Less than a week after Takuma Sato put a bow on the Month of May by winning the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, the Verizon IndyCar Series is ready to race again. Not just once, but twice this weekend. It is the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, a pair of races on Saturday and Sunday at Belle Isle Park.
Friday’s practice featured two practice sessions. The first was led by Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves. The second session was Castroneves, then Rahal. For Rahal, it could be a sign that he and the RLL Racing team are figuring things out. For the Brazilian, it is just another weekend at Detroit. Castroneves has won this race three times, but his last one came three years ago this weekend. He has not won an IndyCar race since.
Friday Combined Practice Results
The fastest lap of the day came from Castroneves, at 1:15.1511 seconds. Alexander Rossi had the third fastest lap, and was quick in both sessions. Unfortunately, he did have some trouble in Turn 8 during the afternoon session. The Andretti Autosport driver said he got loose on entry. “It’s a weird place to spin, especially on entry, so it just got away from me. I don’t think the car is too bad, but I mean, that’s a concrete wall there. Hopefully not a whole lot.”
It was an eventful day at Belle Isle, with a new face in the paddock. Esteban Gutierrez is making his IndyCar debut, filling in for Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 car. Dale Coyne said that he expects the former Formula One driver to fill in for the rest of this season. That means Gutierrez will be doing the ovals, with the first one coming up next Saturday at Texas. He will likely get a day to test before that weekend gets underway.
From a new face, to a familiar one. Oriol Servia is back again, driving the No. 16 car for RLL. Scott Dixon had to deal with a severely bruised foot from his spectacular crash last weekend. He had an early spin on Friday, but did not hit anything. His Ganassi teammate Max Chilton had a small fire near the brakes on the front of his No. 8 machine.
Qualifying for each race will take place in the morning before each race. Saturday’s qualifications begin at 10 AM, and Sunday’s session starts at 10:45 AM. Each qualifying session will be split into two groups, with each group getting 12 minutes on track. IndyCar will provide live streaming for qualifying on both days.
The race distance for each race is 70 laps, which is 164.5 miles around the 2.35-mile 14-turn street course. Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power won the two races last season, with Simon Pagenaud starting on pole in each. The two races on Saturday and Sunday will air at 3:30 PM ET on ABC.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Helio Castroneves: “First of all, it’s great to be back again in Belle Isle. I think there were several things (that led to success for me at this track). First, it’s probably on the emotion side. I won my first race here, so you have that special attachment. When you win your first race ever, you do have good memories, I guess. In race car driving, some careers, some drivers’ careers, some tracks are really, really suitable. Probably because the combination with the asphalt, concrete, it probably suits me really well. Normally, with the drivers looking to each other for data, I’m always looking to learn. This is one of the tracks that I don’t look to (my teammates’) data. Actually they’re looking to mine, which means it comes natural. Probably that’s why. Maybe my style, maybe the way I drive, things like that. That’s one of the reasons it suits me really well. It’s great. Not only is a place that is very important for a lot of people, especially for Roger (Penske, team owner), but it’s because of the corporation, Penske Corp., is here. And Detroit, Detroit has really put a lot of effort into this place. I really feel that we’re driving for the home team. It’s great to have that support.
Conor Daly: “We made some good progress in the second session. The tires are certainly interesting this weekend on how the reds and blacks work or vice versa. I think we learned some good things today. We’re almost on the verge of being in the top 10 which is nice. We just have to continue to chip away at it.”
James Hinchcliffe: “I think the Arrow Electronics crew rolled off the truck with a pretty good car. The condensed schedule here in Detroit gives both drivers and engineers a big challenge. I think between the two SPM cars we learned some short run and long run stuff today which was the goal. We really didn’t get to use reds (Firestone alternate tires) which is unfortunate; we kind of got hosed in the first session by a red flag, and so both Mikhail (Aleshin) and I had to give up those tires after one lap. We’ll think about it overnight and see what we’ve got tomorrow.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “I think today was a promising day. The team was in good shape, and all the changes made from the first session to the second session turned out to be a big improvement for us. I’m feeling pretty positive, as always, and I hope we can put everything together for a great result this weekend.”
Max Chilton: “We had a small fire in the second session in the brake area, but everything worked out and we were able to continue on. I’m not 100 percent happy with the Gallagher car yet. We still have some work to do. Overall we’re fighting some understeer and even a little oversteer. I guess we’re just looking for more grip overall to move up the timing sheets.”
Scott Dixon: “I don’t think we were too bad overall with the Camping World car today. In that second session we just tried a lot of different things. We also only ran one set of alternate tires the entire session, whereas the rest of the field ran primary tires and most likely multiple sets. It’s a busy weekend here and we’ll work tonight to be ready for qualifying and Race 1 tomorrow.”
Tony Kanaan: “The No. 10 NTT Data Honda feels really good and I’m happy with where the car is heading into qualifying in the morning. Everyone out there is in the same boat struggling with managing the alternate tires and getting the most out of them. We actually had a really quick lap going in that second session, but we caught some traffic and lost our chance to get our fast lap.”
Graham Rahal: “First of all, it’s great to be back here. We appreciate everything Roger (Penske) has done here in the city to put this on. Certainly they made some improvements on the track, on the straightaways, which is nice. It’s been a track that’s been good to me in the past. I had a couple podiums here and finished fourth last year in Race 1. Overall, it’s been a place I’ve had some success, which is nice. Obviously today started off on the right foot and the United Rentals car seems to be very strong, very competitive right off the trailer this morning. In the first session, we didn’t even change anything. There was no reason to. Definitely as the track heated up in the afternoon, it got slippery for me. I’m sure everybody will say the same. In fact, on my fastest lap, I was pretty much turning right — supposed to be turning right into Turn 11, but I was looking at the left-hand side wall. I know we had a couple more tenths in it. It’s going to be tricky out there. It’s bumpy. It’s going to beat us up pretty good. We’ll just have to go out there tomorrow and test it. Hopefully the car will be nice and reliable, we’ll get to the end and have a good day.”
Oriol Servia: “The first session felt a little more challenging than I expected. I had a very good record at this track and not only had my first podium here, but also all top-six finishes. And I like this place, but I was having a hard time finding the limit of the car. I can only put it down to the whole track being concrete vs. the last time I was here and it was asphalt. Obviously concrete is a lot different and I was having a hard time finding where the grip is, but the more laps I did, the more I got used to it. And then the track started gripping up and there was more rubber down, so it started to become more normal. Thankfully the Fifth Third Bank car that the team gave me is awesome as we can see by the great job Graham (Rahal) is doing. It’s great to have a reference like that. I’m trying to not make a mistake and use every lap. We were 11th in Practice 2 and I lost (15-hundredths of a second) in the last corner so we would have been seventh. I’m happy with the progress. We are still not at the end of the tunnel, but we are getting there. I’m very happy.”
Esteban Gutierrez: “It’s completely different from what I’m used to. I really enjoy the feeling of driving the Indy car. It’s really natural, you get a lot of feedback from the steering wheel. The track is very bumpy and the track layout is also very interesting with how you enter Turn 1 and then Turn 2 is a very high speed corner, on a street circuit it’s pretty special. Everything is a bit in a rush since I’ve arrived, but I’m going to take it progressively, step by step, to try and get into a rhythm and understand the car, especially with the two different tire compounds. Right now it was the first time I used the Firestone reds, so it will be interesting to see how they react tomorrow.”
Ed Jones: “It was a really tough day. Learning the track was more difficult than those I’ve been on in the past. It was the first track that I didn’t have any experience on compared to the other tracks this year, as I’ve driven on all of those. You really have to attack here and have confidence. I think after a few weeks of oval driving, I didn’t do a good enough job to prepare to get back to a street course. But it’s a good that we have tomorrow to qualify and then the first race. I’m confident we’ll do better tomorrow as we gain more experience and then we’ll be even more prepared for Sunday’s race.”
Spencer Pigot: “It’s nice to be back with ECR this weekend in Detroit. We had a decent first session and a bit of a messy second session on my part, so I’ll be trying to improve that for tomorrow. We also need to work on the balance but we have a good idea of what to do and I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow morning.”
JR Hildebrand: “My last run here was in 2012, I’ve been here a few times since then watching the race but it’s nice to be back on track. We were able to hit the ground running today. We have plenty to work on overnight, but to be in the top 10 in the second practice, we’re definitely making improvements. I’ve got a lot of things to work on here this weekend, but I feel pretty good about everything so far. We’re just try to continue to make progress as the weekend goes along and stay out of trouble while we’re doing it.”
Takuma Sato: “It was a pretty productive day, it’s nice to be back on a street course. It’s quite different, of course, from a superspeedway. After having the most incredible experience of my lifetime the past couple days, I am happy to be back in the car. The first session went smooth and the second session was a little bit unusual – we tried the red (alternate) tire, but it seems like we lost a little bit of grip. So, we need to go through all the data, but at least the car worked quite positively. I look forward to qualifying tomorrow and the race.”
Marco Andretti: “We never really got a good, clean lap in. I was, at one point, on a lap that would have been good for P7, but that’s not great. So we’ll have to see what the teammates have come up with and hope for the best and some clean running in qualifying.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Today was interesting. We dealt with a bunch of problems all day – electrical problems, clutch problems, so not really sure where we are. It was a strange day. We’ll have to rely on our teammates for a direction because we didn’t really get a good direction out of today. Tomorrow we go right into qualifying and the race, but we’ll fight hard for the DHL team.”
Charlie Kimball: “Overall that second session was just terrible. We missed on setup, we missed on the gears – we just missed on everything. The Firestone alternates threw a curveball at us that we weren’t ready for. We have a whole lot of information from this afternoon on what not to do and I think our positions across the entire team show it. We need to find some lap time and we need to reset back to where we were this morning. We need to come up with a game plan with it being a short weekend and us going straight into qualifying in the morning.”
Alexander Rossi: “(The car) was just loose in entry, I guess. It’s a weird place to spin, especially on entry, so it just got away from me. I don’t think the car is too bad, but I mean, that’s a concrete wall there. Hopefully not a whole lot. I think the car’s quick. Fortunately, we have three other teammates that are quick as well running around out there, so we’ll get a lot of good information and get ready for tomorrow.”