DiZinno: Detroit’s determination, event’s effort shine through on a gloomy weekend

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In the moment on Sunday, exhaustion and frustration reigned. Even if the rain itself didn’t.

The post-May, post-Indianapolis 500 hangover is real, and it was obvious throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock that the run to Belle Isle Park in Detroit straight after a full month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is arguably one of the toughest challenges of the season.

There was already enough of a challenge for all the crews, in the days after a 500-mile race, to swap the cars back over from super speedway to street course specifications if it was the same car, or to bring back their road and street course chassis after the ‘500.

Then there’s the fact that for most crew members, they’re leaving the comforts of home and going back on the road. Detroit, Texas and Toronto follow in succession and complete a brutal run of 10 consecutive working weekends for the series.

Then note that this prep work was done in advance of the lone doubleheader race of the season.

Then add how ridiculous the second half of race two was, with seven cautions in 33 laps and contact occurring around every bend.

Add in the persistent on-and-off rain, severe temperature drops, and you have the ingredients for what on paper should have been a miserable weekend in Detroit.

And yet, it wasn’t.

Challenging? Certainly. Chaotic? At times. Perplexing? Definitely, depending on what strategy you were on in either of Saturday or Sunday’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans.

But miserable? No, not really.

At the end of the day, Detroit was not the showcase race IndyCar needed following a thrilling Indianapolis 500, but then again, it’s its own showcase for an entirely different reason.

Detroit and Indianapolis cannot be compared side-by-side other than the fact Detroit is now the event following Indianapolis.

Each must be looked at in its own context, now four years in to Detroit’s renewal back on the calendar, the week after Indy.

Indianapolis boiled down to arguably the most exciting three-way battle for the win in the event’s 99-year history.

Detroit, meanwhile, featured seemingly all but three cars in with a shot at a win or podium contention over both days. There were 17 of the 23 starters who scored at least one top-10 finish in one of the two Detroit races (the six who didn’t: Tony Kanaan, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball, James Jakes, Stefano Coletti and Rodolfo Gonzalez).

Indianapolis ended with drivers from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing sweeping the top four positions.

Detroit saw six different drivers from five different teams score a podium finish, and witnessed two more first-time winners this season in Carlos Munoz and Sebastien Bourdais on the top step of the podium.

Indianapolis showcased speed. Detroit showcased strategy.

Indianapolis plays to pageantry. Detroit plays to the automotive sector, particularly General Motors in its home race.

Indianapolis is entrenched as an event, with an audience so much bigger than any other event on the calendar.

Detroit is on its way back as an event, and the efforts and dedication of all the Detroit Grand Prix staff must be noted. Their enthusiasm and positivity in the wake of trying, miserable conditions is to be commended – as are the fans who stuck it out both days. The efforts of Bud Denker and the Penske Corporation show through in what is a first-class event in nearly every facet.

For Detroit’s sake, it was a shame the weather was what it was this past weekend, which dampened the overall vibe. But those involved made the best of it as possible.

Suddenly half the season is already in the books, and the final eight race weekends of the year beckon over the next three months.

Detroit was not the best weekend of the season for IndyCar, but it was made a lot better than it could have been given all the collective efforts of the team crews, who put together the cars for two races, and the event staff, who fought through trying circumstances.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.