It is time for NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers to restart their engines.
After a hectic Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the field of competitors refocuses this weekend to begin an important stretch of June races.
This weekend, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear will be held at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, and a week later the action resumes at the Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for the Sonsio Grand Prix presented by AMR.
Eleven races remain as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES works to crown its 2022 champion. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson will have the spotlight as last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner, and he also is one of the two winners of last year’s doubleheader at Belle Isle Park. He also is the series points leader.
Meanwhile, there are many drivers wanting to improve on their “500” finish, including Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who scored a runner-up finish in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” He won Race 2 of last year’s race in Detroit.
This year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES event in Detroit features a single race on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile street circuit for the first time since 2012. It also will be the final race at Belle Isle Park as the event returns to its original home – on the downtown streets – for 2023.
In addition to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the weekend card features an Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader (races Saturday and Sunday). Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing holds the series lead by 34 points over teammate Danial Frost. They were the two race winners last month on the IMS road course, the series’ most-recent event.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES begins on-track action with a 45-minute practice Friday at 3:30 p.m. (ET). Practices and qualifying sessions will air on Peacock Premium, the live streaming service of NBC Sports. Sunday’s race will air on the USA Network and Peacock Premium at 3 p.m. (ET). All sessions also will be broadcast on the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Here are five things to watch for this weekend in Detroit:
Ericsson, O’Ward Lead Way
It’s fitting that the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear is the next race on the schedule as Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) arrive as the reigning champions of the event and the recent 1-2 finishers in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
To complete the story, Ericsson and O’Ward are also the top two in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings, with Ericsson holding a 13-point advantage after six races. Ericsson outscored O’Ward by 22 points at Indy.
Ericsson will need to regroup in a hurry as Monday night’s Victory Celebration was followed by a full media tour Tuesday in New York that culminated with throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. Whether the emotional and physical strain of celebrating a “500” victory is a factor or not, the last driver to win Indy and the race the next weekend was Al Unser Jr. in 1994.
Ericsson said returning to Detroit will be special for him.
“It was my first win in like eight years, I think,” he said. “Good that I didn’t have to wait another eight years for the next one.”
O’Ward will be ready, too.
“I love Detroit,” he said. “I think we’ve had a great month (at Indy), and (Sunday was) a very, very, very good result for us to get our championship in good position again.”
Don’t Sleep on Palou
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) dropped out of “500” contention Sunday when he got penalized for taking emergency service in a closed pit on Lap 71. Palou didn’t get much attention during the balance of the 200-lap race, but he managed to finish ninth among the 33 drivers.
The penalty dropped Palou to 31st in the order, and if he had finished there, he would have scored only 21 points at Indy. Advancing to ninth earned him 56 points, which could be a difference-maker in his defense of the series championship.
While Ericsson and O’Ward rightfully have the spotlight as June begins, Palou is only 14 points out of the series lead and will be the defending champion at Road America. Palou also won last year’s Grand Prix of Portland, where the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will race the season’s penultimate race Sept. 4 at Portland International Raceway.
Team Penske Lurking, Too
Team Penske officials will be the first to admit their cars didn’t have the best “500.” In fact, it was the first time the organization has failed to have a top-10 finisher in the race since 2011, and none of the three drivers led a lap last weekend.
Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet) was the highest of the team’s finishers in the 13th position, with Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) in 15th. Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet) finished 29th after one of the race’s six single-car accidents.
Expect the team to turn the page quickly, and the opportunity couldn’t come at a better circuit. Team Penske has won a record seven times at Belle Isle Park, most recently with Newgarden at the wheel in 2019.
Newgarden finished second to O’Ward in last year’s Race 2 and was the NTT P1 Award winner as the fastest qualifier (114.156 mph). His speed was the fastest for the event’s pole winner in six races there.
Power is also a former race winner in the event promoted by his boss, Roger Penske. He won in 2014 and 2016, and he has a pair of second-place finishes and a pole.
While the combination of Newgarden, Power and McLaughlin scored only 76 points at Indy – Ericsson netted 109 in the double-points event – they are still squarely in the hunt for the season title. Power ranks fourth, Newgarden fifth and McLaughlin seventh.
Dixon Is Another To Watch
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) also figures to be motivated for a strong result this weekend in Detroit, and this has been one of his better events through the years. He won races in 2012, 2018 and 2019. He shares the event record for wins with Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing).
Dixon knows the “500” slipped out of his grasp with that pit road speeding penalty on Lap 175. The drive down pit road dropped him from the lead to 26th position, and he was only able to get back to 21st despite being the pole sitter.
Winning the NTT P1 Award earned him 12 points, giving him 33 for the event. Dixon will resume his pursuit of a record-tying seventh NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship 60 points out of the lead.
Dixon has a golden opportunity to gain ground over the next two months. He has won at the four upcoming venues – Belle Isle, Road America, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Toronto – a combined 14 times. He also has won a race at two other circuits remaining this season: the IMS road course and World Wide Technology Raceway.
Other Detroit race winners in this weekend’s field besides Ericsson, O’Ward, Dixon, Castroneves, Power and Newgarden are Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing). Rahal swept the 2017 doubleheader, and he finished second in the closest 1-2 finish in event history in 2014 (to Will Power by .3308 of a second).
After Friday’s single practice at 3:30 p.m. (ET), the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will have two sessions each Saturday and Sunday. The weekend’s second 45-minute practice will be Saturday at 8:30 a.m. with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 12:35 p.m. Sunday’s action begins with a 30-minute warmup at 10:15 a.m. All those sessions will air on Peacock Premium.
The broadcast of the 70-lap Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday on USA Network, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Indy Lights races will air live on Peacock Premium at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 12:10 p.m. Sunday. The first race will span 25 laps, the second 30 laps.