Five Things To Watch at Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix

Updated: 

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES gets back to the business of speed this week with the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader Saturday and Sunday, the marquee races of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

Twenty-five car-and-driver combinations will return to the 14-turn, 2.35-mile street course with Friday’s 75-minute practice (5 p.m. ET on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock Premium). The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit features 70-lap races Saturday (2 p.m. ET) and Sunday (noon), with NBC having the television broadcasts and the INDYCAR Radio Network feeding its affiliates, SiriusXM, INDYCAR.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.

Competitors certainly will be raring to go as it will have been 12 days since the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Helio Castroneves, who won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 30 and is a three-time Detroit race winner, is not one of the competitors as this is not one of the six races he is scheduled to drive for Meyer Shank Racing this season. But this field is nonetheless stacked, with seven drivers who have won the event, including four with multiple wins. Reigning series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda) has won three times, led by the most recent race in 2019. The 2020 event was not held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fans will return en masse, and all tickets for Friday’s Comerica Bank Free Prix Day have been claimed. A limited number of reserved grandstand tickets are available for Saturday and Sunday. Indy Lights will stage 50-minute races each weekend day.

As is typically the case following the “500,” there are storylines aplenty. Consider these five:

Back to a Road-Racing Field

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean (No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR) return after skipping Indy. Tony Kanaan of the Ganassi team and rookie Pietro Fittipaldi of the Coyne team drove their cars at IMS, finishing 10th and 25th, respectively.

Santino Ferrucci, who finished sixth in the “500” for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, gets the opportunity to continue his INDYCAR season by driving the team’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda. Ferrucci had a top-10 Detroit finish in one of the 2019 races as a series rookie.

The rest of this field is a continuation of the season-long entry list. Second-year driver Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) is the series leader by 36 points over Dixon, his teammate. However, Palou will be serving a six-position grid penalty in this weekend’s first race for an unapproved engine change following the Carb Day practice at IMS. This also will be Palou’s first race at the circuit, so he will need to get acclimated quickly.

“I’ve been preparing a lot on the sim – just for myself, not setup-related,” Palou said. “I’ve been doing it at home just because it’s super important on a street course to really know the bumps, to really get some references.”

Different Races, Different Winners

This remains one of the most balanced fields in history, with six drivers representing five teams winning the season’s first six races. The last time the series opened with seven different winners was in 2017, and before that it happened in 1958 and 2000.

There is a reasonably good chance of there being a first-time season winner as Team Penske has not won yet. Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet) has two Detroit wins while Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) are also former Detroit race winners. Newgarden won the opening race of the 2019 weekend at Belle Isle Park while Pagenaud won for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2013.

Four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) is a two-time Detroit winner – both wins came with Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan – and Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) is the only INDYCAR driver to have swept a Detroit weekend (in 2017). Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) is the other former Detroit winner in this field. He won in 2018.

Chevrolet wants to fare better on its home turf as Honda-powered cars have won five of the past six NTT P1 Awards and races. Bourdais said “Bowtie” teams put extra emphasis on this event.

“There’s Indy and there’s Detroit – that’s the list of priorities,” he said. “For sure, everybody gets the message.”

Who Most Needs a Win?

Quite simply, many drivers do, and the list begins with former series champions Power (2014) and Hunter-Reay (2012) who are 12th and 17th, respectively, in the standings.

“I know the potential is there, we just need to execute,” said Hunter-Reay, who has finished on the podium four times in the event. “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.”

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) is another driver who had designs on winning the championship this season, and he stands a disappointing 15th in the standings as the season nears its midpoint.

Other former race winners who have not yet won this season: Newgarden, Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet), Bourdais, Rahal, Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe (No. 29 Genesys Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) and Takuma Sato (No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).

A Twist to Qualifying Format

With this weekend being a street course doubleheader, slight modifications have been made to the NTT P1 Award qualifying procedures. In short, each day will feature an abbreviated knockout format.

In Segment One, the field will be divided into two groups based on Friday’s practice times, with the fastest driver choosing his groups with the “odds” joining him and the “evens” in the other group. Group 1 and Group 2 will each receive a 10-minute qualifying session, with the clock running during red-flag conditions. The fastest six cars from each group will advance to Segment Two, known as the Firestone Fast 12. Those not advancing determine starting positions 13 through 25 based on time.

In Segment Two, all 12 cars will have their first segment times voided. Qualifying will span 10 minutes, with a minimum of five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time. Drivers will start that day’s race ranked first through 12th based on their best lap time from this segment.

All cars will be impounded by INDYCAR after completing their final run.

“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,” Hunter-Reay said. “So, you need to make the most of every lap on track.”

Saturday’s qualifying session begins at 11 a.m. ET, with Sunday’s at 9:15 a.m. ET. Both sessions will air live on the NBC Sports Network and Peacock.

An ‘Exceptionally’ Physical Weekend

There isn’t a better way to say this: The physical demands on the drivers – and their crews, for that matter – are steep in an event with races on consecutive days in June.

Weekend temperatures on the island in the Detroit River are expected to be in the upper 80s with sunshine aplenty.

This street circuit is also one of the season’s most demanding with its bumps and turns. The relative shortness of the straightaways provides precious little time for these athletes to catch their breath.

“Yeah, it’s never really a fun last 10, 15 laps of those races, then doing it twice in a weekend,” Bourdais said. “I think that dehydration level is going to be tough.”

Said Rahal, “I do think it’s going to be an exceptionally physical weekend.”

Add in the fact both weekend days will have qualifying and 70-lap races within hours of each other, which creates a short turnaround for all involved. Damage from contact with the looming walls will not only lead to bruises, it could be a hindrance for the next day.

Teams must be on point. Those who fare the best in that regard likely will be the ones celebrating at the historic Scott Fountain.

From the fans