Thursday, Friday Detroit weekend notebook

Photo: IndyCar

DETROIT – Here’s some notes gathered from the paddock ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear doubleheader this weekend. The second IndyCar practice session follows this afternoon.

The joy of being the Indianapolis 500 champion does come with the side effect of the work required to go on the media tour in the two days that follow.

Takuma Sato has kept his seemingly eternal effervescent smile throughout the tour of New York and Texas, although he admitted to NBC Sports how happy he was to be back in his No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda for Andretti Autosport in first practice this morning.

By contrast, Alexander Rossi was very laid back when we caught up with him this morning ahead of his second Detroit weekend in the No. 98 Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport. Rossi came to Detroit this time last year after winning last year’s 100th running, and was so relieved to be back in the car.

“There’s some things you miss about not winning… and some things you don’t,” Rossi laughed on Friday. “This year, I got sleep this week.”

Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports he estimated it took more than 350 combined man hours to build up a new car for Scott Dixon this weekend, the No. 9 Camping World Honda appearing for the first time in road course trim with the new signage. The new tub was built up after the previous car was, obviously, written off in Dixon’s savage looking accident last week in the Indianapolis 500.

On another Ganassi note, Tony Kanaan will to have a busy couple weeks after being confirmed Wednesday as Sebastien Bourdais’ injury replacement at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the no. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT.

After he races at Detroit this weekend, Kanaan said he’ll head to Charlotte early next week for Ford simulator work, then to Texas for the next IndyCar race next weekend (Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and then straight to France for his ACO simulator work. His first time in the Ford GT on the Circuit de la Sarthe will be Wednesday, June 14.

After missing out at the Indianapolis 500 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors last week, Dale Coyne Racing had a fun make-up prize for Ed Jones, who lost the honor to Fernando Alonso.

Engineer Craig Hampson then created an in-joke “you did well!” piece, or trophy, and presented it to him on Thursday.

On another Coyne note, the No. 18 Honda chassis that Esteban Gutierrez is racing this weekend was Pippa Mann’s oval chassis last weekend at the Indianapolis 500. The No. 18 Honda chassis run by James Davison at the ‘500 is repairable, but the team’s backup car this weekend.

Gutierrez is set to continue with Coyne for further races this year, although the formal details of which haven’t been finalized yet.

Jimmy Vasser is again here this weekend, with a GEICO hat on. Vasser, unfortunately, joins Sebastien Bourdais in not being able to defend his victories of the last two years here. Bourdais, driving for the Vasser co-owned KVSH Racing, won the 2015 second race and 2016 first race at Detroit.

There have been a couple livery changes this week. Magneti Marelli returns to Andretti Autosport – it was on Carlos Munoz’s car here last year and it will be on Marco Andretti’s this weekend.

Ruoff Home Mortgage has continued as primary sponsor aboard Indianapolis 500 champion Sato’s No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Mark Music, President & CEO of Ruoff Home Mortgage stated, “What you can definitely feel is the excitement that has been built around Takuma’s win at the Indianapolis 500 and we wanted to continue that partnership with Sato and Andretti Autosport for this race. Our 450+ employees, in particular, are extremely excited with the incredible performance of Takuma Sato and are happy to continue our relationship into Detroit.”

The Alexander Rossi car features signage on his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda, and is back in the red and blue colors last seen at Barber Motorsports Park.

DXC Technology takes over as primary sponsor for Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet, now white, black with chrome accents. Helio Castroneves is in the white and black colors of Hitachi on his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Dixon’s No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing continues with Camping World signage.

Graham Rahal is back in the No. 15 SoldierStrong/ colors as he ran at the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Rahal led first practice.

At Ed Carpenter Racing, JR Hildebrand’s No. 21 Chevrolet is in the green Fuzzy’s Vodka colors. Spencer Pigot returns to the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet after his time with Juncos Racing.

From the “things that make you go hmm…” department, we spotted two Honda Performance Development senior officials outside the Team Penske transporter in the paddock this afternoon.

HPD is strongly hinted but not formally confirmed to be part of Penske’s strongly hinted but not formally confirmed upcoming sports car prototype program set to debut in 2018.

Tire management this weekend is crucial, because of limited sets for the two races. From Firestone, each entrant gets eight sets primary, and four sets alternate for the weekend. Teams must use one new set of primary and alternate tires in each race.

The qualifying format is also different with two groups for both days, rather than the traditional Firestone Fast Six format as is used on all other road and street courses. Today, IndyCar just had two practice sessions and no qualifying sessions.


  • A number of drivers will be en route to France for the Le Mans Test Day, which takes place Sunday, following the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic IMSA race on Saturday afternoon. Some of them will be on Cooper MacNeil’s private jet that will transport them to Le Mans from Detroit.
  • Among those drivers planned to go to Le Mans, it includes Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, Cooper MacNeil, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan.
  • CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun and a handful of crew, including Jeff Braun, will depart Detroit for Thompson, Ct. after Saturday’s race for GRC Lites duty.
  • This is the second street race hometown race for 3GT Racing and its Lexus RC F GT3 this year. While at Long Beach, the Lexus cars ran in the shadow of Toyota on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, and here, the 3GT team runs not far from its Lansing, Mich. headquarters (about 100 miles away). The team visited the HARMAN North American Automotive Headquarters in Novi, Michigan earlier this week.
  • Don’t expect the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson to run much if at all this weekend. Kenton Koch and Ryan Lewis’ names were listed on the car on Friday as Jose Gutierrez is in Le Mans preparing for his first test in the No. 22 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson (run by DragonSpeed).
  • Lewis had an incident in the morning’s first practice while in his No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, one of the three PC cars entered this weekend. The car was repaired in time for second practice.
  • Not as fortunate was Ozz Negri, who sustained an impact in first practice as well in his No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, and the car was being repaired during second practice after Negri contacted the Turn 1 wall with both the left front and left rear of his car.
  • The PC class hits the halfway point of its final season, and both active team owners here this weekend, Brent O’Neill (Performance Tech Motorsports) and Brian Alder (BAR1 Motorsports) are beginning their respective processes of determining their next steps as a team with the Orecas being retired at the end of this season.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.