Monday Musings – 2017 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix

By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel

My new feature for The Open Wheel will be a post-race weekend collection of my thoughts from a week of INDYCAR action. It begins today following a surprising weekend in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

  • Rahal’s Incredible Dominance – A driver sweeping the race weekend at Belle Isle is certainly a surprise but not entirely shocking. However, Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing dominating the race weekend is something no one could have seen coming. They’ve struggled in practice and qualifying all year and have had to rely on Graham Rahal’s race craft to grind out results so far this season. Fast forward to Saturday and Graham wins the first pole for a Honda team on a road/street course since Simon Pagenaud with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Houston in 2014 and goes on to dominate each race for two incredible wins. That’s unbelievable and this team and driver deserve a ton of credit. Graham never shies away from telling anyone how he truly feels and it’s nice to see his steadfast optimism rewarded after what had been an admittedly frustrating season for him.
  • 7 Winners in 7 Race Weekends – Let’s ignore the fact that Rahal’s sweep means there are 7 Verizon IndyCar Series race winners in 8 races after Sunday and spin it to an incredible 7 winners in 7 race weekends. That’s incredible balance and further validation that this series is deeper than ever. The Top 2 in the championship, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, haven’t won this season. A Ganassi car has yet to win a race this season. One year after his dominant 2016 season how crazy is it that Simon Pagenaud has only one win? And it was on the short oval at Phoenix of all places! For all their speed this season Andretti Autosport has only one win. The balance and unpredictability this year has been stronger than ever. That’s the beauty of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
  • Drivers/Teams Now Understand P2P Restart Rule – Listening to drivers and teams on a scanner is always entertaining but rarely was it as fun as it was after INDYCAR decided to red flag Race 2 on Sunday with just 3 laps remaining. You had the understandable frustration of leader Graham Rahal telling his team “that’s bullshit man” right after the decision but the highlight was the teams and drivers reacting to having push-to-pass at the restart with 2 laps to go. INDYCAR changed the P2P rules this offseason to eliminate its use during the start and restarts but teams and drivers seemed to have forgot about the provision that it would be available for restarts with 2 laps to go. It was hilarious to listen to drivers argue with their teams over its availability on that last restart. Conor Daly and his team seemed convinced it was INDYCAR changing the rules as they went along again. Not this time but it certainly made for an entertaining listen!
  • Esteban Gutierrez was solid – Esteban Gutierrez was in a tough situation this weekend as he drove a Verizon IndyCar Series car for the first time ever as a substitute for the injured Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing machine. I thought he did an impressive job given the circumstances. He qualified 19th in both races and finished the races 19th and 14th. That’s a solid, if not spectacular, jump from finishing each practice session in the last two spots. It’s going to be a process for him as he learns the car, and oval racing in general if he does in fact drive until Bourdais comes back, but I think he showed enough this weekend to comfortably say he could be a good fit for the series once he adjusts. I really enjoyed his comments after Race 2 on Sunday: “”It was quite an experience. Two days of racing, two days of qualifying, one after the other. It was tough. It was a challenge to come here with no testing, straight into the car with two short practice sessions on one of the most physical tracks on the calendar. Two days in a row racing 70 laps – it was quite an experience, and an eventful race that we had today with good chances. I want to say thank you to all the team, all the crew. Fantastic experience. I really loved the experience this weekend, we have fantastic mechanics and engineers that supported me and helped me get comfortable with the car and all the procedures. It was pretty special and I’m hopefully looking forward to more.”
  • Belle Isle is a must-attend event – The ongoing debate of whether or not INDYCAR “should” race on an oval the week after the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race won’t go away until that change is made but there’s no question that the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix is an excellent show in-person. Combined with Stadium SUPER Trucks, Trans Am, and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship there’s action on track all day every day and plenty to do outside of racing as well. There are numerous hospitality options, an incredible amount of outdoor games for adults and children, never-ending food and drink choices, and more shopping options than some malls. Belle Island Park itself is absolutely beautiful and fun to explore throughout the weekend. There’s something for everyone at this event and though the racing isn’t the most spectacular it’s a beautiful venue and the plethora of racing and entertainment options make it a wonderful event for every fan in attendance. There are plenty of detractors about this event even among INDYCAR fans but in my opinion it’s a terrific race for those that go to the race even if that doesn’t translate very well to TV.