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Racer Says Belle Isle Was A Ringing Success

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 6 2012

Don Istook and his Pirelli Challenge Audi at Belle Isle.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Businessman/racer Don Istook says the negative buzz created by the track breakup and lengthy red flag stoppage at Detroit’s Belle Isle during Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series event shouldn’t be the lasting image of racing’s return to the Motor City.

“As a participant at the venue, I thought it was fabulous,” said Istook, who competed in the Pirelli World Challenge sprint races Saturday and Sunday on the 2.07-mile, 14-turn layout. “Thumbs-up, in a heartbeat. Look forward to going there next year; if they (circuit organizers) want to have us we would be real fortunate to go there again.”

Istook and his fellow-competitors in the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes completed their second race of the weekend Sunday afternoon without any track issues as a lead-in to the IndyCar Series Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. The event was red-flagged on Lap 45 of the scheduled 90, five laps after James Hinchcliffe’s Andretti Autosport Dallara/Chevrolet struck a chunk of asphalt that sent him into the tire barrier in Turn 7. Almost simultaneously, Takuma Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara/Honda slid into the Turn 12 wall.

Beaux Barfield, race director for sanctioning body INDYCAR, called the cars onto pit lane, where they remained for 1 hour, 59 minutes, 46 seconds as repairs were made to cracks created when tar-like patching material was sucked out of the concrete pavement by the downforce created by the series’ new Dallara DW12 chassis.

Shortened to 60 laps, the race was won by Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with teammate Dario Franchitti second and rookie Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports third. The podium finishers agreed that the organizers, led by event chairman Bud Denker, reacted as quickly as they could to create a safe racing surface for the event’s “second half.”

Back at his Porsche/Audi repair shop near downtown Cowtown, Istook said the track was “probably one of the roughest” World Challenge has competed on. “But it’s a street course – you have manhole covers, divots and things they tried to patch in a lot of places,” Istook said. “The problem that came up with the IndyCars could have very easily happened in our race. If it would have happened, then so be it. If they got out there and tried to patch it the best they could, that’s all you can expect of them.”

The race card headlined by the IndyCar Series also included the Firestone Indy Lights, GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and Pirelli World Challenge over the course of three days. The venue last hosted professional racing in 2008.

“That particular corner (Turn 7), with the downforce of the IndyCars, the Rolex cars and so many race cars and so much traffic…it was a tough corner because you had a transition,” Istook said. “One road connected with another road and it had been patched before, and the pavement dropped off a little bit. When we walked the course, you could see it (the black patch material). The road was crowned on the backstraight and you could tell where you didn’t want to run. But the crowned portion was off to the left where you didn’t want to run anyway. The track we would run on was fairly straight and level. Under braking, yeah, you had to know it’s not a perfect surface and you could get into where you could lock your brakes up easier, because you’d go concrete/asphalt/concrete/patches of asphalt/manhole covers…but it’s the same for everybody.”

Ironically, there were so many race cars and trailers on-site that the Pirelli World Challenge paddock was located outside of Turn 7 in a paved parking lot. But Istook said that everyone from the Detroit Police Department to the army of event volunteers went out of their way to help competitors get around.

“Things started pretty much on-time. There were plenty of staff people,” Istook said. “The autograph session was packed with fans, and that’s always fun. I’m sorry for the fans that paid money. I’m sorry for the organizers, who if they would have felt it (the track) needed repair, I’m sure they would have done it. But it’s a city street. It’s a park actually, an older park, and they did a lot of patchwork.”

Istook advanced 11 positions Saturday – from 37th to 26th – to earn the Sunoco Hard Charger Award and earn podium recognition for The Arc Audi Racing Program _ a partnership between The Arc, based in Washington, D.C., and Istook’s Motorsports here. The first-year program’s goal is to provide a unique opportunity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to experience what it’s like to be part of a professional racing crew in this series for production-based cars.

Istook’s brother-in-law, Mark Hiett, was born with Fragile X, a genetic syndrome that is the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability and the single-gene cause of autism. Individuals with the condition have developmental delay and behavioral and emotional difficulties. Beginning with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, The Arc Audi Racing Program has worked with local chapters to invite approximately 20 individuals with I/DD and their support staff to be honorary crew members.

Mark’s at-track tasks include helping to load and unload Istook’s 2012 Audi TT RS, change tires and assist in cleaning the car. But his primary job is delivering a two-to-three-minute talk on what it means to be on a race team. Istook’s wife and Mark’s sister, Laurie Hiett, is group coordinator for the on-site visits.

“At Monterey (Calif., Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), Mark gave his little presentation and then he motioned the group over to where the car was,” Istook said. “He got my HANS Device and my helmet and put them on. And he said, ‘This is the HANS Device. It keeps the driver from breaking their neck.’ Mark had the forethought to go show them what some of the safety equipment is like. We were very impressed with that. You give him a job he will work at it and do the best job he can.

“I dedicated the Hard Charger Award to our program and to Mark, because they’re all hard-chargers. They don’t have the same luxuries in life that we do. They face more things that are difficult and they have to charge a lot harder in life to get to somewhere.”

Meanwhile, Istook plans to add a second Audi TT to the program beginning with the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on Aug. 3. The car will be handled by owner/Southlake resident Colin Cohen, a native South African who previously has co-driven with Istook in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, World Challenge and SCCA events. The car also will carry The Arc logo and colors.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 6 2012
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