The Indy car race on Belle Isle first ran in 1992. Bobby Rahal won that inaugural event, and yesterday his son Graham added to his family legacy by dominating the first race at the now titled, Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. He’s the first American to win in Detroit since 1996 when Michael Andretti won, and the first polesitter to capture the checkereds here since Scott Dixon in 2012. Rahal led all but 15 laps of the 70 lap event (the most of his career) and has confidence that he, along with his No. 15 Soldier Strong/TurnsforTroops.com RLL Honda crew can replicate those results in Dual II this afternoon.
Rahal’s last three wins have been on three different formats of track: this weekend in Detroit of course being a temporary street circuit, an super-speedway oval in the form of Texas Motor Speedway, and a permanent road course and his home track of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. This is a perfect example of the depth of our field and the variety of tracks that the Verizon IndyCar Series provides as competition. Rahal also has wins at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA in 2015 and on the streets of St. Petersburg, FL back in 2008 which was also his first career victory. The small oval is the only type of track in this series that he has yet to conquer.
Scott Dixon, a winner on all forms of tracks, and the Indy car driver with the 4th highest number of wins in history… came to Detroit this weekend with a limp and the determination for a solid finish after his huge crash at the Indianapolis 500 just 6 days ago. He finished on the podium with a P2 and stole the points lead from Castroneves. When asked how he felt about the 7 winners in 7 races this season he said, “I wouldn’t know…” which was met with laughter from James Hinchcliffe, given the 40 wins that Dixon has claimed over the years. Dixon has the opportunity to get that win today, and I think the odds are pretty good. And I would be okay with that selfishly, because I would love to see the series streak continue and have 8 different winners in 8 rounds.
Jumping back to that comment I made about Hinchcliffe, he wasn’t just at the post-race presser for comic relief (though it’s always a great bonus), he was there to discuss his day and third place finish. It was his first time on the podium since his win on the streets of Long Beach, CA back in April. When the event kicked off yesterday, Hinchcliffe got turned around in Turn 2 and nearly everyone thought his first lap bad luck at Detroit was continuing. With the yellow that was drawn, he was able to cycle back around and get on the lead lap. He had great pace all day in the No. 5 Arrow SPM Honda and did not get caught up in traffic. He even led Lap 48 during pit stop cycles.
All in all, Dual I on Belle Isle yielded a very deserving podium. All three drivers had steady pace all day and strong cars under them, thanks to their crew. It was interesting that each of them was running a different strategy, from fuel consumption to tire use. Even the push-to-pass allotments were used up in varying amounts. Rahal mentioned having 135 second remaining with only a handful of laps remaining. It’s not like they can carry over, so he used some of them up in order to learn fuel numbers in advance of today’s event. He also knew that in the case Dixon got around the lapped traffic, he would still be safe and able to distance himself and maintain the lead.
The podium finishers were not the only drivers of note in this contest. One in particular jumped out at me: Ed Jones. He finished in P9, his 4th Top 10 of the season. This moved him up to 7th in the Championship points race. He won’t just be our 2017 Rookie of the Year by default, but he may very well contend for the Championship overall if he continues to build on these outcomes. This year is going to be all about consistency, and Jones is only 68 points behind Dixon. Yeah. That’s legit. The only rookies to win the Series Championship were Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999 and Nigel Mansell in 1993. Can Jones bring a series title to Dale Coyne Racing for the first time in team history, while piloting the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda? Check back with me in about 103 days…
And finally, an all-Honda podium is great for the manufacturer and for the series that lacked serious manufacturer competition in 2016. The work of the Honda engineers has been proven with 4 wins in 7 rounds. But for a Chevrolet-sponsored event in Detroit, you can be certain that the Team Chevy crews of AJ Foyt Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, and Team Penske are eager to put bowties up on that podium for Dual II. Keep an eye on them today, as you might see some interesting calls on strategy based on the potentially wet or damp track surface. We are all in store for another unpredictable event later today.
Feature photo and in-post photos credit: Shay Hazen