IndyCar’s Dual in Detroit features another wide-open pair of races

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At this weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, part of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix weekend, the Verizon IndyCar Series points championship is likely to swing once more.

While the points standings didn’t change that dramatically coming out of the Indianapolis 500, despite the huge number of points on offer, what did change were the gaps.

Heading into the weekend, the top five were separated by only 47 points. Coming out, there’s now 63 covering the top four exiting with the top six now spread by 114.

The 500 champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, has a 40-point lead over Will Power. Hunter-Reay secured his first Detroit podium with second last year in Race 1, behind Mike Conway, and also has a sixth and seventh place on his scorecard.

Power, meanwhile, has never finished on the podium in Detroit. Fourth in 2012 is best result on Belle Isle; a year ago, he was all of eighth and 20th, the latter after being caught up in an accident triggered by Sebastien Bourdais.

Bourdais and fellow-ex open-wheel champion Juan Pablo Montoya are two you could potentially see breaking out this weekend. Bourdais showed his first signs of life in the new DW12 chassis here in 2012, then driving for Dragon Racing, with a top-10 qualifying effort in his first race with a Chevrolet engine. He seeks to take the No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet to his first podium of the year this weekend.

Same story applies for Montoya, who scored pole in both his trips to this circuit in 1999 and 2000. If Power can’t do it, you’d expect either of “JPM” or Helio Castroneves to want to deliver the Captain, Roger Penske, a win or two at the event he promotes.

The guy needing a big bounce back weekend is Scott Dixon, who enters the weekend ninth in points and already 142 points behind Hunter-Reay. These were weekends where Dixon and the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing team excelled more than anyone else in the field in 2013; armed with Chevrolet power in 2014, we’ll see if the Mike Hull-led team can finally threaten the lead, not just the top five.

As for the 2013 Detroit winners? Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud were two unlikely victors a year ago and yet both are already in the win column in 2014, Conway having tasted victory on the series’ last street race in Long Beach and Pagenaud with a fuel-saving gamble to win the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Pagenaud has two Firestone Fast Six appearances in the first four races but no front row starts, while Conway has yet to better 12th on the grid thus far this year. Both likeluy will need just a tick better performance in qualifying if they want to defend their turf.

Both Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan have new liveries this weekend, with Pagenaud having Oculus signage adorning the orange No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda and Kanaan in black and silver Energizer colors in the usual No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Others to watch? Expect Justin Wilson to figure into play in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, as he’s a past Detroit winner and finished on the podium in Race 1 last year. The remaining Andretti Autosport drivers of Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz are both in the top-10 in points, and James Hinchcliffe made points strides after his great Indy qualifying effort.

Drivers needing big weekends are the pair from NTT Data and Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball respectively. So too does Graham Rahal, last in the points, and no doubt looking for something to showcase in the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda. He finished in the top-10 in both Detroit races a year ago and needs a result close to that to kickstart what’s been a frustrating season.

The two wild cards are rookies Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin, who’ve never been to this circuit before.

Both races go green at 3:50 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday (check local listings).

F1: USGP post-qualifying reactions on NBCSN

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Here are post-qualifying quotes from drivers following the session today at the United States Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton extended his record with 72 poles and then broke a tie with Michael Schumacher for his 117th front row start.

TOP 3 WORLD FEED INTERVIEWS – WITH NBCSN’S WILL BUXTON

1. 44-Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

“The team have done a great job. Track was very difficult with the wind picking up. There was a head wind into Turn 1, then a tail wind out of 1, then Sector 1 tail wind, then a head wind into 9, so it shifts through the lap. You have to gauge how hard to push. That’s why I love this track, especially when you have a car this good.”

“I think it’s highly unlikely (to clinch the championship). Sebastian did a great job to bring the Ferrari back up there. Ultimately all I can do is the best of my abilities.

“Sebastian’s right there. Unless he makes a silly mistake – which is quite unlikely as he’s a four-time World Champion – we’ll see it continue on to other races.”

2. 5-Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

“I was very happy at the end but was lacking a bit of rhythm first to second sector. Finally I got it right at the end when it mattered. I believe our race pace is very good. Quali, we’ve been just a bit behind. Congrats to Lewis.”

3. 77-Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes

“Definitely disappointing. It was looking good, quite close with Lewis. Disappointing but there’s always tomorrow.”

OTHER INTERVIEWS (Alonso, Ocon, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Hartley with Buxton; rest with BBC Radio 5 Live reporter Jennie Gow, while Buxton was handling world feed top three) 

4. 3-Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull

“Happy with what I did in the last run! Today overall not really, until that last run. We were a bit off the pace. We found something. I’m just more happy with how we turned it around. I was 10th in Q1, but then we made it less than half a second. Let’s go for win number two. That sounds a lot sweeter and has a better ring to it!”

5. 7-Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari

“Probably not (as to get the most out of it). This is what we got today. Some places were more difficult. It was hard to get it right. Some laps were good. It was difficult to put a lap together. I don’t know. I have no idea how tomorrow will go.”

6. 33-Max Verstappen, Red Bull (has 15-spot grid penalty; will start 18th)

“Everything seemed to work pretty OK. I made two big mistakes in the last run. I was surprised to be that close (to them). I should have been near Sebastian. Look at sector times; it all looked OK. If you make two mistakes, it’s not all there. It’s my worst qualifying of the year.

“In qualifying we lose a lot on the straights. We get close. I have to fight harder. I’ll try to show tomorrow what I didn’t do today.”

7. 31-Esteban Ocon, Force India

“I feel sick all the session. Massive headache. I took something during session. My stomach was upside down. I’m not going too close to you. Hopefully can recover and be ready to attack tomorrow.”

8. 55-Carlos Sainz Jr., Renault

“(I’m) very happy with that, and how everything’s gone so far. It was quite tough track conditions with the wind is picking up. You have to know how the car will react. I built it up over the whole session, more than a second. P8 with a penalty in front of us, I think we can be pretty pleased with that. Just want a clean race. Don’t want anything more than that. We’ll see what the strategies are. I’ve been focusing on short running so far. A clean race, if we do that, we can be in the points for the team.”

9. 14-Fernando Alonso, McLaren

“It felt great. We had difficult conditions. Very windy and quite hot. The grip was lower than we expected. The McLaren car performed extremely well. We went into Q3. In Q3 we were ninth, and we’ll be eighth with the Verstappen penalty. A great chance to score points. (with long straights, maybe not as bad?)

“We’ll see. We seem to compare with the other teams. There’s still a deficit on the straights. We’re a little bit exposed in first lap in the group. After that’s settled, we can open the gap in high speed section and defend better. We’ll try defend these first laps as best we can.”

10. 11-Sergio Perez, Force India

“It was good. We had good pace in the car today. But my qualifying was compromised big time when Kevin (Magnussen) blocked me. I had to use an extra set. So in Q3 I only had a single set. It was strange; it was quite understeery. Lost 4 tenths to Q2, and that meant P10. Definitely tomorrow I will be able to recover, move forward. It’ll be a tricky run. There are a lot of things that can happen. It’ll be important to get a good race in. Crossed fingers! (to survive Turn 1).”

14. 8-Romain Grosjean, Haas

“Yeah, it’s been a tough weekend. I didn’t run any ultrasofts before quals. Then I spun before. The one on Lance Stroll was close. I was lucky not to spin in the grass. That would have been the end of it. We made it to Q2, which was good I thought. We closed the gap from 0.7 to 0.3, but we haven’t been performing that well. It’s not the upgrade that’s been the issue; it’s been more tire-related. And that’s why we’ve had such a swing in performance. Malaysia nowhere, Japan we’re good, now here it’s mixed.

“(On Haas Hill:) That was amazing. The support we have here is insane! I waved at them in quali after I was done. I’m sure the fans will give us something special.”

15. 27-Nico Hulkenberg, Renault (has 20-spot grid penalty, will start 19th)

“(Not running is) not by choice but it is what it is. We have the plus-20 engine penalty. It doesn’t make sense to keep running. We want to keep the flexibility in strategy to start on whatever tire. We have been reasonably competitive and have a big challenge on our hands right from the back. I’m trying to be positive. Hopefully can overtake a lot of cars. Look forward to better racing.”

18. 39-Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso (has 25-spot grid penalty, will start 20th)

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back. Put a lot of focus on long runs. Getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today. Free practice three had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far. I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone! It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half. A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”