The NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ weekend in Detroit can be summed in one word: Whew!
From the safety elements protecting Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist in his crash on Saturday to the furious on-track action resulting in a pair of stirring races, the return of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit had much to be excited about.
Fans came to Belle Isle Park in droves, creating an atmosphere that was missing in 2020 when crowds were not permitted at any of INDYCAR’s races and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix wasn’t held.
The racing could not have been more interesting. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) scored his first career INDYCAR victory, and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP) snapped a run of seven different race winners to open the season by charging through the lead pack from the 16th starting position to capture Sunday’s race.
O’Ward’s victory allowed him to move into the series lead, one point ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda). O’Ward leads reigning and six-time series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) by 36 points with eight races remaining.
O’Ward dedicated the victory – his second of the season and of his career – to Rosenqvist, who was held Saturday night at DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital for observation, and to late McLaren Racing shareholder Mansour Ojjeh. Rosenqvist was released Sunday but did not attend the race. He did, however, appreciate O’Ward’s gesture.
“What an incredible drive by Pato,” Rosenqvist said in a statement distributed by Arrow McLaren SP. “He was amazing on the restart, and it was really special watching him work his way through the field.
“I obviously don’t want to be watching races on TV, but it’s really special when your teammate wins and dedicates the race to you.”
Here are a few additional takeaways from the Detroit weekend and a lookahead to the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR this Sunday at Road America:
Rosenqvist Grateful for Support after Big Crash
Rosenqvist appeared to be on a strategy to contend for Saturday’s victory, but then the throttle stuck approaching Turn 6, rendering him a passenger.
The No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet went nose-first into the tire barrier, climbing as it went. The contact was so fierce that the concrete block behind the tires back was moved back several feet. The rescue by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team and the repairs to the barrier led to a red-flag period of 78 minutes.
“Yesterday was by far the most violent crash I’ve had, and I’m just so thankful I didn’t have any serious injuries,” Rosenqvist said in the team’s statement. “I’m fine but very sore, so driving (Sunday) would not have been realistic. We had a great race to that point (Saturday), which makes it even worse to take, but Oliver did a great job (Sunday) in the car. My focus is on getting rested up and fully recovered.
“Last, but definitely not least, I want to extend my gratitude for all the car and consideration I have received after the accident. To the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team, to everyone at DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital, to my teammates at Arrow McLaren SP, and to all my fans – thank you.”
Rosenqvist’s status for the Road America event, which begins with Friday’s 45-minute practice (5:15 p.m. ET, live on Peacock), has not yet been determined.
Happy Ending for Sweden
While Rosenqvist’s crash had fans in his home country concerned, they ended the day celebrating the first victory of Ericsson’s INDYCAR career.
Ericsson’s previous best finish came when he placed second in the most recent race in Detroit, in 2019. He knew lining up behind race leader Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet) for the four-lap shootout was his chance to finally reach victory lane. He needed to pounce.
“I saw after the first red flag that (Power) was struggling a bit to get up to speed,” said Ericsson, who started 15th. “I thought I had a pretty good chance there … to try to attack him on that first lap because I felt like we were a bit better getting up to speed than him. I knew that was going to be my chance.”
That shootout never materialized because Power’s engine wouldn’t immediately refire on pit road following a red-flag stoppage for barrier contact involving series rookie Romain Grosjean in the No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda.
“Obviously, when he had his problem, it’s just about trying to stay cool and just perfect the restart on the last couple laps,” Ericsson said.
With Ericsson getting a strong final restart, the battle for second place was left to Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet) and O’Ward. VeeKay held O’Ward off for his second podium finish of the season.
With Palou finishing third in Race 2, three drivers under the age of 24 last weekend earned a spot on the podium located at the historic Scott Fountain. It’s becoming a frequent occurrence.
O’Ward, Palou and VeeKay are ranked in the top five of the point standings at the season’s midpoint. VeeKay is tied with 2019 series champion Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) for fifth place, 56 points out of the series lead.
Hats Off to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Like Arrow McLaren SP, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also had a memorable weekend.
Takuma Sato (No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda), Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda) and Santino Ferrucci (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) came from low starting positions for Saturday’s race to finish fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. But Sunday’s event was challenging for a different reason.
Ferrucci slammed his car into a barrier on the final lap of NTT P1 Award qualifying, forcing all members of the organization to scurry in a two-hour rush to get Sato’s backup car ready for Ferrucci to race. Connecticut native Ferrucci then delivered on the track, finishing 10th in a car in which he had no practice laps.
Rahal gave the team more to celebrate, finishing fifth for the second consecutive day.
“The boys did a great job in the pits, also did a great job getting Santino’s car fixed up and ready to race, so thank you to all three teams for making that happen,” Rahal said. “It was a really solid day.”
Last Year’s Battle at Road America
A year ago, Rosenqvist drove for Chip Ganassi’s team, and he had a spirited late-race duel with O’Ward, who was the NTT P1 Award winner for Arrow McLaren SP.
Rosenqvist emerged victorious for the first time in his INDYCAR career, leaving O’Ward to settle for a career-best second place. It wasn’t until this year, in the third race of the season, that O’Ward finally reached victory lane for the first time. That win came at Texas Motor Speedway.
O’Ward has won two of the past five races and is clearly on a roll.
Oliver Askew, who spent 12 of last year’s 14 races driving Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 Honda, filled in for Rosenqvist in Sunday’s Race 2 in Detroit. The team has yet to announce Rosenqvist’s status for Road America.
Sunday’s 55-lap race begins with live coverage at noon (ET) on the NBC Sports Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network.