Welcome Back! Glad you found your way back here after human error delayed and ultimately cancelled the posting of Detroit pre-race article. Nevertheless, the twin billing was a success on most all fronts. A part time driver claimed victory in race one, and a first time winner in race two continued the improbable season of parity and equality rarely seen in top level racing. The double header program seemed to really challenge everyone involved but gave the in-person customers and TV viewers on heck of a full and action packed weekend. Not to mention that I really enjoyed having two, full distance races to watch in one weekend. As the post-race press releases rolled in on Saturday night, you could feel the stress and fatigue on them. A 500 mile oval race is one of the most taxing things a crew and driver could be put through, and yet the Dual in Detroit was a whole different kind of animal.
New Detroit – In a word, the track looked amazing. There was no hint of the pot-hole filled bad dream that we experienced last year. The new paving job took away most reminders that we were on city streets and if there was grass to be seen by the overhead cam, it was beautifully manicured along with every other plant on the grounds. The track looked so good that in retrospect, the only surprise is that the Roger Penske led event took two years to get to this stage of grandeur.
Mike Conway – During race one, Mike Conway looked like he was leading a Formula One race. At one point, he had over 15 seconds in hand over P2, something nearly unheard of in indycar street racing. Dale Coyne Racing also played the tire strategy right by ensuring the car had the right rubber on at the right time. Coyne is certainly looking strong in the 2012 campaign. Justin Wilson seems to have as good a handle on the chassis and tires as anyone because Conway was able to step into the Coyne second seat, use the Wilson setups and then proceed to wipe the floor with the entire field.
Simon Pagenaud – Bryan Herta Autosport and Simon Pagenaud finally arrived in indycar with their win in race two on Sunday. We know BHA “ran” Wheldon’s winning entry in the 2011 Indy 500, but that was more of a Sam Schmidt crewed operation than anything else. The Frenchman has been on my radar since he left Champ Car for a sports car career, and it has been wonderful watching him make his open wheel comeback and finally clenching that big time win he has dreamed about since coming to the US in 2006. A win changes everything, and with this one the team and Simon become serious contenders for the rest of the season.
Dale Coyne Racing – Honda number two team? I think it may be a possibility to look at this year. The only other multi-carish teams in the Honda stable are Ganassi, RLLR and SPHM and the remainder of the Honda balance is comprised of single car squads. Coyne easily falls ahead of Rahal at this point in the season however, the win from the Schmidt camp in race two showed the team fighting back at Coyne for the second best honor. Having a rotating driver in the Coyne second seat doesn’t help the fight, but Wilson is doing a fantastic job on his own. Imagine if he had a competent teammate all year long.
Bumpers? – Granted, the bumpers serve an aerodynamic purpose by streamlining the air spilling over the rear tires to decrease drag and increase speed. However, their supposed main purpose and catylist for inclusion on the DW12 package is preventing a trailing car from riding up and over the lead car in wheel to wheel contact. And yet again, the wheel pod bumper things failed job one. Sure, we see fewer cut tires and spins from incidental contact, but this is open wheel racing, the cars might as well have training wheels on them. When, or if, horsepower ramps up in the future, it would be nice to see a rethink on this failing idea.
Welcome to indycar – AJ Allmendinger had a tough weekend to say the least. He completed a total of one half of a lap over the course of the two events after taking himself out in both races. AJ doesn’t have any more races scheduled this year, but on the success of his 500 performance, Penske may call him back up again this year. His experience over the past few weeks and the recent Kurt Busch test have really opened the doors to for other stock car types willing to give indycar a shot. Although the results weren’t what they should have been Allmendinger has one heck of a story to bring to the NASCAR paddock and its sponsors. Always a good thing.
No Saving – From my seat, it looked like no one saved a single ounce in race one. The restarts were close and heavily contested and we saw drivers push all day on Saturday. The race looked like a proper race by the end with tired drivers and bent racecar noses. Race two saw slightly more contact that was attributed to the wick being turned up after saving all day Saturday. I saw fatigued drivers barely hanging onto 700 horsepower animals on a thoroughly rubbered in track for the second day in a row. The race two wall contact and even Sebastien Bourdais’ slight nudge on Will Power that started a ten car pile-up looked to be more fatigue related than anything else. I’m betting we see similar patterns in the remaining two double header weekends this year.
A double header success? – The double header looked to be a rousing success from everyone’s stand point, expect the drivers and teams looking at large repair bills and blister filled hands. Our programing run time was doubled on the ABC broadcast, leading to increased exposure on Saturday that we otherwise would have missed out on. By most reports, the grounds were hopping and excitement in the city was pretty high for the event. The organizers thought it was such a success that they have already requested a double header repeat in 2014. I know management was planning on just seeing these Randy Bernard created event out and reverting to a traditional schedule next year, but it sounds like it will be worth a look at repeating at least one double header in 2014.
With those races in the books, indycar moves onto the summer stretch of ovals and continues its grueling back-to-back six week run of insanity. We are seven races in and it looks like Detroit closed out the opening third of the season. Coming up next, we have a four race run of ovals that could not be any different from each other that will start to separate the realistic championship contenders from the yearly hopefuls. Helio Castroneves sits tied for P1 in the standings with Marco Andretti and this could be the Brazilians year to solidify himself in the pantheon of indycar greats by finally clenching that elusive championship. It all starts in less than a week on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway.