PREVIEW: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear

Photo: IndyCar

DETROIT – And so, the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season begins this weekend. With the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear offering a chance at two races – it’s double the chance for success or failure in the frame of the rest of 2017.

Here’s some of the things to look for this weekend:

2017 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear – Talking Points

Avoiding the “Detroit results hangover”

Takuma Sato is next up among those who head to Detroit after the whirlwind week of media since winning the Indianapolis 500. And since Detroit became a doubleheader weekend in 2013, it’s not gone well.

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
  • 2016: Alexander Rossi, Race 1 17th/10th; Race 2 18th/12th

Sato is now part of a three-way tie for second in points with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, 11 behind new points leader Helio Castroneves, who moved into the spot after the race.

If Sato can survive Detroit without losing too much ground, that’ll determine where he lands in the overall championship and whether he can fight for anything the rest of the way.

Seven for seven?

Sato’s win at Indianapolis also made him the sixth winner in as many races to kick off the year. A seventh winner this weekend would match the 2000 CART and IRL seasons.

Consider Scott Dixon is not among those six who have won, and there’s others such as Castroneves – winless since race two here in 2014 and who won his first race ever in that seventh race of the 2000 CART season – among others who are yet to win this year.

Even if a repeat winner of the five drivers who have won this year repeats this weekend, there’s still a chance for seven of eight, as the series looks to tie or eclipse the record mark of 11 winners in a year.

Championship shakeup

The top 14 drivers are within 100 points heading into this weekend, with 98 points separating Castroneves in the lead from Marco Andretti in 14th. Again, a strong two or bad two races this weekend could jumble that order.

Chevy vs. Honda in Chevy’s backyard

The wins are split this year, three each between Chevrolet and Honda. Honda currently leads the Manufacturer’s Championship, 480-471.

The breakdown of winners in the Chevrolet sponsored race, since it’s been a doubleheader, are broken down this way, with Chevrolet holding a 5-3 lead.

  • 2013: Mike Conway (Coyne Honda), Simon Pagenaud (SPHM Honda)
  • 2014: Will Power (Penske Chevrolet), Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevrolet)
  • 2015: Carlos Munoz (Andretti Honda), Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet)
  • 2016: Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet), Will Power (Penske Chevrolet)

Gutierrez’s debut; Jones’ beginning of rest of year one

Dale Coyne Racing is in the spotlight this weekend, as ever. Esteban Gutierrez makes a perhaps surprise debut in the team’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, the Mexican driver making at least a one-weekend appearance as the latest new driver in the series.

Meanwhile for Ed Jones, in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, the weekend presents a fascinating case study into how his psyche will affect the rest of his year. Both in 2015 and 2016, Jones had a midsummer slump that hindered his eventual points total in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, although last year he made up for it when he won by the end.

Jones has never raced at Detroit and with Sebastien Bourdais absent for the foreseeable future, the Dubai-based Brit now faces an interesting opportunity where he’ll assert the team leader role. Will he rise up to the challenge and continue his success of the opening six races of the year, as he currently sits ninth in points, just five behind fifth place? Or will hit the perhaps inevitable rookie year speed bumps?

The final words

Switching it up and going with two drivers this weekend, in both A.J. Foyt Racing drivers of the ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets. Why, you ask? Carlos Munoz explained the challenge of what it takes to prep for Detroit, while teammate Conor Daly has had his best IndyCar success at this track – he’s come sixth, second and sixth in his last three starts here.

Munoz, who won his first and thus far only race of his career thus far on these streets in 2015:  “Moving on from Indy to road courses makes for a really challenging week, because everyone is really tired — the mechanics, engineers and the drivers. And Detroit is a two-race event which makes it tough. Still, Detroit is where we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve qualified good, run good and I got my first win there in 2015. They’ve ground down the bumps on the backstretch, which will be nicer, but it’s still a challenging track. I’m looking forward to it.”

And from Daly: “I love Detroit. It’s always where I get my best finish. I was second last year, and I want to win this year. This track is a lot of fun for me and having a doubleheader is great. Two races are always better than one! Should be fun!”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 2
10:20-11:05 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 1
3:30-4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 2
4:20-4:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice

Saturday, June 3
10:05-10:35 a.m. – Race 1 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), (live)
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
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Race 2 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), (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. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Conor Daly
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Graham Rahal
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Carlos Munoz
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Charlie Kimball
9. Tony Kanaan
10. Alexander Rossi

Race 2

1. Will Power
2. Simon Pagenaud
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. Josef Newgarden
5. Scott Dixon
6. Conor Daly
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Marco Andretti
10. Takuma Sato

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.