Scott Dixon leads all the way in Detroit
After finishing 1-2 at Indy, Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti finished 1-2 in the Detroit Grand Prix Sunday
It was Dixon's 28th IndyCar win. Franchitti came from 14th to finish 2nd. Simon Pagenaud finished on the podium for the third time this year in third. Will Power and Oriol Servia rounded out the top-5.
We all know what to expect at Detroit. Even before it moved to Belle Isle, the Detroit was noted for being very bumpy, with the passing very difficult. And it always seems to rain, causing the paddock to turn to pure mud before it was paved a few years ago. Detroit didn't disappoint today, except of course for the paddock.
The casualties from the rough, narrow track started at the beginning of the race, when 2008 winner Justin Wilson got off of the track on the first lap, tapped the wall, and bend important suspension parts. Wilson re-entered the race 32 laps down to do some testing, and finished 22nd. His team mate, James Jakes, also had brake trouble and dropped out, finishing 23rd. Dale Coyne's race team had high hopes for this race, even as late as Friday, and no doubt are a bit discouraged with the results.
Rubens Barrichello had engine problems on lap 11, and finished dead last for the day. "I'm sure over they years they can do something with the bumpiness" he quipped -- much to the laughter of those in the press room, who know the history of this race.
On lap 23, Sebastien Bourdais, who had been in the top 10 and challenging for position, had his day end with mechanical difficulties. Bourdais, whose team now only fields 1 car for 2 drivers, will have a 3-race wait before it's his turn to drive again. Chevy representatives were adamant that they cannot that they can't provide another Chevy motor for the team, even though they are thrilled to have Sebastian as a Chevy guy now.
On lap 26, EJ Viso, who had been driving like a man possessed to keep his 5th place spot, tapped the wall. There were about 10 drivers bottled up behind EJ by this time, and by the time EJ pitted on lap 28 the top 4 were far ahead of the rest of the pack. Viso finished a disappointing 18th.
Scott Dixon, who lead from the start, was so far ahead of the pack that when he pitted on lap 33 he retained the lead under green flag conditions. On lap 30 he was followed by Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Helio Castroneves. By lap 36, he again had a 10+ second lead on the rest of the field.
Fortunately, the race wasn't destined to be a 90-lap Dixon victory parade. On lap 39 James Hinchcliffe hit a large chunk of rubber "expansion joint" in turn 5 that was put down to fill a hole in the old, worn-out Detroit pavement, and had come out under the strain of the race weekend. The rubber was much thicker than the ground clearance of the car, and Hinch buried his car into the tire wall in turn 6, ending his day. "I've never seen anything like it" he said, saying that there were problems in turns 5 and 9. On lap 45, the race was red-flagged until repairs could be made.
At this point, many assumed that since the race had gone 45 laps out of 90, the race was half-done, and therefore an "official" race. However, the sometimes-arcane Indy rule book stipulates that the race would only be called on or after lap 46 -- and besides, it gets late in Michigan in summer, and there were fans in the stands, and so repairs were started.
The repairs took two hours, and consisted of putting a bunch of "patch" concrete into the pavement. Some 20 feet of patch was put down in turn 6, another 10 feet in turn 7, and a whopping 60 feet patched in turn 10. The patches were about 5-6 inches wide, and about 5-6 inches deep. Not only was the Penske organizers prepared for such patches, but they also had concrete in reserve, and a police escort to go get the reserve. Somehow, the term "Penske Perfect" comes to mind here.
When the race was restarted, right on cue, the rain that had missed the area started coming down on the parade lap -- but only on half of the track. The rain caused multiple car accidents, taking out Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, finishing 16th and 17th respectively. EJ Viso was collected when the race restarted on lap 54, causing EJ to finish 18th; Marco soldiered on to 11th. The leader, Scott Dixon, was first to hit the rain, and at one point in turn 7 he was so sure he'd lost control that he took his hands off of the wheel. In the post-race press conference, Dario Franchitti compared Scott's car control to World Rally champion Colin McRae.
For his part, Dario said that he passed 1-2 cars on the track, 2 in the pits, and the rest on restarts. Indeed, his final pass into second was on that rainy restart.
Honda obviously is ecstatic over the turn of events. Not only did they win last week's Indy 500, but they also swept the podium in a Chevy-sponsored event, literally under the shadow of GM World Headquarters. Simon Pagenaud commented after the race, "The found what we need". Indeed, Honda reps told me that their race engines at Indy were "8% more efficient" than previous motors, including those used on Pole Day. Not only do they believe that they have an obvious fuel mileage advantage, they also believe that they have a slight horsepower advantage.
In NASCAR -- which has run multiple motors for decades -- they have a chassis dyno where horsepower is checked on selected cars on some tracks (i.e., Michigan). Perhaps such a device might be in IndyCar's future, given the propensity of some car owners to cry "foul" when they don't win?
As for the Detroit event itself -- The Penske people put over $500,000 into improvements in Belle Isle park before this year's event. They have 2 more years remaining on their contracts, but envision the event running much longer than that. Pagenaud commented that the event was in a beautiful venue, and "I hope we come back for many years." Dario commented that "This is the fastest our cars feel", because of the tight, quick nature of the course.
For next year, event organizers want to return to the 2001 course. Where the cars current turn off in turn 3 they will instead head down Central Avenue for another 1/2 mile before turning and coming back to the current circuit. It is hoped that this adds a lot of new passing spaces to the circuit, something that Detroit never has had. The drivers all commented that they were looking forward to that new layout.
The event has locked in the "weekend after the 500" for the next 2 years, and have no intention of ever considering any other date. While the IndyCar series has 2 more years on the contract, the rest of the series are all year-to-year -- but Jim France is already pushing to bring back the Grand-AM series next year. Considering that the ALMS teams are all in LeMans during this weekend, it seems like there isn't much of a chance that Grand-AM won't be back.
POST RACE QUOTES:
WILL POWER, NO. 12 VERIZON TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, FINISHED 4TH: “A tough day all around for the No. 12 Verizon car. We wanted to win this for Roger and Chevrolet and unfortunately we weren’t able to go the distance. There is plenty to learn from today to come back better next week. We are still leading the Championship and I’m looking forward to getting back on the ovals.”
ORIOL SERVIA, NO. 22 PANTHER/DREYER & REINBOLD RACING CHEVROLET, FINISHED 5TH: Again, it’s the story of our season, whenever we give up, we come back. I have to give big credits to the team, because I crashed Saturday morning and that put us way behind schedule. We were a session behind everyone and in qualifying it was difficult, but we just kept improving. It’s been a season of never giving up. Another top-five with our second race with Chevy and a second top-five in a row for the team so I’m very happy of what’s to come for the rest of the season.”
TONY KANAAN – NO. 11 GEICO | MOUSER ELECTRONICS – KV RACING TECHNOLOGY CHEVROLET, FINISHED 6TH: "My team did a brilliant strategy and put me upfront with the other guys. I think I was in a good shape for a podium, but when the decision was made that all cars could get new tires before the new start of the race it left me in a bad position, because I was already on my last set of primary tires and had nothing new to put on, so as expected I got passed by the cars on new tires on the restart."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY, NO. 28 TEAM DHL/SUN DROP CITRUS SODA CHEVROLET, FINISHED 7TH: "Unfortunately, we got really hung up behind Viso in the whole first stint and couldn't get by him. We ended up finding out that we had some mechanical problems that haunted us all day. We were kind of fighting with one arm behind our back. It is good to still be able to salvage points, even after a day like today. Thanks to my Andretti Autosport team for their work and also to DHL, Sun Drop and Circle K."
MARCO ANDRETTI, NO. 26 TEAM RC COLA ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT CHEVROLET, FINISHED 11TH: “I think it should have been a full race today. The pits closed right before I was going to come in, so I had to stay out. I had to then pit under the yellow flag, which made me lose track position. I had a full tank of fuel and new tires, so I just wish we could have ran the whole distance. I'm looking forward to Texas and improving our results even more."
ED CARPENTER, NO. 20 FUZZY’S ULTRA PREMIUM VODKA CHEVROLET, FINISHED 12TH: “I thought the track folks did a great job getting the surface ready from the repair. It was a dangerous situation. It’s too bad we couldn’t finish the race. There was plenty of daylight left. It’s too bad the fans didn’t get to see a full race. They had a great crowd today. I don’t know how the decision was made to run to lap 60. It made no sense to me. It got a little embarrassing with the officials not knowing who could change tires and other equipment. It was a mess. We are professionals here in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It was just really confusing. It’s too bad we couldn’t go the finish. I know I was here to run 90 laps today.”
JR HILDEBRAND, NO. 4 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, FINISHED 14TH: "It was a bummer because we had an opportunity there to work our way solidly into the Top Ten. Because of the gear sensor issue and just some damage on the car I couldn’t really get by anybody because I was losing (time) on the straights on the upshifts, or losing time in the middle of the corner because of the downshifts. It’s frustrating because two weekends in a row – coming from Indy and now here – we’ve been at a point that we’re running well and had a shot at a good finish and have it not go our way. The National Guard Chevy guys have been working hard and we certainly found some things in the race that we’re going to be able to take to tracks like this going forward. I think with everything that happened and given the amount of damage we took throughout the event, we’re satisfied to at least have the car in once piece finishing the race, but obviously not where we wanted to finish.”
RYAN BRISCOE, NO. 2 HITACHI TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, FINISHED 16TH: “A disappointing finish for sure. We felt like the Hitachi car was good enough to run up front but unfortunately we got caught with too much pick up on the tires when the race started then we got turned around on the restart. This is certainly not where we wanted to finish, but I credit the whole Hitachi Team Penske crew for their hard work today.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES, NO. 3 SHELL V-POWER/PENNZOIL ULTRA TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, FINISHED 17TH: “It’s a shame the way we ended up with the Shell Pennzoil car. We had a great racecar that I thought was capable of a top-five. I didn’t realize how slick Turn Six was and unfortunately spun out, ending our chances at a good day. The Shell Pennzoil machine was really good today, I am very disappointed we didn’t do better.”
E.J. VISO – NO. 5 CITGO | PDVSA – KV RACING TECHNOLOGY CHEVROLET, FINISHED 18TH
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, NO. 27 TEAM GODADDY.COM ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT CHEVROLET, FINISHED 21ST - NOTE – RETIRED FROM RACE ON LAP 39 AFTER MAKING CONTACT WITH TIRES: ON WHAT HAPPENED: “I have never seen anything quite like this. We saw (the track surface) starting to come up early. They had the debris flags down in Turn 5 and Turn 9. These giant pieces of this tar that had been ripped up, I guess there was nothing they could do about it so they just let us keep running. It was like playing Russian Roulette and I just pulled the bullet. I came through Turn 6 and a new chunk ripped up. It had a big chunk of concrete attached to the bottom of it. It flipped under the car, lifted the front wheels off the ground and that was it - I was just a passenger. I feel bad for the Go Daddy guys because we had got ourselves back up into the top 10; we were working that three stop strategy. It's just a bummer that we pulled the short straw today. Obviously, there was a situation with the track today, but it's unfortunate that it took us out of the race to really realize it was a problem."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, NO 7 TRUECAR DRAGON RACING CHEVROLET, FINISHED 24TH – NOTE RETIRED ON LAP 24 WITH MECHANICAL ISSUE: ON WHAT HAPPENED: “It looked like we were going to have a good day. It’s too bad E.J. (Viso)…I don’t know what was the thing, but he was really, really, really slow. So we were saving (fuel) like crazy, like everybody was saving fuel. Everybody was getting a good exit off turn seven, so you still couldn’t really get by anyone. I just tried to save as much fuel as I could, and I think Helio made it to lap 32. I think we were going to do it too. It is shame because it put us in a great position to make it a two-stopper. Then you don’t have to save fuel after that. We had some kind of engine issue. Just lost power. We couldn’t find what was wrong, so we just retired.”
RUBENS BARRICHELLO – NO. 8 BMC | EMBRASE – KV RACING TECHNOLOGY CHEVROLET, FINISHED 25TH - NOTE – RETIRED FROM RACE ON LAP 11 WITH MECHANICAL ISSUE: ON WHAT HAPPENED: "We had a problem with the car and we tried to fix it in the pits but unfortunately we couldn't. I feel really sorry for the team, they worked so hard last night to change my chassis, I was going quite quick and saving fuel but then we had to stop."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "First part of race was tough just trying to hang in there. The second part of race got really interesting- weren't sure we could make it on fuel but happy to get P9 and get some points finally."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda): "Not a great day. We brushed the wall on lap one, bent the wishbone, and I'm really disappointed with that. That ended our day pretty much. The guys worked hard trying to give us a good car and we got caught up. We fixed it, went back out, tried to learn a couple of things... The car was fast. It's just frustrating."
JAMES JAKES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "Such a shame that today ended the way it did. Justin and I came here with very high hopes, and I think our practices showed that we should have had two top-10 cars. The No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda team did a great job getting me back out on track after I came in for brake troubles and I hoped we'd be able to make a bit of that lost time up. The throttle just didn't want to cooperate though and now we just have to look ahead next week to Texas."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "I am super happy for the team - a 1-2 finish for the Target boys for the second week in a row. Dario must have driven so hard at the end on those red tires at the end to get up to second. Hats off to the fans who stuck around through something that was totally unexpected. I was slipping and sliding through 6 and 7 on the restarts - the track looked like glass so I knew it was going to be slick and I just backed it down on the restart before something bad happened. If I could have gotten my gloves off I'd have chewed my nails for sure on those final laps. I'd like to give a lot of credit to everyone at INDYCAR and the Detroit staff for getting the track back in shape so we could race. The final 15 lap shoot-out was exciting for me - so I sure hope the fans liked it. A one-two-three finish for Honda today in a Chevy race is definitely a feather in Honda's hat this week. It is great to be back in Detroit and I hope we are here for many years to come- great fans, volunteers and staff. In the end it was a good week for everyone."
DARIO FRANCHITI (No. 10 Unilever Honda): "I thought in the first couple of laps I had a chance, but I couldn't, he was too quick. And with our car breaking the front wing early on, the more the run went on, the more understeer it got. But that's not to take anything away from the job Dixie did, and a 1-2 for Team Target after his brilliant qualifying and my abysmal one, we'll take it."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "I feel bad that we got clipped from behind at the end ©©because we had already had bad luck for most of the race. We had a great strategy going but had to come in to the pits early because I had a puncture on one of my tires from the rough track."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): "Tremendous day for Honda. The guys have done such a great job providing us with a super good powerplant, today is just the testament to all the work. Also I've got to thank my team, Sam Schmidt Hamilton Racing, and it's amazing to be a one-car team and fighting against Penske and Ganassi, I've found like it's living the dream. So we're very happy today. What else can I say, really? It was just a fantastic day for us."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 98 Team Barracuda - BHA Honda): "This was our first street course with Honda and I think we did awesome. I'm very proud of Team Barracuda - BHA. The guys did a really good job. The car was fantastic to drive and very competitive. We qualified well and even did the fastest lap of the race. We never gave up all race long, even after the start in the pits. It frustrating and unfortunate but those unlucky situations are there to make us stronger. Coming back to score a top ten after being nailed on the last pit stop when the pits were closed was really unfortunate for us. It was a very strange race after the track came apart. Without that we were on target to finish in the top five. All these things are going to make us stronger. We're going to regroup, focus on Texas and try to win the race there."
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