The rust-belt ties are strong on Saturday at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. For the first time in 8 years, RLL Racing driver and Ohio-native, Graham Rahal will have clean air at the start of his race.
In a last minute… or late minute… call by race control, it was determined that Helio Castroneves who had the quickest lap of both qualifying groups this morning in the 12 minute heats, had ignored a local yellow on track involving Mikhail Aleshin. The penalty? The driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevy lost his quickest lap. His second fastest lap was still the fastest in Group 2, giving him a P2 starting position overall. This however, was not enough for the 49-time pole winner. He was visibly angry on pit lane.
My Push to Pass co-host Dusty and I had just made it to the pit wall when I noticed the screen on the timing and scoring stand. I asked one of the staff if what I was seeing was right. The screen had Graham Rahal as P1 but to my left, Castroneves was being interviewed, tv cameras all around him, and a P1 hat atop his head.
The gentleman explained to me that they had just gotten word of Helio’s penalty and confirmed to me that it was indeed correct. All of a sudden the fanfare halted. I looked around and saw Rahal coming up slowly on his scooter. He spoke with a series official and his face was that of utter confusion. After chatting a bit, I assume to clarify this was really correct, a huge grin took over his face. He had earned the Verizon P1 Award.
Helio, cap off his head at this point, was in a mood polar opposite than what we are all used to. The points leader was putting his finger in people’s faces, and swearing more than I’d ever heard on pit lane. Out of character for him but as Dusty commented when I looked over at him for his reaction, “Hey, it’s a competition.”
That it is. And with competition comes a set of rules. Unfortunately, Castroneves did not abide by them today and while the ruling came at an inconvenient time, it was legitimate nonetheless.
As mentioned earlier, his last pole was 8 years ago and that was in Kansas of 2009. The now three-time polesitter has been winless for a much shorter period of time, but that’s coming up on a year this August when he won that “3-month-long” Texas Motor Speedway race. We race again at Texas a week from today, but you can bet that Rahal doesn’t even want to wait that long for another victory.
“I think we found a fairly good balance ’cause I actually do think our race car will be better than our qualifying car, or at least I’m hopeful of that. I typically set up a car more for race day than qualifying. But I feel pretty strong about where we’re at.
I don’t want to put any extra pressure on myself or my team. But if we go out there and do our job today, yellows don’t play a huge role in strategy, things like that, where alternate strategies could pay off, I feel pretty good about where we’re at, without a doubt.”
He admitted being initially nervous about having to try and pass Helio, given his aggressive nature, but joked that hopefully passing will be “hard as hell” today like it usually is at this track and he can have the front of field advantage for the duration of the Saturday event. He’s not going into it with blinders on however; Rahal is fully prepared for Helio to be a huge threat starting on Turn 1.
It’s safe to say we are in for a great first race in the doubleheader today on Belle Isle and will likely see some risky maneuvers playing out. To whose advantage though? That remains to be seen.
Helio photo credit: IndyCar / Chris Jones
Rahal photo credit: LFT / Shay Hazen