What to watch for: IndyCar at Detroit, Race 1

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BRUTAL BELLE ISLE

Much like Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, Detroit’s Belle Isle Park hides a grueling circuit beneath its beautiful setting. It’s a major shift for these drivers just one week after the Indianapolis 500. Ryan Briscoe’s explanation to the AP sums it up perfectly: “The Indy 500 is not a physical event, but it’s extremely mentally draining. In Detroit, you get beat up with all the bumps because this is one of the more physical circuits we come to and we race it twice in two days.”

INTRIGUE AT THE BACK

Today’s qualifying session saw multiple surprises with guys like Will Power (16th), 2013 Detroit Race 2 winner Simon Pagenaud (17th), and ‘500’ winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (21st) all failing to escape the first round. On a course as challenging as Belle Isle, that may be too big a mountain to climb in today’s 70-lapper. But these are three of the best road/street racers in the IndyCar paddock, and they’re going to give it their best shot.

AN ENCORE FOR MIKE CONWAY?

Last time Conway was in Ed Carpenter’s car was at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and damage sustained during the big start-line crash made for a disappointing result. But now he returns to Belle Isle, where in last year’s Race 1, he flat-out whipped the field in Dale Coyne’s second car. It may be too much to expect another tour de force performance from the Long Beach winner, but he can definitely take another checkered flag in the Motor City from fourth on the grid.

CHEVY VS. HONDA

You always have to bring this battle up any time IndyCar comes to GM’s backyard. And this, too: Honda has won all three Detroit races since this event’s revival in 2012. Last year was particularly grim for the Bowtie, with the Race 1 runner-up from Ryan Hunter-Reay (now a Honda man for Andretti Autosport) keeping Honda from sweeping all of the podium spots that weekend. In the ‘500’, Honda had four cars – all from Andretti – in the Top 6. The Chevy camp will be bent on stopping that momentum cold.

Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.