Motown Is A Smash Hit With IndyCar Drivers

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 2 2012

Will Power takes a practice lap at Belle Isle on Friday. Good to be back to the twisties, he said. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Street-course ace Will Power topped the combined practice time/speed chart Friday for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, where the Raceway at Belle Isle Park left at least one IZOD IndyCar Series driver breathless.

“I have no more air left in my lungs. That is good fun,” Simon Pagenaud said after completing his second session around the physically demanding 2.07-mile, 14-turn circuit. “It’s one of those tracks where you push, push, push every corner and you have to get the car to dance with you over the bumps. It’s a great feeling, and that’s what I love about IndyCar racing. Man and machine have to work together to go fast.”

Power, winner of three of four street-course events this season, turned a lap of 1 minute, 12.8335- seconds at 102.313 mph during the second of two practice sessions – the first in wet conditions and the second in the dry. Justin Wilson, who won the series’ last visit to Belle Isle in May 2008, was second- quick at 1:12.9343 and 102.174 mph despite sliding into a tire barrier during the first practice.

“It’s definitely strange the first couple of laps with the bumps and everything,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske. “You use a lot of lock and turn left and right, so it’s nice to get back out there. This track is – it’s insane how hard you’ve got to push to be quick. It’s great. There’s no straights, there’s no corners and I had a lot of fun actually.”

Wilson qualified fourth and won this event by 4.4058-seconds over Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves while driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing four years ago.

“It seems like 2008 was a long time ago,” said Wilson, driver of the No. 18 Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. “We’re back with new cars, new teams and new setups but the same track. I think we know what it takes to get around this place, but the field is so competitive it is hard to stay in front. With this track you can’t relax for a second – you have to stay on your toes. The track will be different; if the weather changes we’ll all just have to adjust and keep pushing to go faster.”

Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter and fifth-place finisher Ryan Briscoe, driver of the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, was third-quick (1:13.1176). Pagenaud was fourth (1:13.1195) in the No. 77 Schmidt/Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda. Tony Kanaan was fifth (1:13.3012/101.663 mph) in the No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Electronics Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by KV Racing Technology.

By virtue of setting fastest lap, Power – the current point-leader – had first choice for his qualifying session on Saturday and chose Group Two. Teams will have one more practice session Saturday morning, from 9 to 10 (EDT), before knockout qualifying starts at 11:45 a.m. for the Firestone Fast Six.

“It may be difficult to pass here, but it’s going to be a good race because the cars are not easy to race here _ it’s bumpy, you get tired and it’s just a circuit that generates mistakes by drivers,” said Pagenaud, who finished 16th in the 96th Indy 500 last Sunday as a rookie. “It’s a track where you have to be physically and mentally stronger than the other drivers. It’s one of those racetracks where you can still make a difference as a driver. All of that will make it a good race.”

The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will be televised Sunday by ABC-TV at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (Channel 94 and Sirius 212).

Dragon Racing will continue with Chevrolet V-6 power for the remainder of the 2012 IndyCar season, and for the present, consolidate into one fulltime entry with driving duties shared by Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge.

Following a switch from Lotus power to Chevrolet prior to qualifications for the Indy 500, General Motors has committed to provide Dragon Racing with one engine for the remainder of the season. The entry will be the No. 7 TrueCar Dallara/Chevy when Bourdais is driving and the No. 6 when Legge races.

Bourdais is behind the wheel for this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Legge will take over for the Firestone 550k night race on Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile quadoval on Saturday, June 9, in Fort Worth. Legge also will drive the No. 6 TrueCar Dragon Racing entry at The Milwaukee Mile on June 14, a track where she had one of her career best performances in Champ Car, including leading the race. Legge also will drive at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway on June 23.

Bourdais will compete on the street circuits at Toronto on July 9 and Edmonton, Canada, on July 22 _ tracks where the Frenchman has scored multiple wins en route to four Champ Car World Series titles.

“Here we are, Detroit, the real start of my season,” said Bourdais, who never has competed on the Belle Isle layout. “Now that Dragon Racing and I have joined the Chevy family, I’m excited about the future prospects and particularly this coming weekend. I don’t know this track but I have faith in the potential of our new package.”

Meanwhile, team-owner Jay Penske will continue to work with Chevrolet Racing to add a second engine. “I’d love to have two Chevrolets on track every weekend,” Penske said. “But I remain extremely grateful to Chevy for stepping in at the last minute and providing us not only the two engines for Indy, but also committing to provide us full support for a single entry for the rest of the season which they were under no obligation to do. It has been a tough season and I’ve had to make some difficult choices, but I’ve done so with the ultimate goal of winning races and doing what is best for the team and our partners.”

INDYCAR, sanctioning body for the series, announced Friday it had penalized the No. 22 Dallara/Chevrolet driven by Oriol Servia of Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing $10,000 and five entrant points for infractions discovered during post-race technical inspection at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Sunday. The team was found in violation of Rules 14.1.4 and 14.10.3. Rule 14.1.4 states that all components approved by INDYCAR, Dallara or an approved supplier must be used as supplied unless otherwise stated in the rules or in update bulletins. Rule 14.10.3 states that upright bearings and seals must be used as specified by Dallara.

In addition, the No. 38 Service Central Dallara/Honda driven by Graham Rahal and the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy HVM Racing Dallara/Lotus driven by Simona de Silvestro have incurred 10-grid spot penalties at Belle Isle for unapproved engine changes at Indianapolis.

Full-season IndyCar Series entrants were given the choice to use the Indianapolis 500 engine they received for Miller Lite Carb Day practice and the 200-lap race last Sunday or the changed-out engine for the balance of their 1,850-mile threshold.

Multiple teams refitted the changed-out engine for testing at The Milwaukee Mile on Tuesday in preparation for the June 15-16 Milwaukee IndyFest to use up the remaining miles, and inserted the Indy 500 engine for this weekend’s race on Belle Isle and subsequent events until it reaches the 1,850 limit.

The series is in the midst of five consecutive weekends of racing. Following Belle Isle is the Firestone 550k on Saturday, June 9, at Texas Motor Speedway; the Milwaukee IndyFest June 16 and the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 23 at Iowa Speedway. The Texas and Iowa races will be run under the lights.

Sixteen drivers are scheduled to test at Iowa Speedway on June 12-13 in advance of an event that will feature two heat races on June 22.

Firestone Racing engineers have developed an all-new rain tire for use in the IndyCar Series that is a significant departure from the rubber that has been utilized during the past 15 seasons. With rain falling on the Raceway at Belle Isle circuit during Friday’s opening practice session, the new wet-condition Firehawk tire was used for the first time.

The new rain tire’s tread pattern was inspired by the Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval Indy 500 passenger tire, and will serve as more of an “intermediate” rain tire than its “full-wet” predecessor.

“We always say that Firestone Racing regards our participation in the IZOD IndyCar Series as a giant laboratory,” said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing. “This new rain tire is truly a product of that philosophy. It’s unique in the fact that its tread design is inspired by the ultra-high performance Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval Indy 500 tire, so it borrows from passenger tire technology. But it also contains new technology that we believe will one day make its way into passenger and commercial (truck) tires. It’s a very interesting two-way technology transfer.”

Each entrant has received five sets of primary Firestone Firehawks for the race weekend, plus three sets of alternate tires. The Firestone primary and alternate tire specifications for Detroit remain the same as those used on the street circuits at St. Petersburg, Fla.; Long Beach, Calif., and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

ABC-TV’s coverage of the 96th Indianapolis 500 earned a 4.3 final rating, according to Neilsen Media Research. Dario Franchitti’s third victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” produced the best final rating for an Indy 500 telecast since the 2008 race won by Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and Sunday’s runnerup. The 4.34 household rating translated to 6,857,100 viewers. The rating is an 8 percent increase among households (4.34 vs. 4.03) from last year’s race, won by the late Dan Wheldon.

Sebastian Saavedra posted a quick lap of 1 minute, 20.5109-seconds at 92.559 mph in the afternoon practice in the No. 27 Team AFS car as Firestone Indy Lights teams made their debut at Belle Isle.

Tristan Vautier was second-quick (1:20.9043/92.109 mph) in the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car. Gustavo Yacaman (1:21.6569), the Firestone Freedom 100 pole-sitter at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, was third in the No. 2 TMR-Tuvacol/Xtreme Coil Drilling car. Point-leader Esteban Guerrieri was fourth (1:21.8908) in the No. 11Pistas Argentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car.

Firestone Indy Lights Sunoco Pole Qualifying featuring all cars in a European-style session is scheduled Saturday from 8 to 8:45 a.m. (EDT). The 45-lap race is set for 1:30 p.m., and will be shown on NBC Sports Network Thursday, June 7, at 5 p.m.

Earlier Friday, Firestone Indy Lights officials announced the following post-race penalties from the May 25 Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

_ Sebastian Saavedra has been placed on probation for the remainder of the 2012 season for failure to follow rules as instructed in the Race Day Drivers’ Meeting and engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct.

_ Tristan Vautier has been penalized five driver points for failure to follow rules as instructed in the Race Day Drivers’ Meeting.

_ Gustavo Yacaman has been penalized 10 driver points and put on probation for the remainder of the 2012 season for failure to follow rules as instructed in the Race Day Drivers’ Meeting and engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct.

Pursuant to the Firestone Indy Lights rulebook, each driver may appeal the penalty within the time and manner prescribed in Section 13.1.

Bits from the Belle Isle pits: Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will serve as grand marshal for Sunday’s IndyCar race.”This is such a positive event for Detroit and I love racing, so this is really going to be a special weekend,” Suh said. …Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball matched his career-best finish of eighth in the Indianapolis 500. It was his best finish on an oval. … Former Formula One regular Jean Alesi became the third driver in Indy 500 history to start and finish 33rd in the race. Both Dempsey Wilson (1960) and Ronnie Duman (1966) started/finished 33rd. … Sunday’s Indy 500 marked the eighth time that three-time winner Helio Castroneves completed the full 500-mile distance. Castroneves joined Ted Horn and four-time champion A.J. Foyt Jr. as the only drivers to have completed the full 500 miles eight times without the aid of a relief driver. The use of relief drivers was a common practice in the Indy 500 before World War II. …Tim Mayer, whose father, Teddy, was co-founder of McLaren Racing, has been appointed general manager of the Grand Prix of Baltimore. Mayer’s selection coincides with the launch of ticket sales for the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 event on the streets of downtown Baltimore featuring IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights races. Ticket and event details are available at http://www.RaceOnBaltimore.com and all Ticketmaster outlets.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 2 2012
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