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IndyCar: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Preview

Graham Rahal runs out front in the Detroit Grand Prix. [Andy Clary Photo]

Graham Rahal runs out front in the Detroit Grand Prix. [Andy Clary Photo]

by Paul Gohde

The Raceway at Belle Isle Park is on an island in the waters of the Detroit River, just a short distance from Detroit’s city center. The roar of Indy cars can be heard in offices and stores, a roar that started in 1992 and continues for the 24/25th time as Roger Penske presents the only doubleheader on the Verizon IndyCar schedule; the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

RACE FACTS: The Belle Isle course measures 2.35 tight miles (164.5 race miles) for each of the weekend’s two 70-lap events around the 14-turn track.  CART first raced on the former downtown Formula One street course in 1989 but moved to the island three years later. Bobby Rahal won the first CART there, while his son Graham swept the B. I. double-header last year. This weekend’s twin events are races 7/8 on the 2018 Verizon schedule as the season shifts into high gear after spending three weeks in Indianapolis. Takuma Sato holds the most recent qualifying record (114.831mph-2017), while Rahal has the race record (105.442mph-2017).

PAST DETROIT RACES: Team Penske has won here six times with its veteran driver Helio Castroneves having captured three poles and three of those wins. The likes of Greg Moore, Alex Zanardi, Danny Sullivan and Dario Franchitti have won here, and last week’s Indy 500 winner Will Power has visited Belle Isle’s victory lane twice. The course has been modified three times from its original track and length, with today’s being the longest and somewhat better flowing configuration.

THIS SEASON SO FAR: After six races including the double-points Indy 500, Will Power leads the run for the season’s championship with 243 points. Alexander Rossi is right behind at 241. Last year’s champ Josef Newgarden is third (-10) followed by Scott Dixon (-25) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (-57). Power and Newgarden each have two wins while Rossi and Sebastien Bourdais each have one.

THE FIELD: Detroit has 23, one more than in 2017. Santino Ferruci replaces the injured Pietro Fittipaldi at Dale Coyne. The Woodbury, CT rookie is fresh from competing in the F2 race at Monaco last weekend and his goal is to compete in Formula 1 someday. The usual road course drivers (Jordan King-Carpenter Racing and Rene Binder-Juncos) replace those team’s oval track experts.

NOTES: A high-ranking Chevrolet official noted on Monday at the track that he thought there would be a third manufacturer likely to get involved in Indy Car racing and perhaps yet another. There was also quite a bit of conjecture over the 500 week-end regarding the reported interest of McLaren and Fernando Alonso to return full-time to Indy Car. The question for the orange cars being whether-or-not they would bring their own engine or one from another manufacturer? Would it be beneficial for them to run a Chevy/Honda Dallara full time as they did in the 2017 500? Will we find out answers sooner or later?…IMS is encouraging 2018 ticket holders to renew by June 17 to get the best price and keep or upgrade their seat location…Previous Detroit race winners entered for the weekend include Rahal, Power, Bourdais, Pagenaud, Dixon and Carlos Munoz…TV, Saturday/Sunday- ABC, 3:30 pm ET…Tony Kanaan has appeared in 15 previous Detroit races, more than any other driver.

OUR TAKE: Chevy-powered teams love to win at Detroit given the proximity to GM headquarters and the event’s name. Promoter Penske also has strong Bowtie connections. Rahal won both races last year and would like a Honda repeat. Honda seems to be stronger on road/street courses, so…I’ll pick Rahal or Rossi for Honda and any Penske car for Chevy.

FINAL WORDS: Will Power (No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “This has been an interesting week so far. When you want something so much (winning the 500) and it finally comes true, your hard work has paid off. Now we have to focus on Detroit because I don’t want to experience a hangover from the win when we are leading in points…It’s such a tough course that you have to be in the game from the drop of the green flag or you can have a bad day pretty quick.”

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”