Belle Isle Preview

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Over the years, I have been criticized for being too outspoken about my feelings for the site of this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series event. To prevent offending anyone, let’s just say if I were to rank the thirteen venues that will host IndyCar races this season, Belle Isle world rank thirteenth. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it; I just love twelve other tracks more than this one. I’ll just leave it at that.

As I said on Wednesday, my feelings soften when this event does not come on the direct heels of the Indianapolis 500. It’s rare that we get an off-weekend after the 500, but a weekend in between actually helps increase my appetite for another race. So, I’m finding myself actually looking forward to watching two races in two days fro Belle Isle. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that.

The latest version of the DW12 that has been in use since 2018 has come under fire recently as it has not been particularly racy on some ovals. There is some truth to that, but IndyCar has been doing their best to tweak the aero-package for ovals. One thing that is not under question is how racy this current car is on road and street courses.

Since this car was introduced in 2018, there have been four exciting races at Belle Isle across two double-header weekends (keeping in mind that this event was cancelled in 2020). Scott Dixon has won two of them, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden winning the other two.

There are lots of storylines from May leading into this weekend’s double-header for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle. Although it seems like a year ago, don’t forget that Romain Grosjean won the pole for the GMR Grand Prix on the road course at Indianapolis. He proved that was no fluke by finishing a strong second. He was not in the car for the Indianapolis 500, but he will be back ths weekend for both races – as well as all the non-ovals this season. He has also announced that he will test at Gateway later this summer and decide if he will drive in his first-ever oval race at Gateway in August.

Grosjean has embraced life after his horrifying F1 crash last November, and that also includes the new lease on his racing career in IndyCar. It’s as if he has been reborn, and I would not be surprised at all to see him win a race this year – maybe even this weekend.

Another driver who is eager to get back in the car this weekend is Graham Rahal. He lost an excellent opportunity for a strong finish in the Indianapolis 500 a couple of weeks ago, when he left the pits with the left rear wheel unattached. It’s debatable who may have been at fault, but the fact remains that a potential strong finish was thrown away and a fast car was wadded up by a careless mistake. Rahal swept the double-header at Belle Isle in 2017. He needs similar results this weekend to get back into contention for the championship. He is currently eighth in points.

Following a disappointing finish after starting second in the Indianapolis 500, Colton Herta is looking to save his season that is suddenly looking very ordinary after winning at St. Petersburg. He is currently seventh and needs to take advantage of the points available in a two-race weekend.

That’s the beauty or the curse of this weekend. It is not a double-points weekend, but with two races in two days, it practically is. With string races on Saturday and Sunday, a driver can suddenly find themselves back in the championship conversation. Conversely, two mediocre to bad races this weekend can make a driver start making plans for next season in mid-June. That’s how pivotal this weekend is.

One storyline from the Indianapolis 500 that will not be carrying over to this weekend, is four-time winner Helio Castroneves – who will not be racing this weekend, at least not in IndyCar. Michael Shank is sticking with his plan to run Castroneves in only six races for the season. The next time he will be in the MSR second car is at the Inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, which was the plan all along. That decision is not very popular with a lot of people, including Helio, but I respect him for not making the emotional decision to run Helio this weekend. He built this team up from a one-off Indianapolis 500 appearance in 2017 by following the plan he and his business partners laid out, and not deviating from it. As much as we would all like to see the most recent Indianapolis 500 winner in a car this weekend, I think Shank is making the right decision.

One thing I don’t like about double-header weekends is that the winning driver on Saturday gets about twenty-one hours to bask in the glory of winning before climbing back into the car on Sunday. I’m glad that Pato O’Ward did not earn his first victory in the Saturday night race at Texas. Had that been the case, he would not have even eighteen hours to celebrate his first-ever career win. With Scott Dixon winning it, it didn’t matter to him how long we would bask in the glory of his fifty-first win. I am hopeful that whoever wins Saturday’s race is a veteran and not someone seeking to win their first or second career victory.

So who will those winners be? Graham Rahal remains the only driver to sweep the two races at Belle Isle in one weekend. Will that happen to someone again this weekend? Probably not. So far there have been six different winners in six races this season, among five teams. Only Chip Ganassi Racing has won more than one race this season, and Team Penske has not won any. One streak will continue while another will end this weekend. By the time this weekend is over, there will be eight winners in eight races, among seven teams; but Team Penske will finally get into the win column. Your two race winners for the weekend (on no particular days) will be Romain Grosjean and Josef Newgarden.

Coverage this weekend will start with Friday’s 5:00 pm EDT, seventy-five minute practice session on Peacock. That will be the only practice session of the weekend. Qualifying will have a slightly different format with only two rounds, instead of the usual three. The second round for each day will be known as the Firestone Fast Twelve. Saturday’s Qualifying for Race One will be shown live on Peacock at 11:00 am EDT, with Race One’s broadcast on Big NBC slated to start at 2:00 pm EDT. Race Two Qualifying will take place Sunday morning at 9:00 am EDT on Peacock, with Sunday’s Race Two broadcast starting at Noon EDT on NBC.

While some will surely complain about practice and qualifying being shown only on Peacock, we can be grateful that both races will be carried by the big over-the-air network (NBC). For those of us that have Peacock, it will surely be a full weekend of racing on television. For those that will only be watching the two races in two days, that’s hard to complain about – no matter where they are being held.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Belle Isle Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    This double header is often the fulcrum for a lot of drivers’ championship hopes. This year that appears to be Rahal, Herta, and perhaps Newgarden. A lot of guys should be driving hard, could be messy, should be fun.

    The Indycar website lists both of this weekend’s qualifying sessions as being carried live on NBCSN as well as Peacock, so those who do not have Peacock are covered as well.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    The only thing I would disagree with in your post, is you state Indycar is doing everything to improve the Aero package for better oval racing. I like what Paul Tracy said, they are trying to mow the lawn with a pair of hand clippers!!!

  3. Yannick Says:

    I think Belle Isle would look much better on screen if they didn’t have as much of a concrete canyon surrounding the track. There would be enough space there on the island to have real runoff with gravel traps and even old-style grass. But then, track organisers would have to compromise the park even more, and that is not very likely to happen. Regarding how racy Belle Isle is, I have preferred it over a few other tracks that were on the calendar in recent memory, such as Houston’s Reliant Park, Sonoma and the current single-groove version of Phoenix. And probably also over Texas post PJ1.

    Here’s wishing everybody 2 good and safe races. Stay healthy.

  4. we wonder how many times NBC will:

    1. mention that Helio is not here.
    2. show the Rahal replay.
    3. say rain tires.

    maybe ‘prop’ bets
    and/or drinking game.

  5. S0CSeven Says:

    Right. Evidence of Rahal ignoring his R/F tire changer are right there on video. Video evidence never lies.

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