It’s time for one last dive in the iconic James Scott Memorial Fountain for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this weekend with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
While 26 drivers are preparing for one of the most difficult street races on the calendar, all eyes are on 2023 as the Detroit race moves from the scenic views of Belle Isle Park, an island on the Detroit River, to the vibrant streets of downtown Detroit.
All drivers love to be the first to conquer a new racetrack, but they also love to be the last to take the checkered flag at a racetrack. Belle Isle is no exception. Today’s race will be the 30th and final on the bumpy streets of the island, and only one NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver will be known as the final driver to win at Belle Isle and celebrate by jumping in the famous fountain behind Victory Circle.
Firestone is supplying more than 1,400 tires for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. The tires feature the same technology that Firestone Racing used at this race weekend last year, which was a doubleheader event. The unique nature of the track, which is 80 percent concrete, is unlike anything for which Firestone makes tires. Each entry has received six sets of primary (black) tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (gray) tires.
Race drivers and island-goers are in for a cool and cloudy day, with highs expected to be around 70 degrees by the time the green flag drops at around 3:45 p.m. (ET). Race day coverage beings at 3 p.m., live on USA Network, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network. You can listen to the radio broadcast live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 160, INDYCAR.com and INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.
You can get ready for a fantastic day of racing by catching Race 2 of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader at 12:10 p.m., live on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action:
If you polled every NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver in the paddock on the most physically challenging racetrack on the schedule, a majority, it not all, would point to the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
While the surface is majority concrete, it has asphalt in areas and a lot of bumps that jolt NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars in many directions. Simply put, Belle Isle is a 14-turn, 2.35-mile street course that features hard braking zones and speedy straights that reward the daring and punish the imprecise.
Even practice sessions this weekend have proved that. Drivers that have gone off course or made contact with the wall include Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, Colton Herta, Romain Grosjean, Jimmie Johnson, Will Power, Dalton Kellett, Felix Rosenqvist and Rinus VeeKay.
For Kirkwood, Kellett, Grosjean and Rosenqvist, their incidents featured hard hits with the wall that required extended work on their respective cars.
“It’s just tricky,” defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou said. “There’s not a lot of grip, and there are so many bumps. If you’re not comfortable with the car, you cannot get 100 percent out of it.”
Last year’s race weekend was survival of the fittest. Marcus Ericsson drove to his first career win after a late red flag catapulted him to the lead when Power’s car wouldn’t re-fire. It started an upward career trajectory for Ericsson, who won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge last weekend.
Pato O’Ward won the second race of the doubleheader weekend, outdueling two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden in a late-race battle on differing tire strategies.
It’s Not Always About Where You Start
As we said, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear is a race that truly is survival of the fittest, and qualifying isn’t as important as it is at some other racetracks.
In 29 previous races, just four times was the race won from the first starting position: Robby Gordon (1995), Helio Castroneves (2001), Scott Dixon (2012) and Graham Rahal (2017).
What’s more, only five additional times has the race been won from the other position on the front row: Bobby Rahal (1992), Alex Zanardi (1998), Mike Conway (2013), Dixon (2018) and Josef Newgarden (2019).
Last year, Marcus Ericsson won from starting 15th, and Pato O’Ward won from 16th. These are not stats that Newgarden and Takuma Sato want to hear as they line up first and second, respectively, on the grid.
The average starting position for a Detroit race winner is 6.3. So, if you’re looking for today’s race winner, it might be safer to look at rows three and four than row one. Rookie David Malukas starts sixth today, and Colton Herta starts seventh.
But don’t count out someone coming from the back of the field. Five times the race winner has started outside the top 10: Ericsson, O’Ward, Sebastien Bourdais (13th in 2016), Carlos Munoz (20th in 2015) and Will Power (16th in 2014).
Tire wear, and the ensuing pit strategy that surrounds it, will make today’s race on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile street circuit interesting. With the Firestone alternate (red) tires producing big speeds for just a few laps, it will open it up for teams in the back half of the field to use strategy to climb the leaderboard.
“It will be interesting,” said three-time Belle Isle winner Dixon of today’s race. “I think on paper it’s an easy two-stop race with fuel, but the reds literally last for about two laps, so that will definitely spice things up. I don’t know how it will work. We’ll have to see and play it by ear and hopefully we get lucky, because it’s going to take that.”
Rossi Leads Warmup
Alexander Rossi led the warmup this morning with a top lap of 1:15.5816 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda, followed by fellow Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson at 1:15.9213 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion was the second Ganassi car in the top three, third at 1:15.9755 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. NTT P1 Award winner Josef Newgarden was 20th at 1:17.6678 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.