The only doubleheader weekend of the Verizon IndyCar Series is upon us once again. Belle Isle is well-prepared this year, currently drenching us in sunshine and providing excellent track conditions. There is a chance of precipitation later this weekend but I’m gonna go ahead and say that it won’t delay any of the racing activity. Afterall, it’s not really a race weekend in Detroit if we don’t get a little bit of the wet stuff. They say that rain on a wedding day is lucky, so maybe that’s the case here as well.
It certainly has played out that way for a handful of drivers in the starting field. Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power have all achieved pole positions at the rough street circuit, as well as at least one race win. That lineup definitely shows a Team Penske and Chevrolet benefit. Appropriate, as it’s a Chevrolet-sponsored event, this is Roger’s adopted home town (I stress ‘adopted’ because he grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio – a suburb of Cleveland. And well, we all know how I feel about that city), and he’s almost single-handedly responsible for bringing this circuit back to the IndyCar schedule. Not to mention the investment he’s put in to getting the track surface up to snub. Yes, it’s still one of, if not the roughest course we race on, but it used to be a heck of a lot worse.
Let’s take a closer look at those four drivers I mentioned and why I think this weekend, we are likely to see a repeat winner.
Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevy, leads that aforementioned pack of 4 drivers with the most poles and the most wins – three of each. He’s led the field to green here in 2001, 2007, and in 2014’s Race 1. His first pole in 2001 put him in a great position to bring home the win, making it back-to-back victories as he also stood atop the Detroit podium in 2000. As we’ve mentioned many times this season, his most recent win was in 2014 on this street circuit. He came very close to winning his 4th Indianapolis 500 this past Sunday, but maybe this is the weekend that ends his drought.
Scott Dixon has had quite the eventful couple of weeks. From winning the pole at the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500, to being robbed at gunpoint in a Taco Bell drive-thru, to surviving a jaw-dropping accident in the 500 itself, he’s ready to get back to normal life. And by normal of course, we mean 160+ mph on the streets of Belle Isle. It’s a track that’s suited him well in the past, with poles in both 2008 and 2012 – the latter of which led him to victory. Here’s hoping he can have smooth events in the No. 9 Camping World Ganassi Racing Teams Honda on Saturday and Sunday in Michigan.
Simon Pagenaud, who recently sat down with Dusty and I in Belle Isle, is in good spirits and ready to fight for even more achievements this weekend. Last year you’ll recall that he secured both pole positions and even won Race 2 back in 2013. That was the first year that we went to a doubleheader format on the little isle tucked between Detroit, MI and Windsor, ONT Canada. It also marked the first win for Pagenaud in his IndyCar career. He is currently sitting in a three-way tie for second on the Championship points board alongside Dixon and Takuma Sato. And let’s put it this way… complacency is not Pagenaud’s thing, so we’re gonna see him fighting to get that lead back from teammate Castroneves. Best way to do that? A win with his new sponsor in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevy. Or maybe, two wins.
Will Power is piloting the familiar No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy this weekend and aiming to continue on the positive streak he’s had going here on the 13-turn, 2.35 mile track for the past few years. In 2014 he won Race 1, in 2015 he earned his first pole here in Race 1, and in 2016 he claimed victory in Race 2. According to that pattern, he is due for another Verizon P1 Award. The cards might be stacked in his favor as well, seeing as he’s won half the poles in 2017. The streets of St. Pete, Barber Motorsports Park, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all bent to Power’s whim during qualifying efforts.
I can’t predict what is about to transpire, but I do think these four drivers are ones to watch. Then again, if we have that great equalizer of rain making an appearance, anything could happen! We might not even need the added component of weather issues, because Practice 1 just concluded and Graham Rahal ran the quickest in his No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsForTroops.com RLL Honda followed by Castroneves, Josef Newgarden (No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) , Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda), and Power rounding out the Top 5.
Feature photo credit: Official Poster of the 2017 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix