IndyCar revving up for its return to 'The Motor City'
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After a three-year hiatus, the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Detroit this weekend with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Detroit hosted open-wheel racing on its downtown streets from 1989-91. Then the race was held at nearby Belle Isle Park from 1992-2001 and 2007-08.
IndyCar runs on the 2.07-mile, 14-turn Belle Isle Park one week after its most prestigious race of the season -- the Indianapolis 500.
In a race that featured a record 34 lead changes, Dario Franchitti became a three-time Indy 500 winner. Franchitti, though, had to overcome adversity to win the historic 500-mile event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He rebounded from an early-race incident on pit road when E.J. Viso spun him around.
Takuma Sato battled Franchitti for the lead on the final lap, but Sato made contact with him and crashed into the wall, allowing Franchitti to win the race under caution.
"You have dreams of winning there, so when you can do that, it just means so much," said Franchitti, who collected $2.47 million for winning this year's Indy 500. "It's Indianapolis. It's our Super Bowl. You have to fight for every position at that track, and it never gives you anything, so I'm very proud of the job we did."
With the win, Franchitti climbed up to sixth in the point standings. The three-time defending series champion is now 64 points behind leader Will Power.
Detroit is the fifth of 11 road/street courses on the series' schedule this year. Last October, IndyCar officials announced the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, with Chevrolet as the event sponsor, would be added to the 2012 calendar. Belle Isle had been on the 2009 schedule, but promoters of the race had to cancel it due to the ongoing automotive economic crises in Detroit.
"Detroit is the "Motor City," and we need to be there," Franchitti said. "Roger Penske's organization is running the event, and you know it's going to be first class. It's a week before the Canadian Grand Prix, too, so I expect some of the [Formula One] crowd will show up like they used to."
Franchitti finished sixth in the 2007 race at Belle Isle but did not compete in the event there the following year when he had his brief stint in NASCAR.
"It's a very tough track," he said. "It's so bumpy and so easy to make a mistake. What a challenge. Those first two corners are the reason I'm back in IndyCar, having gone away to NASCAR, because I stood there and watched them. I particularly watched "Dixie" (teammate Scott Dixon) go through there at full tilt. I just thought, 'Oh, man, I miss that.' And that's why I'm back."
Franchitti also competed in five CART races at Belle Isle, winning there in 1999.
Helio Castroneves has a lot of previous experience at Belle Isle. His first win in a major American open-wheel race came at this track in 2000. He drove for Roger Penske's CART team at the time. Castroneves won another CART event there the following year.
"Detroit is a special place for me, because it's where I got my first victory," he said. "It's also where my boss, Roger Penske, has his work. And now we're racing for Chevy, and Chevy is sponsoring the race. So it's a very, very important race. The track is a challenging place, and I love it. I just got to make it happen again. I can't wait."
When IndyCar last competed at Belle Isle four years ago, Castroneves dominated most of the race by leading 53 laps. But race officials penalized Castroneves for blocking Justin Wilson while the two were battling for the lead late in the event. Wilson led the final 15 laps to score his first career victory in the series. He drove for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing at the time.
"It's not the way you really want to win the race, though I felt we had the quickest car all day," Wilson said. "I tried to put a move to get the lead and had to hit the brakes instead. They reversed the positions, and I got the lead and pulled ahead."
Twenty-five teams are on the entry list for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Series: IZOD IndyCar. Date: Sunday, June 3. Race: Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Site: The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. Track: 2.07-mile, 14-turn temporary street course. Start time: 3:30 p.m. (ET). Laps: 90. Miles: 184.5. Television: ABC. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.
05/30 23:19:12 ET