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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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F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.