Saturday, June 3, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: Belle Isle 2017 Race One

Can the IndyCar championship leader get his first victory in over three years?
Belle Isle's doubleheader format provides an unusual format to an IndyCar race weekend. Unlike the other 15 weekends of the IndyCar season, the grid will be set prior to the race. Friday featured two practice sessions that set the qualifying groups for each qualifying session this weekend. Hélio Castroneves topped the charts on Friday with a lap at 75.1511 seconds. Castroneves leads all drivers with three victories at Belle Isle and he also has three pole positions at Belle Isle. His 2001 Belle Isle victory came from pole position. Castroneves has not won since June 1, 2014 at Belle Isle. Graham Rahal was second fastest on Friday with a lap at 75.3328 seconds. Rahal has started in the top ten in the last three Belle Isle races but he has never started better than fifth. Rahal has not started in the top four since he started fourth in the second Houston race in 2014. He hasn't started on the front row since Kentucky in 2011.

Alexander Rossi was third fastest on the day at 75.4323 seconds but Rossi backed his car in the turn eight wall on the lap immediately after setting that time. Rossi is coming off his best career IndyCar start after he rolled off from third position in the Indianapolis 500. Simon Pagenaud was fourth quickest and was less than a tenth off of Rossi. Pagenaud's first career victory came at Belle Isle in the Sunday race in 2013. Pagenaud started sixth that day and it is his only victory to come from outside a top five starting position. Mikhail Aleshin rounded out the top five on the day with a lap at 75.5384 seconds. Aleshin has improved on his starting position in each four of his Belle Isle starts and started fifth in race two last year. However, his four Belle Isle results are 17th, seventh, 15th and 17th. Josef Newgarden was two-thousandths of a second off Aleshin. Only twice in nine Belle Isle starts has Newgarden started in the top ten.

Last week's Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato was seventh fastest on Friday at 75.5923 seconds. Since his Belle Isle pole position, Sato has only started in the top ten once in the last four Belle Isle races. His finishing position in the last four Belle Isle races is 11th, second, 11th and tenth. Will Power was eighth fastest and he was over two-tenths of a second off Sato. Power won race two last year from eighth on the grid. He has led at least one lap in seven consecutive Belle Isle races. Marco Andretti was exactly one-tenth off Power at 75.9159 seconds. Andretti has only started in the top ten three times in 11 Belle Isle starts. Scott Dixon rounded out the top ten on Friday at 75.9540 seconds. The New Zealander is racing this weekend with a left ankle injury from his Indianapolis 500 accident with Jay Howard. Dixon has made 213 consecutive starts having not missed a race since Milwaukee 2004.

Tony Kanaan followed his teammate on the time sheet at 75.9900 seconds with Ryan Hunter-Reay the first driver not to break into the 75-second bracket with a time of 76.0130 seconds on Friday. Belle Isle is the site of Kanaan's most recent road/street circuit victory, which came in 2007. In 11 Belle Isle starts, Hunter-Reay has six starts from one of the first four races and five starts from 14th or worse. James Hinchcliffe was 13th on the day, just over two-hundredths of a second off Hunter-Reay. Hinchcliffe could join Paul Tracy and Greg Moore as Canadian winners at Belle Isle. Tracy won the 1994 race and Moore won at Belle Isle in 1997. J.R. Hildebrand was 0.0026 seconds off Hinchcliffe on Friday. Hildebrand has only one start at Belle Isle. That came in 2012 and he started 19th, finishing a lap down in 14th.

Oriol Servià is back for another IndyCar weekend and he was 15th just ahead of Conor Daly. Servià was running inside the top five at the time of his accident at Indianapolis last week. Daly's only lead lap finish this season was at Barber. He has three consecutive top ten finishes at Belle Isle. Charlie Kimball was 17th fastest with Carlos Muñoz in 18th. Kimball has one top ten finish through the first six races after having four top ten finishes by this time last year. Muñoz has scored a top ten finish in every even-numbered race this season but his best finish in an odd-numbered race is 15th. Max Chilton was 19th at 76.7223 seconds with Spencer Pigot rounding out the top twenty at 77.6095 seconds. Chilton only completed eight of 140 laps run at Belle Isle last year. This weekend marks Pigot's one anniversary of his debut with Ed Carpenter Racing.

The Dale Coyne Racing entries of Ed Jones and Esteban Gutiérrez were the slowest two drivers on the time sheet. Jones' best lap was at 77.6095 seconds and Gutiérrez's best lap was 78.2289 seconds. This is Jones' first appearance at Belle Isle while Gutiérrez will become the first Mexican driver in an IndyCar race since Michel Jourdain, Jr. started the Indianapolis 500 in 2012.

Qualifying for race one will take place at 10:05 a.m. ET. Unlike the three-round, Fast Six format, there will be two groups with the fastest time winning pole position and the rest of the cars in the pole-sitters group filling the odd-numbered positions on the grid with the other group setting the even-numbered positions.

Group one features Rahal, Pagenaud, Sato, Power, Kanaan, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Andretti, Pigot, Jones and Gutierrez. Group two is comprised of Castroneves, Rossi, Aleshin, Hildebrand, Hunter-Reay, Servià, Daly, Chilton, Kimball, Muñoz and Dixon.

ABC's coverage of race one of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix begins at 3:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:50 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 70 laps.

Qualifying Update
Graham Rahal has won pole position for race one from Belle Isle. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver broke the track record in the first qualifying group with a lap at 73.8901 seconds. It is Rahal's third career pole position and first since Kansas in 2009. This is Honda's first pole position on a road/street circuit since Houston 1 in 2014 when Simon Pagenaud took pole position with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Hélio Castroneves initially thought he had won his third pole position but his fastest lap was disallowed after it was determined he did not slow for a local yellow caused by Mikhail Aleshin. Despite losing pole position, Castroneves will start second after being the top driver in the second group.

It will be an all-Andretti Autosport row two with the last two Indianapolis 500 winners Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi starting third and fourth respectively. James Hinchcliffe will start fifth in car #5 with Scott Dixon next to him on row three. Simon Pagenaud and Max Chilton will make up row four and Josef Newgarden and Charlie Kimball round out the top ten.

Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay will start on row six with Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz on row seven. Tony Kanaan will start 15th, his worst starting position of the season with Conor Daly in 16th. Ed Carpenter Racing swept row nine with Spencer Pigot and J.R. Hildebrand. Esteban Gutiérrez will make his IndyCar debut from 19th on the grid with Mikhail Aleshin being relegated to 20th. Aleshin would have started seventh had he not caused the local yellow. Ed Jones and Oriol Servia will start on the final row.

ABC's coverage of race one of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix begins at 3:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:50 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 70 laps.