Five things to watch for in Detroit Grand Prix

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The NTT IndyCar Series spent the month of May in Indianapolis preparing for and running the 103rd Indy 500. Now, without a moment’s rest, they head to Belle Isle Park in Detroit for Round 7 & 8 of the schedule.

With the 500 as the only oval race so far this year, drivers and teams have been able to concentrate on their street and road course setups. Last week, Simon Pagenaud completed his sweep of Indy – following an IndyCar Grand Prix victory with a dramatic 500 win. That made him the first driver to score two victories this season. There is still a unique winners’ streak in play, however, since a different driver has won each of the twisty track races in 2019.

Will Detroit provide two more winners, or will we start to see one of the drivers begin to establish dominance? That is one of the questions yet to be answered this week. 

  1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a streak killer. Pagenaud’s back-to-back wins ended the string of consecutive unique winners, while the rain-plagued Grand Prix snapped a perfect record of top-5s this season for Josef Newgarden and top-10s for Alexander Rossi. Stretching into last year, Newgarden had a top-10 streak of 12 consecutive; Rossi had 11 straight top-10s. Both drivers finished in the top-5 in the 500 to potentially restart their streaks.
  2. Since the IndyCar Series began running a double-header at Belle Isle, Graham Rahal is the only driver to sweep the event – winning the Saturday race from the pole and the Sunday race from third. Sebastien Bourdais won two consecutive by taking the victory in Race 2 of 2015 and Race 1 of 2016.
  3. Starting position is critical at Belle Isle. Eight of 15 races have been won from the front two rows, while only three have been won from further back than 10th. Carlos Munoz won the Saturday 2015 race from furthest back in 20th. And yet, the polesitter has won the race only twice (Rahal in 2017 and Scott Dixon in 2012).
  4. Likewise, starting positive has been extremely important this year: Five of six races have been won from the first two rows. Track position is critical on street courses, so that trend is likely to continue. Pagenaud’s win from eighth in the IndyCar Grand Prix is the worst track position anyone has overcome this year and that race was affected by wet conditions.
  5. Going for three. Since IndyCar has sanctioned the race, no one has scored three victories at Belle Isle yet. Four drivers have a chance to be the first. Along with Bourdais and Rahal, Dixon won in 2012 and 2018, and Will Power won in 2014 and 2016. In addition, Pagenaud has an opportunity to be the first driver to reach three wins in 2019. Helio Castroneves has two CART-sanctioned wins (2000/2001) and added an IndyCar win in 2014.

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After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”