|The Captain (L) has put his mark on the Detroit GP|
IndyCar and the Detroit GP come from shaky pasts. From one perspective, they can both be construed as cautionary tales; living, gasping-for-air reminders of how greed, internecine political squabbles, and short-sightedness can reduce once thriving kingdoms to rubble. Making matters worse, both are subjected to ubiquitous, constant and painful material reminders of what once was, what could have been, and the sad story of profound human failure they both represent.
For the City of Detroit such reminders may appear in the form of abandoned buildings and waist-high uncut grass further than the eye can see. For the sport of Indy car racing it can be seen in minuscule television ratings, diminished relevance and submissive abdication with regard to its Southern counterpart NASCAR, and the success of a quintessentially American phenomenon in the past century. While one could argue those successes form a reasonable basis of hope for better days ahead, one could likewise contend at least in the case of IndyCar, the contrary. Similar to one subjected to the eternal torment of wallowing in the self-inflicted misery of a lost love, I’d offer that Indy car racing is at times not helped by its glorious past, rather haunted by it. saloon racing.
Sure, both Detroit and Indy car racing can lay rightful claim to celebrated golden ages
And that’s where Detroit comes in.
From my experience visiting The Motor City the past two years, the residents of Detroit are neither delusional prisoners of their glorious past, nor scorned captives of their far-from-ideal present. Rather, they are a resilient collection of citizens who view the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, not as an inconvenience that causes traffic problems or noise pollution, but as a showcase of their reviving city to a broader audience.
Sure, a visit downtown or drive through the surrounding areas reveals the turmoil that has and continues to plague The Motor City. But when strolling the grounds of Belle Isle, there is no sense of bitterness from a beleaguered town. Rather, through the investment and first-class operational manner of one Roger Penske, and the collective resilience of a city that views abandoned buildings not as eyesores or relics of glory lost, but as opportunities to rebuild and start anew, we are witnessing the emergence of what is becoming a cornerstone event for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
In short, IndyCar has found an unlikely partner in The Motor City. Certainly, reasonable questions abound regarding whether each can revive in a landscape far different from that in which they emerged. However, these two glorious entities of the 20th century, find themselves in a very common place seeking relevance in the 21st. And when you really think about it, the two may have found a wonderful partnership in each other.
Today, in our Detroit Postscript we will review the third installment of the latest re-installment of Indy car racing’s annual visit to Belle Isle.
Welcome to Detroit
To be clear, I say this not as some patronizing “look at the beleaguered city shine" nonsense. However, having attended nine IndyCar events in the last 13 months, I can unequivocally say Detroit boasted the friendliest, most welcoming, most helpful people. Everyone from hotel clerks to race volunteers, waiters and cab drivers, genuinely go out of their way to be welcoming and friendly.
Of course, the race in Detroit would not have been possible without the leadership, investment and initiative one Roger Penske.
From all indications, The Captain is probably sinking some of his own money into the event trying to help two entities he has a deep passion for: IndyCar and Detroit. And while the Belle Isle circuit has some less than ideal elements (i.e. one bridge to access the island), Penske has invested substantially in the event the past three years. From redesigning the course to repaving the circuit, and improving the infrastructure of the island for Michigan residents, The Captain has put his money where his mouth is.
Also, when I got home and watched the DVR of the telecast, I thought the circuit looked excellent on television. While the weather Gods no doubt provided an assist, the Belle Isle race facility has banished its once unfortunate ‘Hell Isle’ moniker to the ashbin of history. That can be interpreted as nothing other than a testament to Penske.
And this weekend The Captain was awarded with a…
Funny, in the closing laps of Saturday’s race I was watching the lap times as 2nd place Graham Rahal was closing on leader Will Power. I turned to the person sitting next to in the media center and said “I think Rahal is going to catch Power."
I was wrong of course, as Power held off Rahal for the win. The undercurrent of my message was of course, such a result would have been well, so IndyCar. You know like Ford and Toyota winning the first 6 races at Honda-owned Motegi, or Honda winning the one race in 2012 and sweeping the doubleheader last year in Chevrolet’s backyard.
Sure, Rahal capturing the win would have been a good story. However, a Chevrolet sweep in Detroit, and a Penske sweep at that (Helio Castroneves won Sunday), was somewhat fitting.
Speaking of Chevy
After the Indianapolis 500, AR1 President Mark Cipolloni went out of his way to remind readers that Honda powered cars (he picked Honda to be manufacturer champion) had won three races in a row (Barber and the two Indy races). This weekend was of course, a savage setback for Honda, which placed only Rahal on the podium Saturday, and saw Chevy sweep the top four positions Sunday. Cipolloni says Honda laid down to allow Chevy to bask in the glory of a race in their backyard and a race they heavily support.
Although, I’m well aware of Honda’s prowess, I will reiterate what I said at the beginning of the year. I lean slightly towards Chevrolet in the Manufacturers Championship mainly due to the superior quality of their teams. Also, while they haven’t won yet this year, the Ganassi team placed cars on the podium in both Detroit races. And if Ganassi gets going, The Bowtie Brigade is going to be even stronger.
Part of what made the weekend a tough one for Honda was the well-below par performance of the Japanese marque’s best driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. Coming off what had to have been a tiresome, whirlwind week, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner had three encounters with the wall, qualified 21st both days, finished 16th Saturday and 19th Sunday. After entering the weekend with the points lead, RHR now sits third.
Just remember that Hunter-Reay (like Power) drives better when he is the hunter, not the hunted. I imagine he’ll bounce back from a tough weekend in The Motor City by about the first practice session Friday in Texas.
Regarding other Honda drivers…
I’m not the biggest believer in luck. Nor can I empirically quantify which drivers have better or worse luck.
That said, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver Josef Newgarden seems to have some of the most rotten luck I’ve ever seen. Ditto for Jack Hawksworth, who suffered of all things Saturday, a brake disc explosion.
Both have at times been very fast. Neither have anywhere near the results worthy of their form.
While Belle Isle certainly has improved over the last three years, there are some imperfections. The first is something no reasonable person would fault Belle Isle or the City of Detroit for: timing.
Yes, the doubleheader format, which certainly helps the overall gate (even if it hurts the Sunday gate), is a drain on the teams. In particular, the doubleheader is grueling considering it directly follows what is already a draining month in Indianapolis.
Of course, the event has established some date equity in the past three years. Also, one has to imagine Penske wields a pretty strong influence as to when the race will be and the fact it is broadcast on ABC. Also, Texas Motor Speedway has some very established date equity, two weeks after the Indy 500.
In short, I see neither Texas nor Detroit, and certainly not the Indy 500 moving. One also has to think the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will stay in its Saturday before Mother’s Day date.
Going forward, this looks like it will be a grueling stretch on the team personnel and those who travel regularly with the tour. And given the constraints in place, I don’t really see anyway of that changing.
Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.