Gotten over the excitement of Indy yet? No? Nor have we. But the racers themselves have to – it's time to move on, and rapidly. There are six races over the next five weeks, starting with a double-header in Belle Isle, Detroit.
So what's different about the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans? Well, there's a race on Saturday and another on Sunday – both for full points, both for 70 laps. While the grid for Race 1 will be decided by qualifying in the usual way, it will be held late afternoon on Friday. The grid for the second race will be held on Saturday morning, across two groups, with each getting 12 minutes and a minimum of five minutes of track time. Who's in which group will be determined by practice times from the previous morning, with Group 1 being reserved for odd-numbered positions and Group 2 being allocated to even-numbered positions. Times from the two groups will be combined to determine the starting order.
Not sure why it needs to be a different format from usual – why mess with a system that works well 95 percent of the time? – but as long as it's less complicated than it sounds then…OK, fine.
Another point worth noting is the format of the circuit this year – Bud Denker and his team responded swiftly to criticism – which adds a long straight down to Turn 3, and increases track length from 2.07 to 2.35 miles. Having said that, there was passing occurring at Belle Isle last season, but the TV direction was lame. Let's hope ABC can do a better job this year, but if you're not attending the event, it would still be wise to log onto Indycar.com and watch live timing and scoring. In fact, that's always a smart move.
THE NEW LEADER
Marco Andretti heads into the second quarter of the IZOD IndyCar Series at the top of the points table, with two thirds and a fourth place as the foundations of his campaign thus far. That alone is an indication of his improved consistency, and his avoidance of incidents.
To Marco's great credit, this ability to stay out of trouble is not because he's been in cruise-and-collect mode; he has retained his aggression and added great judgment, as his drives at St. Petersburg, Sao Paulo and Indy emphatically proved. So what's still missing? Well, it's just that last bit of finesse that costs him a couple of tenths in qualifying on road and street courses. He's certainly improved in this regard, and has gotten closer to teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, but they have taken three wins this year, while Marco is having to come from further back.
That makes for good TV, it must be said, for he is a great opportunist and so is fun to watch, but it would be refreshing to see him sticking the No. 25 RC Cola car at the front through a whole weekend.
Also watch out for Andretti's teammate E.J. Viso as a dark horse for a podium finish. This is one of the Venezuelan's strongest tracks, and his confidence is blooming right now.
TORQUE OF THE TOWN
It's not easy to forget the irony of Honda scoring a 1-2-3 in the heart of Motown last season, and nor can we rule out the possibility of the HPD-built engine again having the edge on Chevrolet's home track. A few Chevy-powered drivers (off the record, of course) observed they lost out on low-speed turns compared to their Honda-powered rivals at both St. Pete and Long Beach.
Belle Isle has fewer ultra-slow turns, but you don't need to give Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud or Takuma Sato an advantage in order to predict they'll be in the top six. Chevrolet's front-runners should come from Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, but Simona De Silvestro (KV Racing) and Sebastien Bourdais (Dragon Racing) can also shine here.
SEARCHING FOR A FIRST
The continuing absurdity of this season is the lack of victories for Ganassi or Penske, despite front-running pace. Will Power has decided to throw caution to the wind having enjoyed himself immensely in his brief charge from the rear in Brazil; given that he's 79 points and 13 places off the championship lead, this is now his only option. Dixon, last year's winner of the Belle Isle race, can't stop himself driving like that, so barring yellow/red-flag interruptions to qualifying expect to see the Antipodean rivals slugging it out over the front row.
But do not discount Dario Franchitti, whose silky-smooth skills have given him the qualifying edge on Dixon this year at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Franchitti started mid-grid here last year, but only because he was blocked on his fast run in qualifying…And he glided his way up to second, come the race.
Justin Wilson made a car-damaging opening-lap error at Belle Isle last year, but the winner of this race in 2008 doesn't make the same mistake twice and he should be a podium contender this weekend. Currently sitting sixth in the points standings after finishing top Honda runner at Indy, Dale Coyne Racing's pet giraffe has breathtaking car control and this is shown at its best on street courses. Watching Wilson from trackside or on the onboard cameras, he defines the difference between those who merely drive racecars and those who truly race cars.
This weekend he'll have British compatriot Mike Conway as his partner, echoing the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing lineup from 2010. Conway was superquick in Long Beach; he should be again here.
Another guy who's always great visual value within the confines of city streets is JR Hildebrand, and he'll be keen to expunge the memory of a disastrous day at Indy. The Panther Racing driver may (or may not) be a one-car team once more following DRR being put on ice, but he knows he's not going to be champion so he should stop over-thinking it, let his talent flow, and go flat-out for victories. And no, we're not just saying that for selfish reasons, honest….
It goes without saying that reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will figure strongly because…well, because he always does these days. That's why he's champ. But keep an eye out for a couple more homegrown stars.
AJ Allmendinger was some way off the pace of Penske teammate Power at Long Beach and Barber, but his Indy performance will have been a major confidence booster, despite Belle Isle being a very different type of track. Truly, it's confidence – as well as a long and recent stretch of open-wheel experience – that is all Allmendinger currently lacks; his natural talent remains huge. He hasn't raced at Belle Isle before, but if he can get the Quicken Loans-sponsored car within half a second of its Verizon stablemate in qualifying, AJ will have done a great job and that should put him near the sharp end of the grid. Thereafter, as we've seen, he's prepared to make ballsy passing attempts.
At Sao Paulo, Josef Newgarden battled for the lead in the closing stages and even though he was shuffled down to fifth on the final lap, he did a great job of retaining his composure in a high-stress situation. That race reminded everyone that Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing has a diamond in its possession, one that is starting to show some polish. Another strong top five this weekend will push his confidence higher still.
Also look out for…
• Bryan Herta Autosport and Alex Tagliani. For its first non-oval race with the Honda last year, they qualified third at Belle Isle. Then, after recovery from a first-lap electronic failure, Tag put on a clinic in how to pass. Not that TV showed it…
• Rain featuring in at least one race. Should it arrive at an inopportune moment, it could turn the race order on its head. However, the resurfaced track should prevent a repeat of the track-crumbling mid-race disruption of last year.
• The intra-team tussle between Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier. Nice guys, but behind their smiles and their cooperation is monstrous ambition…which is how it should be. Vive indeed.
• Charles Burns. If you've been missing him in the background of IndyCar broadcasts this year, then worry not. As GM of the Detroit Grand Prix, his role is much as before – make sure stuff happens when it's supposed to and doesn't happen when it shouldn't.