IndyCar returns to Detroit as the follow-up race to the Indianapolis 500 for the 10th year. The location may be familiar, but the track will not.
After witnessing a successful debut of a downtown Nashville street circuit in 2021, the Detroit Grand Prix promoter decided to attempt something similar, moving the track off Belle Isle to the heart of the Motor City. Previously, the event had been run through the urban landscape from 1989 to 1991.
The new layout will be 1.7 miles of city streets with one long straightaway blended with several other moderate stretches into hard angle turns. All this new racing geometry is intended to improve overtaking compared to the tighter Belle Isle circuit with its mix of park roads that followed the contour of the island. At the end of the long straight will be a hairpin complex similar to the the final corner of Long Beach. It will also feature a unique challenge to the drivers, a dual pit lane, with cars stopping for service on both sides and then funneling to a single exit back on track.
The New Layout
This race’s biggest story line will be what type of show this new layout will put on as the drivers learn to master it. The last street circuit added to the schedule was the Music City Grand Prix of Nashville, and although the event is stellar the racing has been fraught with challenges due to the tight sections. To put it mildly, the kinks are still being worked out by drivers and the promoter heading into Nashville’s third attempt later this year.
But the team at the Penske Corporation and the Detroit Grand Prix organization are well aware of that, and no doubt intend to ensure a smooth event for fans and racers alike. It’s why the promoter is making over half the circuit free for spectators to watch. Now will the IndyCar drivers be able to put on a clean and exciting show? There definitely is a different buzz to the event, replacing the at-times uneventful Belle Isle street race with something new and unknown. This just adds to the excitement from the previous weekend in Indianapolis and the series may be able to capitalize on some great momentum heading into the summer.
There is no way to know which drivers will hit the Motor City pavement and be the one to beat. And that will be intriguing for the stars of IndyCar. The first practice will be key to know which teams came prepared with the right set ups. They will need to find a balance to take advantage of the long straights and maximize cornering through the hard angle turns. If multiple teams find the answer, then the right strategy in the pits, to include safely merging back on track in the dual-lane layout, may be the deciding factor.
Coming In Hot
Josef Newgarden will step into his No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, in General Motors’ literal backyard, and have an unmatched level of confidence coming off his Indianapolis 500 win. Who wouldn’t be confident in that position? Winning the most important race in the series, and arguably the world, will lift a giant mountain of stress and pressure off his shoulders. Even without the win, he had 26 victories and two championships to his credit. With his face going on the Borg-Warner trophy now, a confident and focused Newgarden is nothing but a beast unleashed on the competition. Look out.
Eyes on the Astor Cup
Alright, the first of the dual-crowns of the IndyCar monarchy has been claimed by Newgarden and Team Penske. Now all eyes traverse to the second crown, the Astor Cup and IndyCar championship. The standings are much tighter after Indy without the double points, and drivers like Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, and Kyle Kirkwood aren’t digging out of a 20-foot hole after poor finishes the week before.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is atop the standings after a determined fight back from a pit road incident to a top five at Indy, followed by his teammate Marcus Ericsson, who is returning to a city he won at in 2021 to ignite his trajectory to stardom. Remarkably, only one driver has multiple wins this year, and that’s Newgarden. Others in the top 10 in points without wins include O’Ward, who has multiple runner-ups, Scott Dixon (shocking right?), Alexander Rossi, and defending champion Will Power. And of course, there’s Romain Grosjean who apparently will finish really well (two runner-ups this year) or very poorly (three DNFs).
Those without wins will be striving to rectify that this weekend, hoping to start the post-Indy season off with momentum that can carry all the way to California in September.
Meyer-Shank Racing Rocky Season
The two pink cars for Meyer-Shank Racing have lacked results this year. What’s worse, Simon Pagenaud, 25th in the standings, is outside of the Leaders Circle pay window which is a guaranteed $1 million that goes to the top-22 finishers in the championship. His teammate Helio Castroneves isn’t faring much better, sitting in 21st. Last year at this time, the team came off two top-10 finishes at Indianapolis, bringing the team’s total to five at that point. Fast forward to today, they have one, with Castroneves’ 10th at Texas their best result. Regardless if performance has been the issue, or getting caught up in accidents not of their making – ahem, Pagenaud last weekend – things need to improve if either driver wants a long term future with the team.
The Other Million Dollar Prize
Lost in the glitz and cha-ching sound of Newgarden’s record breaking $3.6 million Indy 500 win is the other IndyCar cash prize. That’s the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge which has a $1 million prize, split evenly between driver, team and a charity of the driver’s choice. The requirements are to win a race on the three different disciplines in IndyCar: an oval, street circuit, and permanent road course. Last year, Newgarden accomplished that in the prize’s first year.
Heading into Detroit, those looking to capitalize will be road course winners Palou (Indy GP) and Scott McLaughlin (Barber) as well as Newgarden with checkmarks by both ovals (Texas being the other one).
Frontstretch Race Prediction
(i.e. throwing three darts at a dartboard with the lights off and hanging upside down)
- Pato O’Ward
- Alex Palou
- Scott Dixon
The NTT IndyCar Series Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix from Detroit, Michigan airs this Sunday , June 4, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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