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‘Inside the double’ How the field fared at Detroit’s twin-bill

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As the lone doubleheader event on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear presents one of the most unique challenges of any event on the calendar.

And with a full slate of points on the line in both races, finishing well in both is imperative in the overall championship picture.

With that in mind, some drivers enjoyed successful outings in Detroit, while others will need to rebound in the coming races.

The Good

Graham Rahal: Most obviously, Rahal had, by far, the best results of anyone. The 28-year-old won Race 1 from the pole, won Race 2 from third, and collected 107 of a possible 108 points. That performance vaulted Rahal from 15th in the championship to sixth.

What’s more, prior to this weekend, Rahal sat 101 points behind then championship leader Helio Castroneves. Leaving Detroit, Rahal now sits 52 points adrift of new championship leader Scott Dixon. Having cut his championship deficit nearly in half, Rahal is in prime position to make a championship push.

Josef Newgarden: Newgarden may not have been in victory lane in Detroit, but he did have one of the strongest weekends out of anyone on the grid. Newgarden’s finishes of fourth (Race 1) and second (Race 2) are his best since his victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, and were a welcome change after a tough 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in which he qualified 22nd and finished 19th after a lap 183 crash.

Takuma Sato: Race 1 was solid, but unspectacular for Sato, who finished eighth. However, Race 2 was a little bit of a different story, as the Andretti Autosport driver started from the pole and drove a strong race to finish fourth.

Sitting in third position in the championship before the weekend started, Sato remains in third and trails leader Scott Dixon by 11 points (coincidentally, that’s the same gap he was down at the start of the weekend, though to Helio Castroneves). In so doing, Sato has firmly entrenched himself in the championship battle.

Scott Dixon-Every time you leave a race weekend as the championship leader, you know it has been a strong weekend. If you do it while nursing an injury, then it could be described as a great weekend.

Dixon may not have won either of the Detroit races, but with finishes of second (Race 1) and sixth (Race 2), he did more than enough to take the championship lead at the end of the weekend, albeit by a scant eight points over Helio Castroneves.

Regardless, given that he is still nursing an injured ankle, contested two races on a notoriously bumpy street circuit, scored strong finishes of second and sixth, and took over the championship lead, one could argue that Dixon may have had the best weekend of everyone.


The Bad

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Ryan Hunter-Reay entered Detroit in need of points after a blown engine at the Indy 500 left him 27th in the race and 12th in the championship, 93 points out of the lead.

Detroit wasn’t much better for the 2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner. He languished back in 13th at the end of Race 1, and while things looked much better for Race 2 after he qualified second, things quickly soured on lap 10 after contact with Helio Castroneves damaged Hunter-Reay’s front wing. Hunter-Reay could do no better than 17th in Race 2.

Through eight races, Hunter-Reay only has two finishes inside the top 10 (fourth at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and third at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course), and now sits 13th in the standings, 120 points out of the lead.

JR Hildebrand: Hildebrand has endured a difficult season with Ed Carpenter Racing. A third-place finish at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway is his best finish of the 2017 season, but it is his only finish inside the top 10 this year.

Detroit was more of the same for Hildebrand. A penalty late in Race 1 for crossing the pit exit line too early after his final pit stop dropped him to 17th, and a cut tire while battling Ed Jones in Race 2 meant he could do no better than 18th.

While he had enough pace to finish in the top ten in both races and is showing improved form at every race, the finishing results continue to leave he and Ed Carpenter Racing wanting for more.

Spencer Pigot: On driving prowess, Pigot has been one of the shining stars this year and has demonstrated a big improvement on form over last year. However, he has also suffered two of the most dramatic mechanical failures of the season.

His brakes exploded while entering his pit stall in St. Petersburg and his engine expired in a billowing cloud of smoke in Race 2 at Detroit. While he finished a solid tenth in Race 1, the engine failure in Race 2 saw a disappointing end to the weekend.

With Ed Carpenter getting back behind the wheel of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway, Pigot’s next race will be the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America (June 25 at 12:30 p.m. at NBCSN).


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Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.