The stars of the NTT IndyCar Series returned to competition today in the Motor City. With 12 days off following the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 won by Helio Castroneves, the series shifts its focus back on the twists and turns of the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit. All 25 drivers entered in this weekend’s event were able to hit the track today for the lone practice session ahead of the weekend doubleheader.
With two qualifying sessions and two 70-lap races on tap this weekend, teams were eager to hit the pavement in anticipation of laying down the fastest lap. The driver at the top of Friday’s session would get their choice of which group they would like to be placed in for the abbreviated qualifying session. In the end, it was Will Power that put in the fastest lap (1:17.2768 seconds) on Friday.
Friday Combined Practice Results
Track conditions were slippery as the intense heat made things difficult for the drivers. When the session began, the ambient temperature was 84 degrees with a track temperature of 119 degrees, according to Firestone engineers. Due to the heat this weekend, IndyCar has stated that the aero scoop cooling device that was experimented with on the aeroscreen will be mandatory for the races.
While all cars were able to hit the pavement, not all of them got a lot of valuable track time. All three rookie drivers took their turns making a mistake around the 14-turn course. Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin spun early in the session and McLaughlin got the worst of it as his day was done less than five laps in. Romain Grosjean also spun and backed his Dale Coyne Racing machine into the tire barrier on Friday.
The Belle Isle circuit is extremely demanding, even in cool temperatures. The physical nature of the track, which is filled with bumps, usually takes a toll on drivers. “Yeah, it’s never really a fun last 10, 15 laps of those races, then doing it twice in a weekend,” Sebastien Bourdais said. “I think that dehydration level is going to be tough.” The Dale Coyne Racing driver was second-fastest on Friday. Said Graham Rahal, “I do think it’s going to be an exceptionally physical weekend.”
Both of these drivers have won two races here, in consecutive events. Bourdais won the second race in 2015 and the first in 2016 while Rahal swept the doubleheader in 2017, a feat that has never been matched at this circuit. Rahal is focusing on this event and trying to leave the heartache of the Indianapolis 500 behind him.
“What happened is, one mistake led to multiple others,” Rahal said. “We don’t need to point down to one single person because all of us have a part in that. We’ve broken it down. Certainly, I think going forward we’ll be in a better place. As the old saying goes, we win as a team, lose as a team. It hasn’t been discussed internally since the review. Everybody accepted what went wrong. Now, we’re moving forward. Now, we’re focused on Detroit and making the rest of this year as best we can.”
It was a much better afternoon for Andretti Autosport, who desperately needs good results this weekend. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta were both inside the top five today, with Ryan Hunter-Reay also inside the top ten. James Hinchcliffe was one spot behind him in 11th, despite a spin when the session ended. Rinus VeeKay was another driver that avoided disaster just as the checkered flag fell.
Qualifying for Saturday’s race will take place at 11 AM ET tomorrow. The race distance is 70 laps, which is 164.5 miles around the 2.35-mile 13-turn street circuit. The last IndyCar races at Belle Isle were won by Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon in 2019. Rossi started on pole in Race 1 while Newgarden started Race 2 from pole position. Coverage for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race 1 begins at 2 PM ET on NBC.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar