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A rough road on the streets of Detroit

IndyCar’s return to Detroit’s Belle Isle last weekend was rather messy as the rough track began to come apart in the middle of the race resulting in a two-hour red flag.

After the long delay the race was cut short by 30 laps as Scott Dixon scored a dominant win, leading all the way from pole. It was Dixon’s first win of the year after a trio of second places and the second one-two in as many weeks for Chip Ganassi’s Honda-powered team as Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti drove another remarkable race from a midfield starting position to finish second.

Dixon has been very competitive in every race this year, more so than Franchitti in fact. He came within a car length of scoring his second win at Indianapolis the week before and was the man to beat all weekend in Detroit, which he won in 2008.

indycar  A rough road on the streets of Detroit

“That was sweet – a one-two,” Dixon grinned. “I can’t believe Dario came from 14th on this track and raced his way up there. Another one-two for the team two weeks in a row, which is fantastic and a big day for points which helps us immensely.”

Franchitti was held up badly in qualifying by Ed Carpenter thus starting from the seventh row of the grid. As well as being very bumpy the Belle Isle track is also a typical street circuit with few places to pass, yet Dario was able to work his way through the field, eventually making up five places on the final two restarts after the red flag.

“I had to make up for the poor show in qualifying,” Dario remarked, “because Scott did an awesome job all weekend – fastest in qualifying and just running away with the race. Scott was just too good today. Hats off to him.”

Championship leader Will Power qualified second to Dixon and chased him most of the way. But on the last two restarts Power was passed by Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud, the latter taking third place ahead of Power.

indycar  A rough road on the streets of Detroit

So after six of 16 races Power continues to lead the IZOD IndyCar Series with 232 points. Dixon is second, 26 points behind, followed by Helio Castroneves (-55) with Franchitti moving into a tie for fourth with James Hinchcliffe just one point behind Castroneves. The impressive Pagenaud, in his first full IndyCar season with Sam Schmidt’s little team is sixth in points, is five behind Franchitti and Hinchcliffe.

CART raced on Belle Isle from 1992-2001 and the race was revived by Roger Penske in 2007 and ‘08. The bad economy meant that race didn’t happen the past two years but Penske revived the race again this year. Penske and his team did a great job of cleaning up the park and improving the presentation of the event, but inexplicably Roger failed to put in the effort required to produce a serviceable race track.

Belle Isle has always been notoriously bumpy. It’s also true that most of IndyCar’s street circuits are bumpy and crudely presented, but that’s no reason for Penske to lower his legendary high standards. The city of Detroit is renowned for its crumbling infrastructure, rough roads and potholes and if that image is to be dispelled it should start with a properly prepared race track on Belle Isle.

“The people of the city of Detroit have really come behind this race,” Penske commented. “We’ve got the media, the corporate community, the Mayor’s office and the city council that’s really been one big team. To me, this is a bump in the road that we didn’t expect.”

indycar  A rough road on the streets of Detroit

Added Franchitti: “There’s got to be some big work for next year. The amount of work that Roger Penske and his whole organisation has put into bringing this place back, hats off to them. They’ll continue to work at it. We need to be racing here in the Motor City.”

If IndyCar is to regain the respect it once commanded in the international racing community it must raise its standards and Roger Penske must lead the way.

Add your comments

5 comments on A rough road on the streets of Detroit

  1. Gavin Brown, 6 June 2012 10:26

    What a complete shambles IndyCar has been in the last couple of weeks!

    After the best 500 in years, we find out that the teams are unhappy, they are trying to oust the CEO (who has worked wonders bringing the sport back into profitability) and want to get rid of aero kits (because the chassis monopoly means that Dallara can charge whatever they want, just like in GP2), then we get a race like this where the track surface can’t even hold together?

    I do hope IndyCar can sort these issues out, as they were starting to make some really good progress and I’d hate to see this momentum lost…

  2. dave cubbedge, 6 June 2012 12:21

    Shambles? One could say the same about F1 in 1984 after dallas or in 1985 after Spa or a couple years ago in Montreal. The most qualified engineers cannot design a road that will hold up to the forces of ground effects and let’s face it, the road was designed for slow moving traffic, long before ground effects was known. In other words, crap happens. Shambles, I don’t think so.

    Having said that and despite the fact that I live only 60 minutes from Detroit, the tiny Belle Isle circuit does nothing for me at all and I have yet to attend any event there. I fervently hope the series returns to its’ ‘home’ at Michigan International Speedway. I’ve seen some remarkable races there with Indycars over the years.

  3. Gavin Brown, 6 June 2012 12:42

    @Dave,

    Very good points. One would consider those races a shambles too. We have probably forgotten countless others, such as the first Sao Paulo IndyCar race (where the Sambadrome had concrete so slippery it had to be ground down overnight)

    You would think if a promoter was planning a street race, they would spend time and money ensuring the races you referred to were learned from, and making the surface suitable and durable enough for racing cars.

    There are many examples in lots of different series where the surfaces are acceptable and do not break up like they did in those races mentioned…

  4. dave cubbedge, 6 June 2012 16:10

    After giving it more thought (seems like this always happens after I hit the ‘submit’ button) the race was a mess, a shamble. But, to be frank, I expected it – not that I knew the track would break up, but more in the fact that Belle Isle is a silly little circuit with nowhere to pass. I fully expected a freak result after the carnage took place. I was wrong there!

    If I have a fault, it would be that I am desperately trying to find the good in this series rather than be negative. Believe me, sometimes it is about impossible. It was a great Indy; I was in Grandstand A and saw the entire Sato/Franchitti incident on lap 200 – and my hat is tipped to Takuma for having the stones to try the pass. I only wish they’d go to the Milwaukee Mile the week after Indy like they used to do instead of this island….

    And, since I’m on a roll, how about a race at the big oval for USAC Silver Crown cars? Run it on Friday after the Indy Lights race. 25 lapper, I’d be there for sure just to see them run. I wouldn’t care if there wasn’t a pass in the entire race; it would be something to see the big sprint cars on the big stage.

  5. Ray T, 7 June 2012 18:49

    It’s funny how these track disasters only seem to happen in North America. I guarantee putting thin asphalt strips down in concrete channels had nothing to do with any engineer. It’s always the same issue with IndyCar: do it the cheapest way possible, with the cheapest labor possible.
    Lucky some driver wasn’t hurt from flying asphalt chunks due to cheap organizers and incompetence…but then again, I guess TV needs some tear-filled sentimental stories for the 2013 Indy 500 telecast.

    Wait for Toronto: that awful track is a pain to drive in a cushy road car.

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