Here we are, back in Detroit for the only doubleheader weekend of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Two practices, two qualifying sessions, and two races (across a two-nation space, technically speaking) will fill up the next three days on Belle Isle, with the city skyline of downtown Detroit keeping a watchful eye.
Sitting here in the newly located International Media Center on the grounds of the Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, makes me think back over the past few years on these grounds. My nostalgia stretches back to 2013 and attending the event with my sister – it was muddy and it was hot, but man did we have fun. Mike Conway won that Saturday for Dale Coyne Racing and Simon Pagenaud won on Sunday for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton HP Motorsports. Huge wins for both drivers, as Conway’s victory was the third for his team and first that year, and it was a career-first win for Pagenaud.
Another driver with good memories of this event, is Graham Rahal. He swept the Dual in Detroit last year and looks to repeat that success. He’s sitting sixth in points right now, showing consistency and stability in 2018,
“This year has been really solid with top-10s every single race, completing every single lap but I would like to go to Detroit and find a way to win both of the races just like last year. It was a dream weekend. We were fastest or second in every single practice or qualifying session and then in the race; it was just a perfect weekend. We need to find a way to make magic happen again.”
That magic has to happen with a new aero kit though, so it remains to be seen if RLL will be able to dial it in again. They worked so efficiently in 2017, that they made what was certainly a weekend full of hard work and focus, look like an effortless production. An unpredictable element that can throw a wrench into their plans is something all too familiar to the streets of Belle Isle… rain.
According to RaceCast Weather, Friday has a 50% chance of the wet stuff impacting practice sessions. Which leads me to wonder how much action we would see on track if the skies were to open up. Since they are predicting sun and clouds on Saturday, and only a slight chance of showers later on Sunday – what kind of translatable data would teams be able to obtain in the wet, if qualifying and race time are more than likely to be dry? Let’s just hope that the rain holds off on Friday, or at least doesn’t impact the sessions too significantly. After all, this is a spectator sport and the more time we spend on track, the happier the fans in the stands will be!
Besides, it would be great to just go one weekend without having to lug my rain boots all over the track with me! Thus far, every track I’ve been to this year has had rainy days. I’m sorry for bringing the black clouds, it’s really not in my nature!
Moving on from storm fronts to racing. The road and street kits have produced more excitement, and shown better ability to pass than the oval kits this year. Like anything, it’s new and will need tweaking to get it just right. But Rahal is happy to be back on a “twisty track” for Rounds 7 and 8 of the IndyCar season:
“I think our street course car is our best package that we have currently so I definitely feel really good about our situation. I really feel Detroit should suit us extremely well. Clearly, coming off of last year, everybody in our team has a lot of confidence that we can go there and have a great weekend. We’re going to try our best.”
And that confidence should be amped up even more considering that Rahal also won the Race 1 pole last year. The winner of the Race 2 pole? Takuma Sato. Sato was racing for Andretti Autosport at the time but this year, he’s teammates with Rahal. That dominance of their current drivers, across the weekend at this track last year, has to make RLL feel like they’re a step ahead of the game. It’s certainly giving Sato a positive mindset,
“I think I have a great environment with the team who the last few seasons have been incredibly competitive there so I’m really looking forward to going to Detroit. It’s a very challenging track, very bumpy which is opposite from IMS and I think it is a good contrast. The fans are enthusiastic there as well so I am looking forward to it. It’s unfortunate that in both street course events this year we couldn’t achieve the final results but I think we showed great speed and I am sure that we can continue to show the competitiveness.”
Sato and Rahal will take to the track with the rest of the field on Friday morning at 11:20 a.m. ET for a 45-minute practice session. Again, as long as the weather holds out for us, we should be able to get a good idea between that session and the afternoon one at 3:10 p.m ET about who might find victory here in Detroit this year.
Will Rahal, in his No. 15 United Rentals Honda tie or exceed the three race wins that Helio Castroneves achieved at this circuit, the most of any IndyCar driver? Could his teammate Sato outrace him in the No. 30 Fifth Third Bank Honda and grab his first win on the course? Or will another team take over and dominate the way RLL Racing did last year?
Tune in to the livestream for all the practices and qualifying to gage how the field looks, and then watch both races at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on ABC Network to find out.
Photo credit: James Black, IndyCar