Detroit doubleheader shows IndyCar competition is wide open
Their victories in the 70-lap races of the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series doubleheader didn't necessarily take anyone by surprise, but underscored the competitiveness through the field.
"It's really unique," said James Jakes, who recorded a series-best runner-up finish to Pagenaud in the second race. "There are 25 guys who can win a race, and I don't think there is any other championship where you can say that.
"IndyCar is a great product right now, and the depth of the drivers is fantastic."
So deep that six different drivers – from six different countries – have claimed victories through the initial seven races, including three who have earned their maiden wins. So deep that five different teams have joined in victory celebrations. There also have been six different pole sitters.
Such parity has led to the championship points lead changing hands five times among four drivers. Two full-points races at Belle Isle were expected to toss the standings, which occurred with drivers who didn't follow through with top 10s.
Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti are tied at the top, though neither is among the race winners. Reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is 15 points back, and there's a 57-point difference from first to Charlie Kimball in 10th. Last year through seven races the margin was 100 points between front-runner Will Power and 10th-place Justin Wilson, who scored maximum points with the victory at Texas Motor Speedway.
Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with a pair of fourth-place finishes, was the biggest mover over the weekend — from eighth in the standings following the Indianapolis 500 to fourth. That was matched by Pagenaud, who with his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory and 12th place advanced to fifth.
Another full-points doubleheader weekend in Toronto on July 13-14 closes the middle portion of the 19-race schedule, while the twinbill in Houston on Oct. 5-6 likely will stir up the points heading into the championship finale at Auto Club Speedway.
"We leave Detroit tied for the top of the points standings, which is where we want to be, so overall it was a good weekend," said Castroneves, who posted fifth- and eighth-place finishes on the 2.346-mile, 13-turn street course. "Our goal all season has been consistency and this weekend we met the challenge once again."
Andretti has six top 10s, highlighted by third-place finishes in the St. Petersburg opener and Brazil.
"We were missing a little bit to the top guys (in Race 2), but I think we got about as good as we can get from starting 14th," said Andretti, who placed fifth. "It's good to get back up there in the points and we'll keep marching forward at Texas next weekend."
The always-entertaining Firestone 550 at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway on June 8 kicks off a spate of four races in six weeks – on two superspeedways and two short ovals.
"We never know who is going to be on top each weekend," Pagenaud said. "Everybody was impressed with Dale Coyne and Conway (for winning Race 1 and the pole for Race 2). It's great to see what INDYCAR has been able to provide, a product that's helping every team to be able to be competitive. There are a lot of smart people in every team right now. It's about who's going to be the smartest every weekend.
"It's certainly very, very competitive, very difficult to pick a winner every race."