Prior to Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, Alex Palou was concerned about the new nine-turn, 1.7-mile downtown street circuit, saying he didn’t think there was enough room for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES machines to navigate. His tune has changed.
“Honestly, it was tight, we saw that,” Palou said after winning the 100-lap race. “It was a really fun race; it was a lot better than I expected. We had a lot more grip today … I think the track evolved a lot during the weekend.
“I will watch the race (replay) because obviously I had a clean race, let’s say. But honestly, Detroit did a tremendous job. The fans were amazing. I was mind-blowed by how many fans we had today being a first-time event. Also, the podium on victory lane was really fun.
“Hopefully we can tweak some stuff and make it even better for next year. (I) cannot wait.”
Will Power, who finished second, won last year’s race at The Raceway at Belle Isle and three on the island overall, and he said he started to realize the challenge of this street circuit during the second practice session. He also liked the long straightaway that fed into a hairpin at Turn 3.
“(It) looked like it was a great race,” he said.
Third-place finisher Felix Rosenqvist called it “an awesome race.”
“There was some criticism to start the weekend, but it all played out really nicely,” he said. “I have to say, it was a fun racetrack. It raced really well.
“That long straightaway, we picked a low-downforce option and we were able to pass cars at the end of the straight. Yeah, it was awesome.”
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon heaped significant praise on the racing.
“It’s wild, man – I had a lot of fun,” he said. “The car was super difficult (to drive), the track was difficult. Let’s call it, ‘It had a lot of character.’ It was interesting but also very difficult on the restarts.
“These things aren’t meant to be easy.”
Penske Corporation President Bud Denker, who serves as the chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, said the numbers support the quality of the on-track product.
“One hundred eighty-nine on-track passes, 142 were for position, which equals Long Beach,” he said. “Long Beach had a hell of race this year, right? We had the same number of for-position passes.
“St. Pete, which is a pretty good race, they had 170 on-track passes – we had 189. They had 128 for position – we had 142. Pretty good race.”
How Event Came Together
Denker and Penske Entertainment Vice President Michael Montri first discussed the idea of moving the event back to Detroit’s downtown streets, where it last took place in 1991, two years ago following the debut of the race in Nashville.
“It hasn’t been very long ago, right?” Denker said. “To think about putting an event downtown within that period of time, for approvals and construction and road repairs and engineering studies – the fact there are three entities that had to fix the road.”
Denker said Jefferson Avenue, which served as the seven-tenths-of-a-mile back straightaway, is owned by the state of Michigan. Atwater Street, which connected Turns 5 through 8, is owned by General Motors. The rest is owned by the city.
“The complexity could take you a year-plus,” Denker said. “We did it in a matter of months because of the cooperation we had with all these entities (and) organizations.
“In the middle of our racetrack, you have an international (border) crossing. Find me a place in the world with that! You (also) have the world headquarters of General Motors. You’re not going to find that. You have to continue commerce. We didn’t disrupt any businesses … think about that in a city like Detroit.”
Among the changes being discussed for next year’s event are new paving at the Turn 3 braking zone and a modification to the area near Turn 8 ahead of the entrance to pit lane.
Denker said paid attendance was about 20,000, but there were significantly more on site as more than half of the circuit was accessible at no cost.
Pit Decision Results Inconclusive
The dual pit lane was a new feature for an INDYCAR SERIES race, but surprisingly, there wasn’t a full-course caution where the full field came for service at the same time.
But Denker nonetheless liked what he and others saw.
“The dual pit lane worked,” he said. “It was so easy to track everything – it’s right there in front of you versus having to look a thousand feet down the pit lane area. It was a good story.”
Teams had the option to choose which side of pit road they wanted to set up shop. Denker remembered as far back as last year when Team Penske first had the selection discussion.
“Talking to the crews, are we faster on the left or right?” he said. “Is my finger on the clutch better turning out this way? Is the left side going to be faster than the right side?
“(There were) a lot of cool dynamics going into deciding your pit box. I thought that was pretty cool.”
Flavor Flav Entertains
Who knew that Flavor Flav, a founding member of the iconic rap group Public Enemy, would become part of the show at this event?
NBC’s Peacock broadcast introduced the group’s hype man to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES audience Saturday in an interview in the Turn 9 suites with broadcaster Kevin Lee. Sunday, Flavor Flav arrived wearing a Will Power shirt.
Power took it from there.
“I was just sitting and talking with Roger (Penske) and Tim (Cindric) … (and) we were watching the interview,” Power said. “I said, if he’s here, he’s got to come over. I’ve got to meet him.
“Then he came to my (crew’s transporter). He had the Will Power shirt on; his girlfriend had the same. A couple of my boys from Toowoomba (Australia) said, ‘You have made it.’ We all listened to Public Enemy in the ‘90s. Flavor Flav was someone I thought I would never meet.”
Flavor Flav rode around the track with Power during driver introductions and stayed through the race, monitoring Power’s progress and cheering his climb from seventh on the starting grid to second at the finish in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“Pretty cool experience,” Power said. “Pretty cool to put it on your personal Facebook (page). All your friends that you went to school with saying, ‘(Power) is big time, he’s hanging with out with Flavor Flav.’”
Power said he has met rap icon Ice-T and Slash from rock legends Guns N’ Roses. Now he wants to meet rapper Eminem, who lived some of his youth years in the Detroit area.
“That would be epic,” he said.