Castroneves gives Belle Isle high marks
Helio Castroneves surveyed the frontstretch of the Belle Isle race course, ostensibly to provide input on its revitalization for the inaugural Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone. A few moments surely were spent in wistful visions of his first open-wheel racing victory, and selecting a spot to climb the fence again.
After winning his first race for Team Penske in June 2000, Castroneves was so overcome with emotion that he sprung from the cockpit and climbed the catch fence so he could celebrate with spectators. He also won in 2001 – the last time an auto racing (not counting public drag races) event was held on the island near downtown. The tradition – through 12 IndyCar Series victories that include two in the Indianapolis 500 – continues.
"I'm impressed," said Castroneves, whose No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone will join other cars for the first practice session at 10:30 a.m. (ET) Aug. 31. "I'm extremely excited to be here again. I'm having flashbacks, special memories."
Reminiscing aside, Castroneves would like nothing more than to prevail in the 90-lap race as the attention is focused on title contenders Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti (separated by four points entering the penultimate race of the season).
Castroneves recently tested the alterations to the 2.125-mile, 14-turn circuit at the behest of event organizers in preparation for the Sept. 2 race. More than 150,000 square feet of concrete was poured to update the racing surface.
"The course is similar to what I remember but there's a new surface, new concrete and the corners are wider, which should make for more exciting racing," he said. "There are some areas of the course that are bumpy, but you expect that in a street circuit."
In addition to the widening (by 12 feet) and repaving of Turn 1 and the reconfiguration of the turns around Scott Fountain -- the signature landmark of the track on the west end of the island -- other improvements include widening of the long backstretch, where the cars will peak at about 160 mph.
"It will be extremely fast and the whole back straight you'll have enough space for side-by-side, so there will be lots of passing," said Castroneves, who won on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) in April. "It's going to be very intense "You're going to see 10 cars right there. You're not going see someone get out in front and fly away. The race is going to be awesome to watch." IndyCar.com