Saturday morning update from Belle Isle in Detroit

Pagenaud won pole for today's Race 1 yesterday
Pagenaud won pole for today's Race 1 yesterday

Good morning from the Motor City. Weather is expected to be a perfect 80 degrees during the day, but they have now predicted rain starting this evening and going into Sunday. Today is Race 1 at 3:45 pm Eastern time. The IndyCars only have a short practice session this morning from 10:05 to 10:35 am to check their cars before the race. I think the issue this weekend is which type of tire will be used for the races.

At a normal race weekend on a road or street course, each team is allotted 7 sets of the primary or black tires and 3 sets of the alternate or red tires. The alternate tire is usually a softer compound which goes faster but degrades much quicker. This weekend, with two races, the team's are allowed only 8 sets of black tires and only 3 sets of red tires. Which leads us to the question, how are the teams and drivers going to use the red tires for both races and for qualifying sessions with only three sets?

I spoke with a representative from Firestone tires and confirmed that the quota for this weekend is just the 3 sets of red tires. He replied that last year the teams had the same number of tires. But it rained so much last year for the two races, that rain was the issue and not the tires. Race 1 was shortened to 47 laps after constant, driving rain. Race 2 had to be a timed race with so many accidents from laps 37 to 64.

Simon Pagenaud, the series points leader and the polesitter for Race 1, commented on his qualifying run on black tires, "We know the red Firestone tires have a tendency to degrade a lot here because of the concrete and the way that the concrete is. But it was interesting to see that our car was so well-balanced on the black Firestone tires. I just felt like I could extract myself — I could extract more out of myself on the blacks. There was more of a comfort zone, and that's why I picked that set of tires for qualifying."

Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 entry for Chip Ganassi Racing and winner here at Belle Isle in 2012, had this to say about his tires, " Our car was really fast on blacks. We didn't use a new set of blacks in quals, and I feel like we could have run much faster times on my used blacks. So it was really bizarre. I don't know, we did the one fast lap on that one set of reds, and the car was horrible. I know the car is obviously going to be really good on black tires, and they seem to be lasting really well. "

Graham Rahal, who has not yet won here, had this to say about his tires, "Getting a good balance is a challenging thing here. My (car) balance on the black Firestone is really good, but my balance on the reds just isn't very good so we've got a little bit of work to do there. Ultimately, on the blacks on the long run, the United Rentals car is very, very competitive so I feel pretty good going into Race 1 tomorrow.

Sebastien Bourdais, who won here in 2015, had his own trials to deal with. He had this to say about his qualifying effort after missing the top 6 in his group. "It's just disappointing. The car was really good on blacks (primary tire) and I felt like we could have done something, but on the reds (alternate tire) it just went away from us as soon as I left the pits. There was nothing under me, no rear stability and the car felt like it was floating. Unfortunately, there is no testing, so you can't work with the reds. It's just frustrating. The Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Team will just have to regroup, hit the reset button and see what we can come up with for tomorrow's race."

Ryan Hunter Reay had a calm discussion with Sebastien Bourdais in pit lane after qualifying yesterday. Here is what Ryan had to say about Bourdias' driving.

"There's an accordion affect in qualifying sometimes. You get yourself into a gap, you make your home in that gap and then everybody's just got to go. (Sebastien) Bourdais, for some reason, went five seconds off the pace on that first lap. I have to understand why he did it. I'll go talk to him and figure it out – he has plenty of experience so it's strange that would happen. "

So with the bumpy track and the surface changes from asphalt to concrete, the black primary tires might be the choice to win here at Belle Isle. Keep in mind, the rule states each driver has to run at least 2 laps on both types of tires in each race. It will be interesting to see how the tire strategy plays out in the 70 lap race today.

Lucille Dust reporting from Belle Isle in Detroit

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