DRIVERS PRAISE REPAVING, RECONFIGURATION
The Penske-led Detroit Grand Prix organization spent approximately $2 million after last year's embarrassing, the-track-is-hurling-concrete-at-the-drivers race experience that forced a prolonged red flag for repairs, and with 12 months to rectify the situation, and to make a few alterations to the configuration to improve the flow, drivers had nothing but praise to offer on Friday.
“It's fun to drive,” said Rahal Letterman Lanigan's James Jakes after qualifying fourth for Race 1. “It slows a lot better than the old one used to do. When you go down into three, four, five, six, it's fun. The asphalt and concrete, you get a balance shift mid entry to the corner. A big thank-you to the Penske organization for doing such a great job here, making it so fun to drive.”
Andretti Autosport's E.J. Viso, who qualified second, mirrored Jakes' comments.
“I think this grand prix every time is getting stronger,” said the Venezuelan, who also qualified second at Brazil last month. “The changes they've been doing, for sure they needed to do changes for this car on the tarmac and the asphalt joints. They did a great job. It definitely keeps us very busy due to all the grip changes. It's fun. It's the same for everyone.”
Reverting back to a longer 2.3-mile layout – extending the run into Turn 3 changing turn 4 and 5 altogether--was just as popular as the new track surface.
“Looking forward to racing again on this format of track,” said pole winner Dario Franchitti. “I think for several reasons we had to use the small layout. Roger Penske and Bud [Denker] and Charles [Burns] got back to the extended layout. It's a lot of hard work gone into this venue. It's really cool to work with a promoter that you point something out on the track walk and it's literally done an hour later. You get a phone call, Mate, it's done.
“It's bloody impressive, and there's more improvements on the way. We should be racing here. It's the Motor City, isn't it?”
SEB CELEBRATES 100
Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais marks his 100th Indy car start this weekend at Detroit, which was acknowledged by the IndyCar Series Friday morning with a special Q&A session that was held with the Frenchman.
I grabbed Seb after the press conference and posed the one question that wasn't asked: Which race would he like to have back – to run over again?
“There would be more of that in the last 30 races than from the first 70,” said the Dragon Racing driver. “The first year there were a lot of races that we felt that we were awesome.
"The first one in St. Pete (his debut race as a Champ Car rookie in 2003) is the one I'd really like to do over again because we blasted through the field. We were dominating the weekend. Every time there was a green flag we'd just pull like a 10-second lead. And then we got screwed in the strategy…I lost my mind when I saw that one slip away. I guess I wasn't used to U.S. racing, having to cycle to black and keep calm. Just still be in it.
“Europe, if we'd been leading the race like this, it would be kind of, ‘Whatever – it's ours no matter what happens.' Yeah, that's probably the only one I kind of really go, 'Boy I wish I really would've won that one,' because your first one on pole, that would've been a story. But, I think I've gotten my fair share of wins.”
Here's a trend I've greatly enjoyed this year.
Mike Conway showed up at IndyCar Spring Training at Barber Motorsports Park in March – after being out of the cockpit of an Indy car since September of 2012 – and promptly set the fourth-fastest lap of the day, topping the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. He'd do the same on his race debut for RLL, making the Firestone Fast 6 at Long Beach.
So when Conway, who's filling the vacancy in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing entry that Ana Beatriz drove through Indy, arrived at Detroit on almost no notice, what kind of result did the Briton deliver?
P3 in the first practice session and third on the grid for Saturday's 70-lap race. Conway might not be a fan of ovals, but he's making a strong case to be picked up by a team on road and street courses.
I asked Conway if there's some intrinsic quality he draws from to show up cold and put his teammates behind him, and he thought his recent LMP2 experience in Europe might have helped to improve his game.
“I suppose with the sports car stuff, you haven't got as much time to develop the car, kind of what you start the weekend with is pretty much where you're ending with unless you do changes between sessions,” he said. “Maybe that's helped me get more out of myself and my driving so that I'm getting the ultimate out of it every time, rather than coming in after five laps, I'll change this, go back out again and then lose that track time.
"We've not changed the car, really. Just a little couple of tweaks in between sessions, same as what [teammate] Justin [Wilson] did. “I just got in I just felt comfortable in the car. It's been a good balance and enough to really kind of rag it and see what time it's capable of, what it's capable of doing. I feel very relaxed when I get in, so there's no pressure, really, of any expectations. I suppose I've been jumping into different things this year. With the LMP2 stuff back and forth, you've got to adapt pretty quick.” And how much advance notice did Conway have to get ready for his debut with DCR?
“Well, there was talk on Sunday and then Monday didn't really hear much more. I was in the UK. And Tuesday I went to the gym. I did a hammer-to-heart session in there. I got a call from Dale afterward. And I was like, ‘Oh s***.' I really wish I didn't do that gym session. So literally it came together Tuesday lunchtime. They booked a group of flights for me and I was off Wednesday morning. It's fun. I like to be able to do things, it's a good situation, but my muscles are killing me from going so hard in the gym...”