IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from the Detroit Grand Prix 2017

The Big Picture:  A race in the automotive capital of the United States makes sense. An event promoted by Roger Penske, arguably the most important team owner in the Verizon IndyCar Series, probably a good idea. Despite these two excellent reasons, the Detroit Grand Prix has been irregular in appearing on the schedule. In its current form, it has only taken place this way since 2012.

Event:  This unique “doubleheader” weekend now happens to start six days after the Indianapolis 500, creating something of a marathon of competition. Belle Isle, as the name says, is a beautiful island in the middle of the Detroit River, and the park that covers it is the largest city-owned island park in the nation. A temporary street course makes up the racing circuit of 2.35 miles.

Qualifying:  Race One had Graham Rahal on pole followed by Helio Castroneves and Takuma Sato. In Race Two, Sato took pole, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal.

Race:   Race One was the Graham Rahal show from start to finish, with the Ohioan leading all but 15 of 70 laps, and those only for cycling through Rahal’s two pit stops. Points leader Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe also recorded podium results, and Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five. The second event  was slightly more competitive than the first at least at the front, with Sato leading 22  circuits, but Rahal took command on Lap 23 and never looked back. Team Penske had a resurgence with Newgarden finishing second, followed by teammate Will Power, Sato in fourth and Simon Pagenaud in fifth.

Biggest Surprise: The utter dominance of Graham Rahal in winning both races after having a rather mediocre start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: The absolute dominance of Honda over Chevrolet in the latter’s hometown had to be disappointing for both Chevrolet and Roger Penske.

Best Team:  Rahal Letterman Lanigan is yet another small team that has managed to win more races so far than any other team, including the larger and better-funded organizations.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  The sponsors such as Steak N’ Shake who have stayed with RLL despite less than stellar finishes.

What We Learned:  IndyCar is one of the few racing series where a small team can contend for a victory. At every race, more than half the field can win depending on circumstances. And, it appears that Honda has the advantage over Chevy right now.

Schedule:  Next Saturday, June 10th, under the lights, at Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth.

Quotes of the Weekend:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’ll be honest, I think we were all just trying to get to the end. There were just two laps to go and we had marbles all over the tires. In that type situation, there’s not much you can do. You want to say you’d be able to go race this guy and try to beat him. And I would have done that if he messed up; if he made a mistake, I would try to capitalize. But if everyone stays steady, we are just trying to hold on to the race car. It’s very difficult to do that at the end. When it’s your weekend, it’s your weekend. (Race-winner Graham) Rahal did a great job. It’s a good bounce back for us at Team Penske in the hum by Verizon Chevrolet. It’s good to be in Detroit. Thanks to all the fans that came out and Chevrolet for all they do. It’s fun to be in this city. I was trying to get Chevrolet that win but just didn’t have enough today.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): 
“The Hitachi Chevy was great again today. We had a little bit of bad luck there with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and getting a tire cut down. It was early enough that I thought we might be able to overcome it, but we didn’t get a caution until the very end. I wish we could have done better with our finish, but our car was strong. We’ll head to Texas which is always a lot of fun.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Yesterday was just unlucky when the yellow came. We kind of went halfway between a two-stop and a three-stop. We went longer than the three-stop guys. I was saving so much fuel yesterday that I was too slow. The guys did a great job with the strategy today. I’m very happy with third. Today was much more representative of the car we had this weekend. Thanks to all of the guys, Verizon and Chevrolet.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Soldier Strong / Honda): “Buckeyes like to win up in this state. It was just a good weekend – thanks to the crowd, thanks to Roger Penske, Bud Denker and everybody for putting this on. It’s a tremendous event. And thank mother nature – we’ve never had this kind of luck around here. It was a great day, I’m really proud to get another win for the United Rentals guys, Turns For Troops, PennGrade, Steak n’ Shake, Hyatt, Fifth Third Bank, Honda – everybody that makes this possible. It’s a special day for us. We’re the first one to win the double (in Detroit) means a lot. It feels great, trust me. Any day you can beat a Penske driver it means a lot.”

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By Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.