Track surface problems marred the IZOD IndyCar Series’ return to the Motor City in 2012 after a four-year absence.
Just five laps into the scheduled 90-lap race, reports of track deterioration around the 2.1-mile Belle Isle Park course began to come in from drivers. But the race continued on without issues until Lap 39, when James Hinchcliffe ran over a large chunk of sealant that had been pulled up from the track and was sent airborne before slamming into the Turn 6 tire barriers.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Hinchcliffe said. “We had these big pieces of tar just sort of ripping up from Lap 5…The lap before the accident, I had this chunk hit me in the wing in Turn 9. I radioed to the guys to make sure the wing was all right because it was a big hit. Then going through [Turn] 6, I turned in and a piece of the tar, whatever, just folded over with a giant chunk of concrete. It launched the front-end of the car in the air. I was just a passenger at that point.”
That incident, along with another one that involved Takuma Sato, would eventually bring out the red flag at Lap 45 for extensive repair work to multiple parts of the circuit. After a delay of just under two hours and with darkness starting to creep in, the decision was made to end the race at 60 laps and to allow everyone to get fresh tires for the sprint to the finish (although they had to maintain the same compounds they were on at the time of the red flag).
Light rain began to fall as the green flag came out on Lap 47, with pole sitter Scott Dixon as the leader. As the rain made the freshly-repaired circuit even tougher to navigate, Helio Castroneves spun and tagged Ed Carpenter in Turn 6, while Josef Newgarden and Ryan Briscoe did the same in Turn 7.
Dixon would have to endure two more restarts within the final ten laps but was able to pull away from teammate Dario Franchitti and win the shortened event. Dixon, Franchitti and third-place driver Simon Pagenaud made it a clean sweep of the podium for Honda in Chevy’s backyard.
Afterwards, Dixon, who led every lap on the day, was thankful for IndyCar and Belle Isle’s quick repair work to the track.
“I’d like to give a lot of credit to everyone at INDYCAR and the Detroit staff for getting the track back in shape so we could race,” he said. “The final 15 lap shoot-out was exciting for me, so I sure hope the fans liked it.”
Shortly after the race, a massive project to overhaul the Belle Isle course was announced by Detroit Grand Prix Association chairman Bud Denker, who had been spotted helping track workers himself during the repair process.