Detroit’s Belle Isle Park getting “Penske perfect” ahead of Grand Prix weekend

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After the Verizon IndyCar Series completes its Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the 98th Indianapolis 500 on May 25, it will head to Detroit’s Belle Isle Park for the first doubleheader event of the season (May 31-June 1).

And while team owner Roger Penske is now setting his sights on a 16th Indianapolis 500 victory, he’s also been helping with final preparations for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which will feature the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge in addition to the IndyCars.

His corporation helped bring big-time auto racing back to the Motor City by reviving the Belle Isle race in 2012, and Penske has been working hard to make the race a prestigious event for the entire region.

“I want to get an “A,’ ” Penske said recently to Crain’s Detroit Business. “We’re all working together and take this very seriously, because you can’t practice this, so we’re doing it in a way that our organization can deliver, and people trust that.”

Last year’s doubleheader on Belle Isle saw a sizable increase in attendance across the entire weekend, both in the grandstands and in the corporate suites. It also generated more than $1 million worth of new spending.

As for 2014, it looks like Penske and his Belle Isle team may be on course for an even bigger hit.

Crain’s reporter Dustin Walsh writes that this year’s Grand Prix will have 17 corporate chalets along the last straightaway on the 2.3-mile course – and all of them are sold out.

Additionally, despite a price jump, ticket sales are tracking ahead of last year’s event. More than 100,000 fans are expected to vist Belle Isle during the Grand Prix weekend.

Crews have also been busy creating new amenities such as paved walkways around the grandstands and a new bridge over the track that will connect the aforementioned chalets with the paddock areas.

“For us to create a successful event, we have to create access,” Penske told Crain’s. “The stick-and-ball sports can’t offer access like we can, so we are taking advantage of it.”

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.