We’re lucky in Detroit “Motor City”. A love of car culture is something we’re born with. We have car shows, cruises and even racing on the streets of the Motor City. Well, not exactly the streets of Detroit, but the winding roads of Belle Isle, a beautiful park situated in Detroit River between the US and Canada. In fact, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix is an international event, with drivers from the US, Canada, South America, Asia, Australia and Europe. With three race series – Izod IndyCar, GRAND-AM Rolex Series and Pirelli World Challenge races being run, the number of cars, drivers and fans were at times overwhelming. What made the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix even more special was the fact it was the first time back-to-back IndyCar races were held on the same weekend, hence the Dual in Detroit moniker.
My long race weekend started on Thursday, with a quick trip downtown to pick up my press pass and parking credentials. Once I heard the sound of the race cars, the rest of the day was forgotten. Teams were setting up their paddock displays, cars were being unloaded, pit boxes wheeled toward the track. It was like Christmas morning! The two-seat IndyCar was out on the track, giving some lucky folks the thrill of a lifetime. Other fans were doing laps riding in the passenger seats of Cadillac CTS-V Coupes, Sedans and Wagon or Camaro SS and ZL1. I was drinking it all in when a very dignified gentlemen on a motor scooter came zipping by, none of than Roger Penske himself! Penske and his organization, along with Mark Reuss of GM and race sponsors Shinola Detroit, Quicken Loans have put hours of hard work and money into making the race experience a great one for fans and the race teams alike.
Buses filled with race fans streamed on to Belle Isle for Friday’s Free Grand Prix Day, though a few savvy race fans took advantage of a brand new service – they took the ferry from downtown Detroit out to Belle Isle, something I plan on doing next year. A handful of fans drove on to Belle Isle, based on the Ferraris, Porsches, Cadillacs and Corvettes in the car corrals, even there was no actual racing, only practice and qualifying for Saturday. Wet weather lead to a rather spectacular crash by Charlie Kimball in the #83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganasi Racing Honda IndyCar, his crew must have had a long night getting his car ready for Saturday’s race. Actually, I was surprised there weren’t more wrecks, given the wet weather and green track conditions. The Belle Isle track is like many street courses, with unforgiving cement barriers instead of gravel traps. At least the corner workers and flagmen got their practice in too.
My recommendation to anyone attending a race – buy pit passes, that way you can see the cars and drivers up close and watch the teams hard at work. Friday’s highlight – both Tony Kanaan and Bobby Rahal zoomed by me on their motor scooters while I was strolling the pits.
I managed to miss Saturday’s races and live performance by Bret Michaels due to prior obligations. Everyone I talked to said I missed some exciting racing, especially the GRAND AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes and Grand AM racers. “Mad Max” Angelelli and co-driver Jordan Taylor won in the # 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP, Joao Barbosa and co-driver Christian Fittipaldi took second in the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, with third going to the #.2 Starworks Motorsport Ford/Riley driven by Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow. The GT class was won by a Chevy, the #57 Stevenson Automotive Group Camaro GT.R driven by John Edwards and Robin Liddell scored a big win, Jeff Westphal and Alessandro Balzan took second in GT in the # 63 Motorola Mobility Ferrari 458 Italia, with third going to Max Papis and co-driver Jeff Segal in the # 61 Ferrari of Ontario Ferrari 458. An interesting bit of trivia, Fittipaldi and Papis are cousins by marriage. It’s not just Andrettis, Unsers and Rahals, racing really is a family sport.
Cadillac Racing took first and third, with #3 CTS-V.R of Johnny O’Connell in the lead, the #10 teammate Andy Pilgrim finished behind Randy Pobst in the #6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 in the Pirelli World Challenge. I think the Pirelli World Challenge may be my favorite of the three race series, there’s something exciting about watching race versions of your favorite street cars. The #38 Kinetic/Kia Racing Kia Optima, piloted by Mark Wilkins won the GTS class, with Jack Baldwin, in the # 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman S finished second and Lawson Aschenbach in third in the #10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. A Kia Optima beating a Porsche Cayman S and a Camaro? Crazy, right?
The big story Saturday was Englishman Mike Conway winning the Izod IndyCar race. Conway had watched the Indy 500 from home in the UK the weekend before, a seat opened up for him in the #18 Sonny’s car for Dale Coyne Racing just in time to pull a major win away from Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Chevy powered #1 Andretti Autosport car, Conway’s teammate Justin Wilson finished third in the #19 car.
Better weather brought out the crowds to Sunday’s Pirelli World Challenge and Izod IndyCar races. Both events were filled with a fair share of wrecks and yellow flags. I witnessed a rather spectacular wreck involving an Acura and two Mustangs, including the No. 7 Trenton Forging/Eaton Steel Ford Mustang Boss 302S driven by Dane Moxlow, a local guy. There I was, standing at the end of pit lane, admiring the safety car when a loud boom brought out another full course caution. All the drivers were fine, though Moxlow’s girlfriend standing next to me was visibly shaken. Shortly after, the #8 Cadillac CTS-V.R of Andy Pilgrim spun out and ended up facing the wrong way. His teammate Johnny O’Connell held on to finish second behind Randy Pobst in the #6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60. The #14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 driven by GT Drivers’ Championship leader James Sofronas took third. Detroit area driver Dean Martin won the GTS class in the #50 Picture Cars East/Grand Sanitation Ford Mustang Boss 302S, Mark Wilkins finished second in the No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima, Alec Udell, a 17-year-old high school student of The Woodlands, Texas finished third in the # 17 Motorsports Development Ford Mustang Boss 203R. I guess 17 is Alec’s lucky number!
Even before the day’s racing started, Indy500 winner Tony Kanaan commented that the dual race format was exhausting, especially coming off the previous week’s Indy time trials, practice, qualifying and big race. Just imagine, every car damaged in Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions plus all of Saturday’s events needed to be rebuilt virtually overnight, twice in a few cases. That’s really tough on the crew and drivers!
Kanaan had a point. I lost count of the number of times I watched safety car come out during Sunday’s race. One wreck on lap 28 out of 70 involved 10 cars – that’s almost half the 24 car field! In the end, Simon Pagenaud, a former LeMans prototype driver, had his first Izod IndyCar Series win. The driver of the # 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsport managed to hold on to beat James Jakes in the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. James fought his own battle to stay ahead of Saturday’s race winner Mike Conway in #18 Sonny’s/Dale Coyne Racing car. I’m sure Mike Conway will always have fond memories of Detroit, based on his performance at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
One last thing. A big thank you to all the volunteers that made this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix so enjoyable. They do all the heavy lifting behind the scenes so that car crazy race fans like me can indulge in the on track action.
Written by Eve Pickman with pictures by Thom Briggs Photography