Detroit Race 2 Thoughts- O’Ward Wins the Weekend

Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

No one should be surprised at what Pato O’Ward is doing this season. We knew he was an exceptional talent when he began his Indycar career. I have to wonder how much better he would be if he had not lost his original Carlin ride and missed part of a season in Japan. I’m glad he is in Indycar and I hope the sirens of F1 don’t draw him away.

Pato O’Ward on track by Matt Fraver, Indycar

O’Ward’s weekend- a pole, a third place, a win after starting 16th, 88 points, and the new points leader. Not bad.

Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Team Penske now know how Charlie Brown feels when Lucy pulls the football away. Saturday was not Power’s fault, but the fault of a questionable call race control. Yesterday Newgarden got caught out by the yellows and had to finish the race on the alternate tires- a big ask to go 25 laps with the reds on this track. What a frustrating weekend for them.

O’Ward broke the streak of seven different winners in seven races. His second win of the season gives him the tie breaker should the championship end in a tie. Usually the series champion has at least three wins in a season.

Is There Still a Big Three?

Indycar fans are used to referring to the Big Three- Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, but is that changing? Penske has just one pole and no wins, Andretti one win and one pole, and Ganassi has two wins and one pole. Arrow McLaren SP has two poles and two victories. We either have a Big Four or a Big Two. For now, I don’t think we can say Big Three.

Notes

Before his spin on lap 54 I thought Jimmie Johnson was having his best drive of the year. He passed cars on track with confident moves and was keeping pace.

Romain Grosjean’s reaction to his brake fire left me with a lump in my throat. I’m sure he never wanted to be in another burning car.

Scott Dixon leaves Detroit with the same points deficit to the leader he had going into the weekend, but he is now third instead of second in the standings.

I don’t think I have ever seen a snoozer of a race turn into a good race as quickly as I did yesterday.

Santino Ferruci had two top ten finishes this weekend. Yesterday’s was especially noteworthy since he destroyed his primary car in qualifying and drove a backup car in the race. The car got to the grid about two minutes before the command to start engines.

An annoying trend that needs to stop now-The PA announcer in the past has called drivers to their cars for years. I guess it is to build excitement for the start of the race. I have always found it unnecessary to announce but it never bothered me until the last few races when celebrities began assuming the task. Really? Next we will see celebrity drivers of the trucks that take the drivers around the tracks during driver introductions. Having celebrities at the races is great, but having menial tasks like saying “Driver to your cars” is a little much.

I will be back later with a full weekend wrap up. thanks again for following along this weekend.

Race Day 2- New Day, Another Winner?

Photo of yesterday’s race start by Joe Skibinski

Today’s schedule:

Askew Replaces His Replacement

Late last night Arrow McLaren SP named Oliver Askew to replace Felix Rosenqvist in the 7 car for Race 2. Rosenqvist was injured in a frightening crash in yesterday’s race. His injuries are not life threatening.

Oliver Askew

Askew drove the 7 last year, but did not complete the season. He suffered a concussion in a crash at the Indianapolis 500 last August and after a couple of poor performances, he left the team. Askew has driven in IMSA, driving in the LMP3 class.

Going for Eight

Today’s race could produce a record eighth different winner in the first eight races of the season. I find it ironic that a Team Penske driver could set the record. the team usually has at least three wins by this point in the year.

A Scott Dixon win would tie him with Mario Andretti with 52 career victories.

The Qualifying Format

I like the qualifying format for this race. I assume if another road course double header happens, this format will be used again. I think it is fairer than the fastest driver of two groups concept because all drivers in effect get a chance to compete for the pole.

Palou Needs a Better Day

Points leader Alex Palou needs to have a better day than he had yesterday or his points lead could disappear. He will likely start higher than last, but he has been stuck in the middle of the pack all weekend.

Yesterday Was Wild, Let’s Do It Again

I hope for another good race, minus a crash which injures a driver. A less controversial finish would be nice too. The current aero package continues to be very racy on road and street courses.

I will be heading back to Indy immediately after the race. Look for my thoughts on Race 2 Monday. Thanks for following along this weekend.

Power Sees Red -Thoughts on Detroit Race 1

Photo of Marcus Ericsson by Chris Owens, Indycar

Let’s begin at the end. The red flag with six laps go was uncalled for. A yellow would have worked. The race may or may not have restarted. I don’t believe in throwing a red flag just so a race can finish under green. Fans are not entitled to a green finish, and drivers accept that sometimes a race finishes under caution.

Congratulations to Marcus Ericsson on his first Indycar victory. He joins Kenny Brack and Felix Rosenqvist as drivers from Sweden who have won at least one Indycar race. Ericsson is the fourth first time winner this season as Indycar continues its streak of a different winner every race. Will the string be broken tomorrow?

Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

Will Power was furious after the race, as well he should have been. His best drive of the year was wasted. I thought he would come out strong today to make up for his showing in the Indianapolis 500. I thought he was motivated today. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win the pole and lead every lap tomorrow. Look up his interview with Kevin Lee on NBC Sports. I haven’t seen him this angry since Loudon.

Alex Palou retains the points lead by 15 points over Pato O’Ward. Scott Dixon is 26 points behind. Palou started last and finished 15th.

All three of Chip Ganassi Racing’s full time drivers have won a race this year, while Team Penske is still looking for its first victory in 2021. Penske drivers were having one of their better days of the year today until the red flags quashed their strategy.

Today’s race was probably the best one I have seen at Belle Isle. There was lots of passing, different pit strategies, and end of race drama.

Late news from on Felix Rosenqvist from Dr. Billows:

“Evaluation revealed no life or limb threatening injuries, he remains awake and alert, he will be observed overnight prior to discharge from the hospital”

Rosenqvist’s crash was one of the scariest I have seen. The statement implies that he has not been cleared to drive tomorrow. I’m not sure if the car will be ready.

Takuma Sato ,Graham Rahal, and Santino Ferrucci of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had outstanding drives today, finishing 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively. Sato started 16th, Rahal 20th, and Ferrucci 21st. It was the team’s best day of the season.

Today was the first race of 2021 where Team Penske cars looked to have a winning race pace. Simon Pagenaud looked to be on a winning path until the red flag, and Josef Newgarden looked to be in line for a top five finish as well. It seems strange that this team has not won a race yet this year. Today was just the second time in 2021 a Penske driver was not on the podium.

Race Day 1 in Detroit

Today’s Schedule:

Penske VP Bud Denker said on Friday afternoon that about 1,000 tickets remained for today’s race and around 1,400 were still available for Sunday. Thge crowd is limted because of the number of grandstands the organizers could get in place given the original capacity limits which were later expanded.

The IMSA race begins at 5pm. It is a 2 hour race.

The weather for Saturday in Detroit will be similar to yesterday. According to my weather app, there is a 32% chance of rain at 3 pm. Rain tire strategy could come into play mid race.

The new qualifying format for Detroit adds a Fast Twelve for the pole. The fastest car in each group does not receive a point as in the past. Only the pole winner gets a bonus point. Will Power said in the post practice press conference that he might choose Group 1 today because of the time of the qualifying round. Indy Lights has race 3 qualifying before Indycar is on track. Power’s reasoning is that since you only need to be one of the fastest six cars in your group, it doesn’t matter. The order of the groups switches tomorrow.

I’ll be back with a brief post qualifying report around noon.

Power Edges Bourdais on Last Practice Lap

Photo by Matt Fraver, Indycar

Will Power had the quickest time in the only practice session for the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit this afternoon. Sébastien Bourdais looked as if he would lead the 75 minute period, but Power’s final lap put him on top.

The three rookies all had on track issues.Jimmie Johnson spun into the tires in turn 3 and Scott McLaughlin spun in turn 5 just moments later.Romain Grosjeqn spun but kept the carrunning and returned the track later in the session.

Power talked about the heat today, where the track temperature reached 120 degrees.

“Yeah, it’s very hot out there,” Power said. “It’s just a physical track. You kind of hold your breath because there’s just so much commitment. I feel all right. The car is in a really good window. I was happy to get a lap in there at the end, with some guys backing up and such.”

It was a good showing for Chevrolet in their home race as cars powered by the Detroit made engine took the top three spots. Honda and Chevy each had five cars in the top ten.

Points leader Alex Palou was mired in mid pack most of the session. Palou has a six place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race, so a high qualifying spot is crucial for him.

The results:

Qualifying begins at 11 am EDT tomorrow.

Detroit Preview: Points Lead on the Line

Indycar returns to Belle Isle after a year away because of the pandemic. The double header gives those drivers who had a difficult Indianapolis 500 a chance to get back some points. The event also allows the points leader a shot at gaining a comfortable lead. In 2021, Scott Dixon is not leading the points for the first time in 17 races going back to last season. His teammate, Alex Palou leads Dixon by 36 points, and Pato O’Ward is just one point further behind. We could see the standings get scrambled after Saturday’s race, then flip again at the end of the day Sunday.

Palou May Slip in Race 1

Alex Palou has a six place grid penalty for race one, making his qualifying effort on a track he has never seen very important. He needs to make the third qualifying round and end up n the top half of the grid. Palou has led laps in every race in 2021, but that streak is in danger of falling tomorrow.

O’Ward struggled at St.Pete, the only other street race so far in 2021, but he is optimistic about his chances at Detroit, where he has raced sports cars. As far as Beating Dixon for the title. O’Ward said,

“Yeah, what I learned was that you have to beat the master of consistency at his own game in order to win the championship. I think that’s the best way to putit. We just need to outscore him as much as we can every weekend. I think that’s the best thing we can do in order to have a shot at the championship at Long Beach.”

O’Ward acknowledges that he has already used up his bad races and cannot have another if he wants to have a shot at the title at Long Beach.

Dixon, who finished a disappointing 17th in the 500, needs to show his trademark consistency the rest of the season. June is usually the month when Dixon really starts get going, and the month starts at a track where has won three times.

New Qualifying Format

Double header qualifying has been two 15 minute groups with the fastest driver in each group making up the front row, and the faster of the group leaders on the pole. For Detroit in 2021, the six fastest in each 10 minute group will have another 10 minute round, the Fast Twelve, to determine the pole. This format makes qualifying more similar to qualifying at the other road and street course races.

Qualifying takes the same amount of time as in the past, and I think it is more fair. usually the second group is quicker because of the rubber laid down on the track by the first group. The format will give some drivers a second chance at starting up front.

Eight for Eight?

The NTT Indycar Series has produced six different winners in six races this season. A different winner in Race 1 will tie a record, which can then be broken on Sunday. While I would like to see that, I think the record will be tied Saturday and Sunday will see 2021’s first repeat winner. The record for different winners in a season is 11. We are well on our way to that mark.

A different winner each race keeps the championship battle tight. I hope the trend continues.

First Penske Win?

Even more surprising than the six winners in six races is that a Team Penske driver is not in that group. I believe this is the weekend for the team to break into the winner’s column tomorrow. Simon Pagenaud’s charge to a third place after starting 26th has him fourth in the standings, 47 points behind Palou.

It’s odd not seeing Josef Newgarden have a victory yet this year. On Saturday, one of these two drivers will be in Victory Circle.

For Sunday, I think we will see a repeat winner, either Dixon or O’Ward.

The first key at Detroit is to qualify well. The second key is pit strategy to gain track position. Alex Palou will need to use both to keep his lead in Race 1 in order to have a chance to remain first in the standings heading to Road America.

Today’s practic is 5-6:15 pm Eastern, streamed on Peacock. I will be traveling to Detroit later this morning, and will have a wrap up this evening.

Palou Welcomes Detroit Challenge as He Fights to Keep Points Lead

Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Alex Palou isn’t afraid of a challenge. He proved that at the Indianapolis 500 when he dueled four time winner Helio Castroneves over the last seven laps of the race. Going to Detroit, a track he has never seen in person, will be another step for the current Indycar points leader.

“…it’s going to be challenging for sure. I’ve never been to Detroit. It looks — the track looks awesome. Looks really bumpy. But yeah, I think the layout, it’s super nice as a street course. I’m looking forward,” Palou told the media earlier this week.

“I’ve been preparing a lot on the sim, the track, just for myself, not setup related. I’ve been doing it at home, just because it’s super important on a street course to really know the bumps, to really get some references. And then aside, as well, we’ve been working with the team doing the setup stuff so we don’t have to work that much during the race weekend.And then during free practice, it’s going to be tough. I’m going to be able to — I’m going to have to be able to get up to speed really quick, and yeah, I just need to focus on everything. I need to focus on all the bumps. I need to see how the car rides the bumps. That’s super important. And then braking zones. I think it’s super important on street courses to really nail and attack the braking zones. Hopefully we are able to do that soon enough so we can start developing our car during free practice,” he continued.

On his near miss at Indianapolis, Palou said,

“I think it all came down to traffic, so I think I would just have waited for the last pass a little bit more. But at that point we had Rosenqvist in front, and that helped me. I actually pulled, and if Rosenqvist kept himself out, I think we would have had a chance to just go or maybe to fight again, but yeah, he went, and I was alone there, and he got traffic.Maybe just wait, but it’s super easy to say it now. Maybe a yellow comes out and you are waiting there second and you are like, why did I wait?”

Palou is fighting with teammate Scott Dixon for the championship right now. Some see that as an advantage, but Palou disagrees,.

“No, that’s the opposite because I know he’s going to compete with the same car as me, so I know he’s going to compete with a really good car, and it’s going to be up to us. I would prefer him to be on another team so I could know that I have the best team around me. But no, joking aside, it’s cool. It’s super good to be able to do what he’s doing, to know the strategies they are doing,to know how he’s approaching the weekends. It’s been really helpful for me so far, and it’s going to still be really helpful.”

Palou has a six place grid penalty for Race 1, which puts his record of leading every race this year in jeopardy. Qualifying will be extremely important to his chances of remaining on top of the points standings.

Grosjean Set for Oval Debut; News and Notes

A few noteworthy items as we head into the weekend at Detroit.

Romain Grosjean will run his first oval race at Gateway in August. Grosjean originally planned to run only the street and road course races, but had left Gateway open as a possibility. The run at the Madison, Illinois track may be a prelude for Grosjean to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 next year.

Grosjean earned the pole for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, finishing second in the race after leading the most laps

Mid Ohio Paddock Passes on Sale

Mid Ohio will allow fans paddock access at the Honda Indy 200. The announcement yesterday said that paddock and pit passes are now on sale. Mid Ohio joins Detroit and Road America as tracks allowing fans paddock access as things slowly return to normal.

Detroit Unmasked

The Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit now has no mask requirement for fans while outdoors. Inside buildings, masks are required for unvaccinated people. The race initially had attendance limited to 20% of capacity, but that restriction is also no longer in effect. Race organizers have opened up more reserved grandstand seating, but they are still limiting the number of general admission tickets sold.

We may be seeing the end of fan restrictions as the series moves ionto the second half of the season.

Who Gets Race 17?

There are three options to replace the cancelled Toronto race- a double header at Mid Ohio, a double header at Gateway, or no replacement at all.

Mid Ohio makes the most sense since the track and Toronto have the same promoter, Green Savoree. Gateway is a good choice since that would give the series another oval race. Doing nothing might be what happens if a television window is not available for the additional race.

I think there will be a 17th race. Time is not on Mid Ohio’s side, but since the track hosted a double header on short notice last year, it could still happen.

Detroit Weekend Schedule

A little bit of a bit of a different schedule this year in Detroit. There is only one late afternoon practice session Friday, and the qualifying procedure each day sees a slight modification.

Instead of the fastest driver in each of those two groups making up. the front row, an extra 10 minute round has been added with the fastest six from each group running for the pole. I assume that the the groups switch. order for Sunday’s qualifying.

The IMSA race is Saturday afternoon at 5 pm following the Indycar race