Detroit Grand Prix a hit for city, business, IndyCar Series

1 Comment

By both local and national measures, “take two” at the reincarnated Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was a smashing success. And knowing the propensity of a Penske-led organization to want to improve, plans are already underway for further developments in 2014 at The Raceway on Belle Isle.

The Windsor Star reported a three-day attendance number north of 100,000 with 45,000 of that on Sunday at the 2.35-mile street course. Saturday’s tripleheader of racing – Pirelli World Challenge, GRAND-AM Rolex Series and IndyCar’s first of its twin races – saw an increased crowd number for that day as well.

Attendance numbers may have been higher if not for the early week forecast, that projected rain anywhere from 60 to 90 percent possible for Saturday – nary a drop of rain fell on the second or third day of the weekend.

“Last year, I sat at the bridge apologizing for what had happened (track disintegrated) for an hour,” race chairman and Penske executive Bud Denker told the Star. “No apology necessary this year. I got texts from all over the world asking (if those overhead shots) were really Detroit. We blew it out of the park today.”

Circuit changes already planned for 2014 include a repaving of the backstraight and also to straighten out the bend from Turn 6 into Turn 7, so rather than the jink left before a right, it will be a longer straight that flows into the right-handed turn.

The double-decker corporate suites were packed betweens Turn 8 and 11. Former IndyCar security chief Charles Burns, now the Detroit Grand Prix general manager, explained the importance of having such a strong amount of corporate support.

“It’s expensive, but it adds a special touch when you can build relationships with 75 people on Saturday and perhaps 75 different people on Sunday during IndyCar races,” Burns told the Associated Press.

According to the Detroit Free Press, those suites will move to pit lane next year, replacing the grandstands currently there. Further suites may be built elsewhere to accommodate the corporate demand.

Drivers raved about the track changes, as well, with the revised layout a return to the one CART had from 1998 to 2001. Only Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Alex Tagliani had prior experience on that layout before this weekend.

Denker enjoyed the doubleheader aspect of the weekend and would prefer IndyCar keep it for 2014.

“I’ve already petitioned for that,” Denker told the Detroit Free Press. “I want it because it is good for the fans and our sponsors. This (race) series right now needs to be shaken up a little bit. Doing the same old things is not enough anymore. We have to move the needle on the dial.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).