After a much needed break following an Indianapolis 500 that was as exciting as it was historic, the NTT IndyCar Series makes it’s return to the streets of Belle Isle for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader. Cancelled in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 3.78 kilometer, fourteen corner track is the latest to make its’ welcomed return to the IndyCar calendar and will prove to be a physically demanding test for the drivers.
Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Alex Palou comes into the weekend as the points leader, taking advantage of his teammate Scott Dixon‘s misfortunes at the Indy 500 and the double points on offer to regain the championship lead with 248 points, a thirty-six point gap back to Dixon in second. Arrow McLaren SP‘s Patricio O’Ward sits third after his top-five finish at Indianapolis on 211 points, with Simon Pagenaud just behind in fourth on 201 points. Rounding out the top five is Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Rinus Veekay, as the Dutchman holds 191 points.
Two races this weekend mean that plenty of points are on offer, and a terminal mistake in race one might cost you even more points in race two, so all is still to play for early in the season. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
The first race of the 2019 doubleheader was delayed by two hours due to severe rainfall, and when the race finally got underway it was contested under a seventy-five minute time limit. Polesitter Alexander Rossi led the field to green, cautiously guiding the field through the slippery circuit. The concrete surface dried quickly however, and teams soon began to pit for dry tyres.
In the middle of the pit cycle, Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa driver Ed Jones smashed the wall and brought out the caution. Team Penkse‘s Josef Newgarden had just pit for his dry tyres as the caution came out, putting him ahead of the other leaders who all pit under caution. From there Newgarden led the rest of the race, navigating cautions brought out by Dixon, his first race retirement in over two years after making contact with the wall in turn seven, and Matheus Leist when he crashed at the end of the back straight.
The final few laps were a thrilling fight between Newgarden and Rossi, as both drivers gave it their all. Both had burned through their push to pass boost, and due to the track still being wet off the racing line, Rossi was unable to complete a move giving Newgarden the win and the points lead going into race two.
Newgarden continued his momentum into race two by taking the pole, leading the field through a chaotic few laps of the race. Major names like Will Power, Pagenaud, O’Ward and more were all caught up in wrecks. Dixon had a brilliant strategy that set him up for the victory, as both Newgarden and Rossi were tangled up in an incident mid-race with James Hinchcliffe which benefitted Dixon out front.
Dominating the race, it seemed like IndyCar’s “Iceman” had the win in the bag, but a caution for his teammate Felix Rosenqvist meant he had to navigate one more restart if he wanted to claim victory. Rosenqvist picked up damage that appeared to break the left-front steering arm, causing the car’s steering to be off-balance. With only a handful of laps remaining, Rosenqvist tried to fight through it but spun out at the first turn. His heavy contact with the outside wall forced race organisers to red flag the race in order to clear the wreck for a green flag finish.
On the final restart with three laps to go, Dixon coolly pulled away and took his first win of the season. IndyCar rookie Marcus Ericsson finished second, his best career finish to date, and after being caught up in early race troubles, Power bounced back to take the third and final podium spot.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Dixon will be a man on a mission following his unfortunate Indy 500, going from starting on the pole to a seventeenth place finish after an emergency pit stop early forced him back in the pack. Dixon has three wins at Detroit, including wins in the last two events in 2018 and 2019.
This will be the first time that his title rival Palou has ever raced at Belle Isle due to it not being on the calendar last season, and the same can be said for many of the series’ top young drivers. Veekay, Scott McLaughlin and Jack Harvey will all be making their debuts on the course, and they will be ones to watch to see how quickly they acclimate to the track.
Unlike the others, however, Palou was handed a six position grid penalty Wednesday evening for the first race of the doubleheader due to an unapproved engine change prior to the Indianapolis 500.
Another duo of first-time Detroit participants are returning rookies Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson. Both finished outside of the top ten at the last street circuit event, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and it will be worth watching to see how they fare against the bumpy streets of Belle Isle.
Along with Grosjean and Johnson, Santino Ferrucci will be returning to IndyCar with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing following his sixth place finish at the Indy 500. It was announced earlier this week that the twenty-three year old American added the doubleheader to his schedule, and he has steadily improved his finishes at Belle Isle. Ferrucci last competed here in 2019 as a part of Dale Coyne Racing, finishing the first race in nineteenth and the second race in tenth.
One dark horse contender this weekend could be 2013 Indy 500 winner and series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR had a solid month of May that was spoiled by a pit road speeding penalty late in the race, but he was able to gather some much needed momentum at “The Brickyard”. Hunter-Reay has finished in the top five in all four races at Detroit in 2018 and 2019, including a win in 2018’s second race. He could quietly be a driver that has a strong weekend.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Friday 11 June
1700 EST / 2200 BST – Practice
Saturday 12 June
1100 EST / 1600 BST – Race 1 Qualifying
1400 EST / 1900 BST – Race 1
Sunday 13 June
0900 EST / 1400 BST – Race 2 Qualifying
1200 EST / 1700 BST – Race 2
WHERE CAN I WATCH?
Coverage in the UK for the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.
In the United States, coverage for practice will be broadcast on the Peacock streaming service, both qualifying sessions will be broadcast on NBCSN, and both races will be broadcast on NBC.
HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?
You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions. You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.