Random Thoughts On Belle Isle

The good news is that yesterday’s Race Two in the Dual at Detroit finally produced some suspense for the fans that sat through a wet weekend at Belle Isle and in front of their television sets. The bad news is that there were two races at Belle Isle in what should have been known as the Gruel at Detroit.

I’ve never hidden the fact that Belle Isle is my least favorite race. So imagine my disappointment a couple of years ago, when the Verizon IndyCar Series announced that Belle Isle would be among three double-header weekends – double the agony. This year, there is only one double-header on the IndyCar schedule. As luck would have it, it is at Belle Isle.

To increase the torment, both races were affected by rain this past weekend. I saw where a lot of fans were critical of IndyCar for scheduling a race during the rainy season in Michigan. There are a lot of things to criticize IndyCar for, but conflicting with rainy season is not one of them.

I’m more concerned with scheduling what I consider the most boring venue of the season, immediately after the Indianapolis 500. If there were any potential new fans that were intrigued by the great racing of the “500” that tuned into either Belle Isle race to see what IndyCar racing is all about – they were treated to rain-soaked parade on Saturday and a disjointed crash fest on Sunday. Thus endeth the momentum from Indianapolis. Instead, the Month of May closed with a flat thud and the potential new fans will be watching the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals next weekend.

If IndyCar were to ask my opinion on such things, I would follow the Indianapolis 500 with the oval at either Texas or Iowa. I would insert Belle Isle somewhere later in the summer. Two consecutive races on an oval might be enough to hook new fans, so that they could learn to put up with races like Belle Isle every once in a while. But fans thinking that Indianapolis is the exception and that Belle Isle is the norm, will turn fans away.

But congratulations to the two winners from this weekend. Carlos Muñoz earned his first career victory on Saturday; while Sébastien Bourdais scored his first win of the season on Sunday.

TV Coverage: This past week, I watched the DVR replay of the Indianapolis 500 and both Belle Isle races this weekend. I now feel that I am about to overdose on Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear.

First of all – I consider Allen Bestwick to be a pro. He is smooth, pleasant, humorous and knowledgeable. After two short seasons of ABC/ESPN telecasts, I’ve now trained my ear to not even think of Bestwick as a former NASCAR announcer. I have absolutely no problem with Bestwick behind the microphone of any Verizon IndyCar Series race.

In the past, I’ve defended Scott Goodyear. I used to blame his lackluster performance on Marty Reid. Last year, I thought Bestwick elevated Goodyear’s game. That’s no longer the case. Not only is Goodyear’s delivery sleep-inducing, but he goes way too far in dumbing down the broadcast for any possible new fans tuning in. It’s like picking up the Wall Street Journal and having it turn into Weekly Reader while it’s still in your hands.

Meanwhile, Eddie Cheever just seems to have checked out. He has completely redefined the term “wooden” and makes Ashley Wilkes seem closer to Rhett Butler (that’s a Gone With The Wind reference, for those under the age of thirty). The lack of chemistry between Cheever and Goodyear is monumental. Maybe they like each other in real life, maybe they don’t. But on-screen, they come across as total strangers.

Like them or not, IndyCar needs ABC/ESPN. They have a reach and a platform that MSNBC cannot come close to. But I do wish they would put more into their on-screen product whenever they do races away from the state of Indiana.

Is IndyCar listening? For the past few years, IndyCar fans have been complaining loudly regarding Michael Young’s gut-wrenching “Race fans – are you ready?” just before the command to start engines. Since Dave Calabro handles the introductory PA duties for all events at IMS, we haven’t heard the cheesy question since the race at Barber Motorsports Park in late April.

Yesterday, I noticed a new voice over the PA introducing the Grand Marshal to give the command. I don’t know if that was a one-time deal or if the higher-ups at IndyCar decided the fans were right. Michael Young is a good guy and does great work on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network. But his PA persona grates on one’s nerves.

The REAL Motor City: The taped intro to yesterday’s race essentially stated that without Detroit, there would be no Indianapolis 500, because they needed cars – and without Detroit, there would be no cars.

If my memory serves me correctly, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909, Indianapolis was where most of the car companies were located – not Detroit. Granted, that eventually changed – but to say Indianapolis owes Detroit some debt of gratitude is a little misleading. It’s a little thing, but one that I picked up on as soon a s I saw it.

Blocking penalties: Sage Karam made a very blatant blocking move on Takuma Sato that most everyone agreed was retaliation for Sato ending Karam’s day in Turn One of the first lap at Indianapolis. Karam was issued a drive-through penalty. Late in Sunday’s race, Graham Rahal had probably an even more egregious blocking penalty against Sato – yet Rahal was just told to let Sato go in front. Why the inconsistency?

As it turns out, the IndyCar rulebook says that blocking “may result in a penalty”, but the stewards are allowed some flexibility in what penalty to enforce. Some like that flexibility, but to me it opens up a whole lot of questions. In a series that is already rife with accusations of inconsistent officiating, it seems to me that they should come up with uniform penalties.

Short celebration: One of the cruelest results of a double-header weekend occurred this past weeekend. Carlos Muñoz earned his first career victory on Saturday. In most cases, a driver earning his or her first win would have at least a week to bask in the glow of finally beating everyone on-track – sometimes longer. Muñoz had less than twenty-four hours to celebrate. He had to strap in and race again on Sunday and went out on Lap Five with engine issues and finished last.

A win is a win: It’s understandable that Muñoz was subdued after scoring his first-ever IndyCar win. I’m sure that every driver envisions their first win with a dramatic pass at the line while taking the checkered flag. Muñoz had his first win come in very odd circumstances. His race went only eleven laps past the halfway point. He did not take the checkered flag. Instead, he was out of his car, which was under a tarp when he was declared the winner of a race that would not go back to green.

But this is only the second full-time season for Muñoz. Some drivers go an entire career without a race win and would gladly trade places with him. Once he gets a few more wins under his belt, I’m sure he will gladly count Saturday’s win as a full win. He should.

No Penske spine: Maybe ABC mentioned it and I missed it, but I noticed that all of the Hondas and all but the Penske Chevys had the center “spine” that was introduced at Indianapolis at the first of the month. The winning Chevy of Sébastien Bourdais had it as well as the Ganassi Chevys, but none of the four Penske cars were carrying it? Did anyone else notice that and does anyone know why the difference?

Stop overusing the red flag:  I know I’m old-school, but I consider the red-flag as a safety precaution only. It is to be used when the track conditions are unsafe or unusable; such as weather or an accident is blocking the track. It is not meant to guarantee an exciting finish for race fans. Sometimes you get a stinker for a race, sometimes you get a great one. That’s just the way they play out. Fans at home or in the stands are not entitled to a great and exciting finish. Yesterday’s red-flag did nothing for a great finish other than push the time window into "timed race" territory and force Juan Montoya to run out of fuel on the last lap. Had he run a few more laps under yellow as the natural pace of the race would have dictated, he would have had a higher finish. Let the races play out normally.

Stop the double-headers: After three years of double-headers on the schedule, I think it’s time that the Verizon IndyCar Series brings an end to this experiment. I think the only people that really like them are the promoters that host them and the fans in the particular market. The teams despise them, as do the drivers. They put up with them for the fans. Well, this fan doesn’t care for them either.

I consider myself a very hard-core IndyCar fan. But I do have a life away from racing. Before this weekend, six of my last seven weekends were spent at an IndyCar racing venue. Quite honestly, there are other areas of my life that have been neglected.

I enjoy typical race weekends. Let me rephrase that – I love them. I’ll try to sneak a glimpse of Friday practice at work. On Saturday, I’ll generally DVR the MSNBC Qualifying show to watch on Saturday night, then I’ll plan my Sunday around watching the race. This next weekend brings a Saturday night race that will free up both weekend days.

But this weekend, it was tough to be a fan. I had to do a lot of chores that had been neglected over the past several weeks on Saturday. Saturday night, we had to go to an unofficial high-school reunion for Susan. I ended up watching Saturday’s DVR race early Sunday morning. Then it was back to my list of overdue chores before watching yesterday’s race. By the time it was over, so was my weekend for the most part.

I’m glad this is the only double-header for the season. It is my hope that we have just endured our last one ever.

All in all:  Can you tell that I don’t like double-headers, red-flags and that I really don’t like racing at Belle Isle? Without getting too repetitive and too negative; what I saw on TV this weekend was grueling. Saturday’s race was torture and yesterday’s offered some suspense and some good passing, but there were far too many crashes and strategy mostly consisted of trying anything out of the ordinary and hoping for the best. Sunday was very disjointed and made me wish I had just passed on the whole weekend and extended my post-Indianapolis break.

But this is what I’ve come to expect from Belle Isle. I’ve been watching this race ever since CART moved from downtown Detroit to Belle Isle in 1992. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. Every now and then, there are good races to come from Belle Isle, but by and large – most of them are snoozers.

The best thing to say is that we’ve gotten Belle Isle out of the way for another year. From here on, the next few racing weekends look much better. I can’t wait until Saturday night at Texas. I promise that I won’t eat my grumpy flakes for breakfast before writing that post.

George Phillips

30 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Belle Isle”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    Another thoughtful blog post … and again I agree with 9/10 of what you wrote.
    But I have no problem with Mike Young or two races per weekend. Ask the racers, and they’d tell you that they want to race twice. They’re short races. And when someone is wronged in the first race, as Tony Kanaan was, or flubs as Charlie Kimball did, (s)he wants to ‘bounce back.’

    I assume that Mr. Penske had enough sway with Mark Miles to claim the weekend after the Indy 500. But someone should have consulted The Farmer’s Almanac and/or NOAA for weather forecast.

    Altered Honda front wing assemblies were noted by Jon Beekhuis, I fidn’t notice Chevy dorsal spines, and I did notice that some Chevy cars had extra junk propped over their sidepods.

    These IndyCars are so ugly.
    Thanks for blogging, George.

  2. The reason Belle Isle isn’t going anywhere any time soon, even if it gets a 0.1 rating and nine people attend, is that the sponsors are writing the big check. As long as they do that, it stays. Simple as that. I’d love IndyCar to give us some clarity on when they use the red flag to preserve a green finish. It’s hard to deride NASCAR’s green-white-checker as faux and say “welp, that’s racing” for a red-to-stay-green policy. Sure, the red flag preserves the race distance (no extra laps like GWC), but it hoses a lot of other stuff. Sunday: maybe Bourdais drives to victory under yellow. Maybe those yellow laps and then a green at the end run him out of gas. I’m not opposed to using the red, I would just love to hear the policy and see it applied consistently. Probably an even bigger irritation is The Racing Media doesn’t even seem interested in asking IndyCar what’s up with the red and simply reporting their answers. NONE OF OUR BUSINESS, I guess.

  3. I dislike Belle Isle and I dislike the double header format… but if nothing else this weekend exceeded my expectations. Maybe it is because I have super low expectations for Belle Isle, but I was impressed by the amount of passing. I also enjoyed seeing so many non-Penske and Ganassi cars run up front. If only Marco and Rahal had been the winners…. I like the late race red flag, but some consistency would be nice. I really don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone did, what Indycar is doing with the race. Was it timed or not? When did it become timed? Why was the race called early yesterday when there was still a half hour of TV window and the lightning expected to go away? Why did NOLA go to a timed race with tons of TV time left? None of it makes any sense.

    Speaking of not making sense the blocking penalties need a bit more consistency. How did Karam get a drive through, Rahal lose a spot, Daly get sent to the back of the field, and Sato/Helio get no penalty?

    Double headers are exhausting to watch especially at Belle Isle. That’s a lot of time to expect fans to watch.

    Speaking of Karam, he got screwed badly by Indycar canceling qualifying after he had got a guaranteed front row start. In the race he made a ton of passes early before becoming involved in a ton of incidents at the end of the race. Coletti/Saadavera and others have done worse, but I’m a bit worried for Karam either getting a penalty from Indycar or being suspended from his team.

    • Belle Isle was the oppisite of the Indy 500 in the sense that it was a terrible race to showcase Indycar to new fans (something my co-host talked about on my podcast was that even with P/G domination, the 500 was a good way to get new fans into Indycar) while Belle Isle was an awful way to get new fans in. Many NASCAR writers watched due to it running after a very dull Dover, and most were unimpressed. Yet, for someone who watches Indycar more, it wasn’t such a bad race. That said… it was not total failure in the rain, but it was not particularly smooth. That’s something Indycar needs to work on.

  4. The three strikes against Belle Isle are: 1) It directly follows the Indy 500 2) It’s on ABC (ear torture of Goodyear and Cheever) 3) Weather.

    Clearly not many others enjoy it either as evidenced by the empty grandstands. What contrasts this event is the venue would appear like it would be so unique and picturesque for an IndyCar race. What could be better? A beautiful island dividing two neighboring countries adjacent a once major U.S. city on a river. Does a city on life support as the backdrop affect the event? Why does it not translate to good racing ? Its too much of a street course. If there were a way to eliminate some of the concrete walls that seem to choke and confine the race track ,not to mention destroy race cars. It the walls were not there however the cars would probably end up in the river.

    I rarely if ever get excited about Belle Isle either but I watch anyway. I was happy for Munoz, he deserved a win as did Bourdais.

  5. George, don’t get me started about the incredibly WRONG video introduction to the “race” yesterday! Detroit wasn’t even on the map when the 500 ran in 1911. I was yelling at the TV!!!!!!

    Horrible product this weekend, I feel like I was robbed of a weekend!

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    Good lord George! Could you be any more negative?! Perhaps you should have one less bowl of grumpy flakes for breakfast. At one point you whine about the races being boring, then later you whine about the red flag. As it is still early here I had to double check myself to see if I had somehow wandered into the depths of the Robin Miller comments section.

    You know what’s boring? Finding the same complaints about Belle Isle here year after year. Has that changed anything? The Belle Isle race is not going anywhere anytime soon. And apparently Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear are not either. So what? What would motivate Roger Penske to spend his money promoting another track race. Nashville perhaps?

    I have been attending open wheel races since 1949. None have been perfect. Few are edge of the seat exciting. Most are just average, but in the end it’s bright shiny things goin’ fast and I am grateful for every race and for the people who spend their money promoting these races.

    If every race on the schedule were as entertaining as the last two Indy500 races would the TV ratings double and would thousands of new fans begin tuning in? Dream on.

    I found both races entertaining.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I would like to give the Detroit area fans and any other fans who attended credit for showing up during cold, rainy conditions. I thought it was a good crowd despite very uncomfortable conditions.

    • If you keep coming back here finding the same opinions you don’t care for, then why in the hell do you keep coming back? THAT’S boring as hell in my opinion, as it’s obvious to me George’s opinions on Belle Isle’s boring street circuit aren’t gonna change anytime soon. It’s HIS column and if you’re bored by it move on or start your own blog where we can make snarky comments about the boring stuff you write!

      Sheesh, some people….

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Interesting that you of all people who regularly comment here would complain about my comments with your snarky comments. I will add this to what I said previously: There is a seemingly endless stream of negative comments, granted not so much here, but in IndyCar blogs, and various comment sections. Much whining and complaining about every aspect of the series. I am surprised that the cold and rain was not blamed on the Split by someone. I am only suggesting that if we, the current fans, continue to criticize every aspect of the series, why would any prospective fan be interested? As the preacher to this choir, George solicits comments. That was my comment. I consider George my friend. As friends do, we sometimes agree to disagree, publicly and privately.

        Aren’t you the one who said Simona was “not the REAL DEAL”. How snarky is that?

  7. Belle Isle is Penske’s baby, I doubt it’s going anywhere, but almost any other venue would be better following the 500.

    I hate timed races. I don’t mind throwing a red to try and finish a race under green but as P-Dog said, don’t be hypocritical about it–establish set guidelines and stick to them one way or the other.

    Agree re: Bestwick. Really agree re: Goodyear and Cheever. I don’t think dumping ABC would lose Indycar much–just a couple of commercials on Sportscenter.

  8. Yannick Says:

    Well, George, given your grumpiness about the whole event, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it has taken you a little longer to write about it. I feel you would have preferred to not write about it because of the old adage of not saying anything unless something good happens (or so).

    I don’t have anything against Belle Isle, at least not against the current version of the circuit with the long straight between Turns 2 and 3. It’s just tough they had bad luck with the weather for what feels like the umpteenth time this season. Carlos Munoz was a worthy winner for the 1st round, yet it would have been interesting what Marco Andretti could have done to get back into the lead, had the race continued for its scheduled distance. Likewise, Sebastian Bourdais is a worthy winner, too, and he has won this one on merit. The dubious tyre strategies of the Big 2 teams played a big part in that, too. It was kind of funny to see him try a donut and stalling in the process, too.

    None of the 2 Belle Isle races were as bad to watch on TV as the rain-dominated round at NOLA Motorsports park. My guess is that you see this differently because you were there when James Hinchcliffe won what may or may not be his only victory of the season. It is encouraging to hear he is doing so much better after his Indy practise crash.

    Here’s wishing you an enjoyable Texas race. I won’t watch this one live because the time zone is just way too far off.

  9. S0CSeven Says:

    So you don’t like the Detroit double headers because the promoters love it, the fans love it and you didn’t get your yard work done. I don’t know where to go with this.

    Tough luck dude!

    I thought it was GREAT!!!

    Mind you scheduling a May race in Detroit is a crap shoot (weatherwise) at best and Indycar lost this one but hey, we only have 3+ months to fit in the schedule for a whole year.

  10. billytheskink Says:

    Both races were ugly, but interesting. Not my favorite weekend of racing, but I certainly did not turn off my television in disgust. Indycar has had some bad luck with weather this year, though it is bad luck that could probably be addressed with an intermediate tire.

    I cannot say I have ever seen so many teams pre-emptively move to rain tires as I did on Saturday. Very strange. I had long thought the prevailing philosophy was to keep rain tires off of a dry track at all costs, a philosophy that proved to be correct this weekend.

    I am sympathetic to the concerns of the teams over double-headers, but saying “the only people that really like them are the promoters that host them and the fans in the particular market” comes across to me as a ringing endorsement for them. Those are two groups Indycar should be seeking to please, I would argue, even at the expense of participants and television sometimes.

    ABC’s intro went a bit overboard with its Motor City worship, but Detroit and southeastern Michigan had plenty of auto-industry heavyweights (such as they were) in 1909; Ford, Buick, Hudson, Packard, Lozier, Oldsmobile, REO, etc. That said, Indiana-based automakers were far-and-away the biggest participants in the first few 500s. As I said, ABC went a bit overboard.

  11. I don’t like Belle Isle and wish we could go to the oval in Michigan if we want to be up that way.

    That being said, I am hearing a lot of fans upset about the finish. I am not sure I am upset that a smaller team won with a driver who has come back from being out of a ride. Better than another boring Dixon win or JPM winning and then snubbing the fans.

    I like the double weekends a lot! It seems like the wear and tear on the crews and drivers brings back attrition and the possibility that someone could get tired. We don’t have that like we used to. The Michign 500 and Indy used to be endurance races, not anymore and the 2x weekends brings some of that back!

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I agree Andrew. Good points. I also would like to see Michigan back as well as Road America and some others. Without Roger Penske’s money, it is unlikely that there would be any race in Michigan. Belle Isle provides a race where the Chevrolet folks can be entertained in their home town.

  12. I did like Sunday’s race, but we also had two Hondas running in second and third at the end. Honda did pretty good this weekend, but let’s see how things turn out in Texas.

    I was disappointed for Newgarden. He was on slicks, but he said before the race he likes to run “dry.” That bit him.

  13. Belle Isle WAS a lethal parade before the DW12, but now I think it’s pretty average, honestly. There’s some overtaking. On the track it’s very comparable to the Gorgeous Facility (Barber) and Long Beach races IMO. Even more entertaining in the wet. As for the ABC guys, as others have said they’re not going anywhere so I’ve stopped stressing about them. Belle Isle is what is. Like any other product, if you like it, watch it, if you don’t, don’t watch. I rarely watch the entire Belle Isle race(s) because of various factors and my life continues on just fine.

  14. jhall14 Says:

    I doubt that ABC producers reads blogs, but in case they do, why show JPM when he is up 9 seconds when you have pretty good racing going on in the pack. You have a great story with Conor Daly going on, ABC and it’s announcers,touched on it briefly.

    Race Control still intrigues me with there calls..ie looking at Vautier/Power incident but not looking at Power throwing a cross body block (side chrome horn) on Kimball. Some drivers getting a drive thru, some being sent to rear of field, some giving up the position, all for blocking.

    Texas will be only as good as the amount of downforce is allowed. Stay tuned. And if you thought George’s blog was a downer, kudos to Jon Beekuis for his Q & A on twitter. Great job Jon as it was one bitch after another, and he handled it tremendously. As Mr. Ford mentioned earlier about possibly wandering into a Miller’s Mailbag comment section, no further comment needed.

    On to Texas!!

  15. Gordon from Dallas Says:


    a. It’s NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). MSNBC is the news channel.
    b. If the weather was right, the track changes they made the track racier than before. Don’t sleep on Belle Isle…
    c. The center spine on the nose became optional mid week before 500 qualifying.

  16. ecurie415 Says:


    You are spot on about double-headers. I love watching a race but cannot abandon the family for an entire weekend to watch both races live. Two races also cheapens the win on Sunday; have one race, and make it epic. This is IndyCar racing, not heat racing at a dirt track on Friday night.

  17. Chris Lukens Says:

    Where will the Texas race be broadcast ? Since the beginning of the season it was announced that Texas ( along with Mid-Ohio ) would be on CNBC. Now I see IndyCar.com is saying NBCSN. My TV guide shows regular programming on both CNBC & NBCSN in that time slot. My Comcast channel guide does not go out that far. I am ( not for the first time ) confused.

    • billytheskink Says:

      It will be on NBCSN. They made the change awfully late, but made it nevertheless. I believe this was accommodated by NBC moving the NHL Stanley Cup Finals Game 2 to NBC from NBCSN.

      NBCSN was showing promos for the Texas race during Saturday’s coverage of AMA Motocross, and all of those promos stated that the race was going to be on NBCSN. Kudos to them for advertising it about as soon as the change was made.

      It is unfortunate this was not announced sooner than this weekend (this same thing happened last year, but was announced a bit more than a week prior, as I recall), especially since ABC had the wrong network during its in-race promos yesterday despite the fact that the race’s move to NBCSN was already a done deal.

      Mid-Ohio will most likely stay on CNBC, though. NASCAR’s 2nd trip to Pocono is scheduled for NBCSN at that time.

      • Brian McKay Says:

        Good information, Billy. Thanks for the sane, calm, informative comment.
        Incidentally, my local ABC tv affiliate apparently told Comcast that the block of time for a Belle Isle race was for “Paid Programming.” I wasn’t fooled, but I wondered how many Comcast subscribers in my region didn’t want to view or record “Paid Programming.”

  18. I attended the weekends races and just finished watching them on DVR. I don’t agree with any of your opinions in this post. I love double headers! Do you know how awesome it is to attend a race weekend and actually want to be there on a Saturday? Placing them in an Urban city is genius. It has an bad rep, but downtown Detroit is awesome! I would be in favor of any urban street course to have a double header.

    Saturday had action on track all day. It was only bad at the very end. But lightning kills so I understand. But Sunday was cold (fifty degrees), wet, and windy. There was almost no action on track for three hours. Thank god for the Chevy Tent, the Toyo Tire cell phone recharge station, and Robby Gordon’s Trucks. After sitting through that, the race was a great payoff. But my lord I would have been pissed if that race ended under Yellow. The red flag was the absolute correct call. My beef is with timed races. Get rid of them.

    As for the track itself, it seemed racy to me. There are a couple of great passing zones in 3 and 7. The track doesn’t crumble anymore. What is the problem?

    Lastly, Penske does an A+ job on this event. It is just a shame the weather did not cooperate this time. The only time it is not rainy season in Michigan is when it is snow season.

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