able to continue his afternoon. Later on, both Sebastien Bourdais and Spencer Pigot tangled all while Dixon made his scheduled pit stop.
Chaos continued on Lap 33 when Newgarden, Rossi and James Hinchcliffe crashed in Turn 3. Hinchcliffe had just exited pit road, drawing tremendous ire to Newgarden. Not just for that, but also Rossi trying to get by both guys. Didn’t matter, all three had their days ruined.
Dixon would thrust himself as the guy to beat, but a late-race red flag spiced things up. That’s because of his then-teammate Felix Rosenqvist crashing in Turn 1 with six to go.
The race resumed with three laps to go, but it didn’t faze Dixon as he went on to win convincingly over future-teammate Marcus Ericsson and Power. You’ve read that right, Power rallied back to score a podium.
Moral theme from 2019 was be lucky and survive the madness if you want a shot to deliver at Belle Isle.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, June 11
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice (5:00 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, June 12
- NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 1 Qualifying (11:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. – NBCSN and Peacock)
- Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race No. 1 (2:00 p.m. – 70 laps/164.5 miles – NBC)
Sunday, June 13
- NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 2 Qualifying (9:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – NBCSN and Peacock)
- Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race No. 2 (12:00 p.m. – 70 laps/164.5 miles – NBC)