Will Power

An INDYCAR SERIES race will be held in Detroit for the 26th year this weekend, yet past results of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear should not be viewed as an indicator of future success.

Since last year, the event has relocated to the city’s downtown after 22 years at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. Therefore, reigning Detroit champion Will Power’s three career wins in the city will have no relevance when the green flag drops at the new circuit Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

It’s time to begin anew in the Motor City.

SEE: Race Details

Detroit’s motorsports history is rich, with Emerson Fittipaldi winning the first INDYCAR SERIES street race in 1989. Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Greg Moore, Alex Zanardi and Dario Franchitti were among the race winners before the current crop of NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers arrived.

Helio Castroneves earned the first victory of his career at Belle Isle in 2000, then won again the next year. Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Power, Graham Rahal, new Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge champion Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward and 2023 “500” runner-up Marcus Ericsson are among the active drivers who won races at Belle Isle.

Following last year’s race, Roger Penske and his grand prix staff went into high gear to prepare for the move back to downtown, where racing was held from 1982 through 1991. This circuit is 1.7 miles long, with nine turns, and there is a hairpin corner. The circuit used for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach also has a hairpin, but drivers approach that one at a significantly slower speed than the drivers will charge toward this weekend.

For the first time in an INDYCAR SERIES race, cars on track will get service in two directions. Upon entering the 500-foot pit road, half of the field will be assigned to veer to the left for service, the other half to the right. How they blend to resume full-speed action should be fascinating to watch and likely action-packed.

There is certainly much intrigue for Detroit’s latest presentation, and it begins with the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice Friday at 3 p.m. ET (Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

Here are five things to watch:

The Return to Downtown

Roger Penske, who lives in the Detroit area, has had stewardship of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear since 2007, staging events in three time blocks at Belle Isle (2007-08, 2012-19 and 2021-22) as the city navigated various obstacles, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

All along, Penske had his eyes set on a relocation to the waterfront area with the General Motors Renaissance Center serving as the backdrop. This is the second downtown event added to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule in three years, with Nashville debuting in 2021.

“We’re excited because we’re trying to make this series (more than) Indianapolis, and (successful) all around the country,” said Penske, whose also owns the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. “I think we’ve got the fastest cars, the high-tech cars (in the series). I think our group of drivers is amazing, and (we have) teams that are competitive. We just want to take this to many, many key cities around the United States and maybe other places.”

Detroit is ready for this.

“It’s ironic last (week) the mayor and the City Council president took the speed limit signs down (that were) 25 mph in front of the GM building and put up 200 mph signs, so that’s what I’m counting on,” Penske said.

The Event of the People

The excitement for this event is built on the free access available to patrons, as more than half of the space allotted will be open.

In addition to nearly nonstop on-track action, the new-look Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear will feature music and activation across the downtown footprint.

“This event is going to bring the energy (to Detroit) that we haven’t seen since the 2016 Super Bowl,” event chairman Bud Denker said. “What (the NFL’s marquee event) did was bring everybody together as one and to celebrate our city and this amazing state.

“Now, we’re in the middle of summertime with this amazing backdrop, with over half the race circuit open to the public for free.”

Denker is excited to see Jefferson Avenue, downtown’s artery, used for competitors and spectators alike. Hart Plaza will feature entertainment for the Motor City Street Party.

“(It will be) a galvanizing event for our city, our state and our region,” Denker said.

Buckle Up at Turn 3

As was the case in Nashville, the drivers and their teams have no past notes to draw from – rather, many of them have used computerized simulations of the nine-turn, 1.7-mile circuit to derive their chassis setups.

In addition to the dual pit lanes, considerable focus will be on Turn 3, which is the hairpin in front of Huntington Place, the convention center known for annually hosting the North American International Auto Show. Drivers will charge down the long straightaway on Jefferson Avenue – nearly a mile in length -- at close to 200 mph, making it the most exciting hairpin in the sport.

Newgarden said there will be about eight-tenths of a mile “to set up a pass into this really tight hairpin,” which effectively is a 180-degree, first-gear, left-handed turnaround. That straightaway will be longer than the one used for road course races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I think you’re going to have five or six lanes wide to make that happen,” Team Penske’s driver said of the passing zone. “I think the racing action is going to be very intense in that point, but also the technique (necessary) will be important, trying to figure out how to get the most out of the car around that type of corner. That’s going to be a critical part for our first year here.”

The other unique feature of the track is the divided pit road, with half of the field getting service on the right, the other on the left. The split is out of necessity since there was only about 500 feet to work with, about half the norm.

“(It’s) going to be interesting because there’s no previous data for us on this new track,” Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta said. “It looks like this updated layout has some good overtaking opportunities, and the track also consists of mostly 90-degree left and right turns.”

Resuming Title Chase

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES effectively competed one-third of its season with last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, and the championship pursuit is taking shape.

Alex Palou, who fought back following pit-road contact from Rinus VeeKay on Lap 94 to finish fourth, is the series leader by 20 points over Ericsson. O’Ward is third, 34 points out of the lead, with Newgarden fourth (minus-37) and Dixon (minus-57).

Palou is seeking his second series championship in three years while Newgarden aims to become the first “500” winner since Dario Franchitti in 2010 to win the series title in the same season. Dixon is again pursuing a seventh season championship to tie A.J. Foyt’s all-time record. Ericsson and O’Ward have not yet won series titles.

Newgarden also won this year’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, making him the only two-time race winner of the season. Ericsson, Kyle Kirkwood, Scott McLaughlin and Palou are the other 2023 race winners.

Newgarden has spent much of the week being celebrated as the new Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge champion, with much of that time spent in New York on a media tour. The physical and mental grind must be considered as it has been 26 years since the “500” winner won the ensuing race, and Arie Luyendyk had 11 days between races in 1997. Newgarden will be back in a car on the fifth day since Indy.

The Weekend Schedule

Detroit’s new circuit will be busy over the weekend with an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race and two INDY NXT by Firestone races.

Friday, INDY NXT’s first practice is at 1:50 p.m. ET with the INDYCAR SERIES following with its first on-track action at 3 p.m. Qualifying for INDY NXT will be at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, the INDYCAR SERIES stages its second practice of the weekend at 9:05 a.m. with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 1:20 p.m. The first INDY NXT race is at 12:05 p.m.

Sunday, INDY NXT has its second race at 12:50 p.m. with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES broadcast beginning at 3 p.m.