PREVIEW: Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans

Rahal and Kanaan last year in Detroit. Photo: IndyCar
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Following the month at Indianapolis, the Verizon IndyCar Series has arguably its toughest quick turnaround of the season, with the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans doubleheader this weekend.

The thrash to get cars ready from oval to street course spec is a challenge for the crews, and the two races offer a double edged sword: you can gain or lose a heck of a lot of points this weekend.

Here’s some of the nuggets heading into the weekend:

2016 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans – Talking Points

Rossi’s “regular season” return

If the Indianapolis 500 is its own behemoth of an event, then Detroit marks the return of IndyCar’s “regular season.”

And it has traditionally not been kind to the champion of the Indianapolis 500. If Alexander Rossi is to bolster his win there and move it into a championship charge, he needs to get through this weekend.

At the doubleheader weekends, these have been the results for the ‘500 champion:

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan, Race 1 Started 19th, Finished 13th; Race 2 19th/12th
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Race 1 21st/16th; Race 2 21st/19th
  • 2015: Juan Pablo Montoya, Race 1 3rd/10th; Race 2 1st/10th

Hunter-Reay led the points by 40 over eventual champion Will Power going into Detroit in 2014, but fell to third, 27 points behind Power after the Detroit weekend.

Montoya had a net two-point gain over eventual champion Scott Dixon at last year’s Detroit weekend (lost 10 to Dixon on Saturday but gained 12 on Sunday), but as you’ll note, he didn’t wind up securing the title. Crazy to think that even one spot higher either day at Detroit would have been enough to avoid a tiebreak and win the title.

JPM was the first Indy 500 champion to get through the Detroit double mildly unscathed.

Rossi, who vaulted from 17th (79 points, 163 behind Simon Pagenaud) to sixth (203 points, now just 89 behind) will be looking to avoid a similar letdown this weekend.

Six-pack of winners

In the three prior doubleheader weekends at Detroit, six total races, there have been six different winners from five different teams – three drivers apiece from Honda and Chevrolet.

In 2013, it was Mike Conway (Dale Coyne Racing) and Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports). A year later, it was Will Power and Helio Castroneves, both of Team Penske, and the latter race was Castroneves’ most recent win. Last year, with rain affecting both races, surprise winners occurred in both with Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) and Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing).

For a track that is usually maligned for a lack of passing, polesitters have only won three times in 19 prior Detroit races on Belle Isle dating to the track’s debut in 1992: Scott Dixon (2012), Castroneves (2001) and Robby Gordon (1995).

Penske, Ganassi bounce backs?

Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams went through a, by their illustrious standards, underwhelming Sunday at the Indianapolis 500. Combined, the two teams placed only four of its eight cars in the top 10 from fourth to 10th. Ganassi at least got three of four in with Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon fourth, fifth and eighth (rookie Max Chilton was 15th), but Penske’s day was nightmarish with Will Power 10th, then Juan Pablo Montoya 11th, Simon Pagenaud 19th and Juan Pablo Montoya 33rd and last.

Penske has often found its way around Detroit but Ganassi’s not had a great time of things the last few years, since pulling off a 1-2 on the old track layout in the Detroit return in 2012 with Dixon leading Dario Franchitti.

Either would be a good bet to deliver Chevrolet a big win on its home soil, with General Motors corporate headquarters as a back-drop.

Rahal’s rise at the track

Despite the various engineering changes, this has traditionally been a good track for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing the last few years. James Jakes bagged a runner-up finish in 2013 and Graham Rahal has podiumed at least once each of the last two years, and goes for a third in a row this weekend. Rahal, in 2012, was also a rare passing demon considering how difficult it is to pass.

This should be a good track for RLL Racing to bounce back after a tough month of May in Indianapolis. His street course results at St. Petersburg and Long Beach have not matched his pace at either event this season.

Passing versus cautions

One of the early season narratives this year has been the struggles to pass on road and street courses given the higher top side downforce levels and less on the underbody. So track position – particularly from qualifying – will be critical. But naturally if yellows come out that can adjust the strategy.

Last year, rain made for two calamitous events from a caution standpoint. There were six cautions for 18 laps in race one and seven for 17 in race two.

But even in dry this has been a hot spot for yellows. Both 2014 races had four cautions – for 17 laps in race one and 13 laps in race two. In 2013, the caution breakdown was three for 14 laps in race one and six for 22 in race two.

Both oval races have had six cautions apiece this year, while the three road and street course races have combined had five. Save for the botched start at Barber and one-lap yellow, Long Beach and Barber essentially ran caution-free back-to-back.

The final word

Defending series champion Dixon on the challenges of the Detroit weekend and needing to unload quickly: “Detroit is one of the most grueling weekends of the season for a few reasons. The track is tough and really demands a lot from the drivers. It’s very physical in nature and you really have to wrangle the car to compete at the front of the grid.

“Two races and two qualifying sessions in as many days really puts the teams to the test. Usually you have some time to recover from an event and prepare yourself mentally and physically for the next round. Not in Detroit. The dual races there provide a lot of excitement and twice as much action for all our fans.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 3

10:45 a.m. – Noon – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1
3:30 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award Race #1 (three rounds of knockout qualifying), IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 4

10:05-10:35 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2
3:03 p.m. – Driver Introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit #1 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (Live)

Sunday, June 5

8:45 a.m. – Systems check
10:45 – 11:15 a.m. – Qualifying for Verizon P1 Award Race #2 (Two groups/15 minutes each), IndyCar.com (Live)
2:59 p.m. – Driver Introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit #2 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

Race 1

1. Carlos Munoz
2. Marco Andretti
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Will Power
5. Scott Dixon
6. Helio Castroneves
7. Jack Hawksworth
8. Josef Newgarden
9. Luca Filippi
10. Juan Pablo Montoya

Race 2

1. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Takuma Sato
3. Graham Rahal
4. Tristan Vautier
5. Marco Andretti
6. Conor Daly
7. Jack Hawksworth
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
9. Gabby Chaves
10. Juan Pablo Montoya

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six (Race 1):

1. Will Power
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Takuma Sato
5. Simon Pagenaud
6. Sebastien Bourdais