Into The Crystal Ball… Here We Come Again, Edition

Hey Michigan… We’re on our way back! Although the Belle Isle street circuit is not a perfect layout, the indycar paddock seems ready and excited to showcase their new iron in front of the American auto industry. We have not visited Belle Isle since 2008 when Justin Wilson stole the win from a rightly penalized Helio Castroneves. Now, four years later, indycar racing is living in a new plain of existence and everything is reset as the series makes it new equipment debut in Detroit. Although the deck is not totally reshuffled as we have seen only Ganassi and Penske winners in 2012, this is the first time we are taking our new chassis and engine package to an unraced track. Four years is a long time and this weekend could be the best chance we have had to see a surprise winner.

5 Thinks to Watch

Track – Have we chosen the best track layout possible for the return event? Regrettably, no. The old layout that CART used from 1998 through 2001 would have been a much better choice to rebuild this event on. I have to assume that the infrastructure of the shortened course used in 2007 and 2008 is in much better shape than the old portions, hence the decision to use the less than ideal layout. There really aren’t many straight to pass on, but we said the same thing about Barber Motorsports Park earlier in the year. If we were bringing any chassis other than the DW12 I would really start to worry, and when I saw we were going to use the newer course I was a bit disappointed. But with the new chassis, which is a proven street fighter, we should be in for one heck of an event even given the lack of passing zones.

Turbo Power – We saw in qualifying trim at Indianapolis with the upped boost, the Chevy engine was making better power. We also witnessed the Hondas make better use of the lower boost levels in the race. But we are back up to the 700 horsepower range for Detroit’s street course return, and even with the upgraded turbos in Sao Paulo, Honda was still not able to stand its ground. I see no other option other than Sunday being another Chevy takeover. The Honda’s have just not been able to make better power when the boost is upped to anything more than the paltry 550 horses we saw in race trim last Sunday. I’m not sure why all the gnashing of teeth over the turbo changes because from where I am sitting, Team Chevy still holds most of the cards.

Helio Castroneves – No discussion about a return to Detroit would be complete without mentioning Helio. HC clearly has unfinished business at the track where he created his Spidey-Helio victory celebration during his CART days with Team Penske before they made the jump to the IRL. The last time we hit the streets of Detroit, he was penalized for blocking Justin Wilson and ended up with a P2 finish. Helio was not a happy camper after it was all said and done. Some analysts point to this moment as the beginning of the end for ex-race director Brian Barnhart, but that is all water under the bridge. Helio is having a good year with a win under his belt at St. Pete and a pole at Barber. It would only be fitting if he came back to win at the same track that holds so much history for the Brazilian driver.

Start/Restarts – As the year wears on and drivers become more and more comfortable using their car as a passing tool, I grow ever more worried about increasingly over optimistic moves on restarts and at the drop of the green flag. If we only learned one thing at Indy, it was that drivers have no fear sticking their nose into a place it may not belong… and have more often than not come out the other side unscathed. The drivers luck will not last all year and as the points battle tightens up the moves will become more desperate and knee-jerk. I hope the professionalism we have seen in the first five events continues into Detroit, and that drivers have not forgotten how to restart two wide after a month at Indy.

Rain? – After a scorching Indy 500, there could be some wet running in Motor City this weekend. As of writing (Thursday afternoon), there is a 90 percent chance of rain for Friday practice. Depending on drainage and how much standing water there is on track, I expect more than a few teams to take the opportunity to do some rain running now that we are past Indy. However, with the grueling schedule ahead of them it may not be the best of ideas to risk wadding a car up. Saturday qualifying and Sunday raceday look to have a much better forecast with only a 20 and 10 percent chance of rain respectively; which is unfortunate because I would have really enjoyed a full weekend of wet running. Rain always makes the racing better, but not sure it could get much better than we have seen in 2012 thus far.

Predictions

Pole – Will Power – Prove me wrong… PLEASE…

Winner – Takuma Sato –The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Team should be out for blood after what happened on the final lap of the Indy 500. Taku has been close to victory lane for two years and Detroit would be the perfect place for a Honda to finally grab a twisty win.

Epic Performer – The Belle Isle Grand Prix – From all reports, there should be a full house in attendance on Sunday. Whispers of a sell-out are circulating and it would be nice for INDYCAR to have another stronghold event, even if it’s a street course.

Biggest Loser – Simona De Silvestro – The lone Lotus will have a painful weekend. Engage many worried fans about the future of SdS in the INDYCAR Series. Every week she runs a Lotus in the back, the worse her situation becomes.

Indy was fantastic, but we are in the meat and potatoes of the season. IT GETS REAL on Sunday. Teams will no more be holding their cards close to the vest in preparation for Indy, and the fight for the outright championship begins in full swing at Detroit. After the first four twisty races, I am actually looking forward to seeing what more the DW12 can accomplish on street courses; especially as the teams gain more and more set-up information on the new chassis. Even with all of that said; I am already looking forward to three oval races in a row. The coming weeks will test the logistical prowess of even the largest teams in the paddock. It will be very interesting to see how everyone deals with crash damage and a compressed schedule between races. But onto Detroit first! It’s good to be back at a new track that actually looks forward to its racing, not just the event.

Eric Hall

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