The race that roared, got quiet, then roared again

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    belle isle grand prixThe Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix came to a screeching halt amid safety concerns on the track. After crews made serious repairs, it was decided the race would resume. Two cars did spin out when tar strips (used to smooth out portions of the track as it transitions into the turns) failed.

    Those that care about the betterment of the Motor City were elated that Belle Isle’s 2.07-mile road course was resurrected after a four-year hiatus infused by the nation’s economic downturn.

    But it was back!

    Eventually Scott Dixon won the Grand Prix; however, the race to the finish was stunted by caution flags and a light rain that made the slick track even more slippery and the unfortunate track problems that delayed the race more than two hours.

    With guile and a fast car, at the end of the day Dixon pulled away after the final restart on lap 55 for his first win of the season.

    “I’m glad how we pulled this one off,” Dixon exclaimed in the post-race press conference. 

    “This was a fun day, but it was crazy too. I am glad I finished where I did. The Detroit event is important to our circuit.

    “After some second-place finishes, that was a nice way to come back. In the rain, I was slipping and sliding. I thought I’d spun one time. It was a fun day, even though I would have chewed my nails to the bone towards the finish had I been able to take off my gloves. I’d like to give a lot of credit to everyone at IndyCar and the Detroit staff for getting the track back in shape so we could race.”

    Added Dixon teammate Dario Franchitti, who had won the Indy 500 the week before this race: “I take my hat off to Bud Denker (Grand Prix chairman) and the Penske organization for repairing the racetrack. The track was definitely safe for the last 15 laps. I’m glad for the fans that we finished the race. Also, I take hat off to Dixon, he was a beast out there. He pushed that car and made it happen. I was behind him watching him and I could not believe how well he handled that car in those conditions.”

    He and other racers dodged creeping cracks and deep divots as the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix fell apart — or at least the racetrack did — then was remarkably rebuilt and ended in a thrilling dash to the finish, with pole-sitter Dixon driving to victory.

    Dixon, who ran the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, led all 60 laps of the construction-shortened race, as Franchitti finished second and Simon Pagenaud third.

    On lap 44 of the IndyCar Series race, James Hinchcliffe speared into the wall at turn 7 after his low-slung race machine apparently struck a patched piece in the track, and the race was red-flagged on lap 45.

    “It was like Russian roulette,” Hinchcliffe told reporters. “I’ve never seen anything like it. We had these big pieces of tar just sort of ripping up from lap 5. The debris was out there. It was tough to drive around it.”

    However, Penske’s crew, overseen by Denker, expediently implemented fast-drying concrete and epoxy resin into the damaged surface, and the race was restarted after a delay of two hours.

    “We have a pretty high standard at Penske,” Denker said at the post-race press conference. “After the difficulties we had during the race, I told the guys that we are not going to give up. The easy thing to do would have been to give up. But we wanted to give it everything we had for our sponsors, TV and the fans.

    “We tested the track, and the other series ran on it on Friday and Saturday and we had no problems.”

    Of course some were pulling for Team Penske to win or place, especially because of his commitment to this race and Detroit. But in the end Penske drivers Will Power, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves finished fourth, 16th and 17th, respectively. Power leaves Belle Isle with his series lead intact, 26 points ahead of Dixon.

    Franchitti, with actress girlfriend Ashley Judd attentively listening at the post-race press conference, said, “The track problems  were what happens sometimes in road racing, but it should not take away from the race, enthusiasm of the fans or Detroit and how the well the city has received us.”

    Beside the Chevrolet IndyCars, during the weekend the Grand-AM Rolex 200, Cadillac V-Series Challenge and Firestone Indy Lights wer all ran during the race weekend.

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