Thursday, June 1, 2017

Track Walk: Belle Isle 2017

The Indianapolis 500 hangover is chased with a doubleheader in Detroit
IndyCar enters the month of June with the only doubleheader on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule as Belle Isle hosts the seventh and eighth races of season. Takuma Sato enters fresh off his victory in the Indianapolis 500. Sato's victory made him the sixth different winner though the first six races of the 2017 season. The last time there were at least six different winners from the first six races was 2000 when in both CART and the IRL there were seven different winners through the first seven races.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday June 3rd. Green flag will be at 3:40 p.m. ET.
Coverage for race two on Sunday June 4th begins at 3:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Dr. Jerry Punch, Jon Beekhuis and Rick DeBruhl working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 10:20 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:30 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 10:05 a.m. ET.
Race- 3:40 p.m. ET (70 laps)
Qualifying- 10:45 a.m. ET.
Race- 3:40 p.m. ET (70 laps)

Championship Reset
With the double points and qualifying points from the Indianapolis 500 all tallied, Hélio Castroneves heads to Belle Isle with the championship lead despite finishing second in the race to Takuma Sato. Castroneves has 245 points and he heads to Belle Isle three years after his most recent IndyCar victory, which just so happened at Belle Isle. He is a three-time winner on the Detroit street circuit, the all-time leader in Belle Isle victories.

Behind Castroneves is a three-way tie for second on 234 points between Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon. Pagenaud holds the tiebreaker between all three with a victory and a second-place finish. Sato's best finish after his Indianapolis 500 victory was fifth at St. Petersburg. Dixon has yet to win this season and he has two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish from the first six races.

For the second consecutive year, Alexander Rossi heads to Belle Isle in the top ten of the championship. He is fifth in the championship but he is on 190 points, two points ahead of Tony Kanaan. Penske teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden are tied on 186 points with Power holding the tiebreaker with more second-place finishes than the American. A point behind Power and Newgarden is Ed Jones, who finished third at Indianapolis. James Hinchcliffe and Max Chilton are tied for tenth on 170 points with Hinchcliffe holding the tiebreaker with one victory this season to Chilton's none.

Ryan Hunter-Reay leads a thicket of Americans on the edge of the top ten in the championship. After losing his engine while in contention for victory Hunter-Reay is on 152 points, four ahead of J.R. Hildebrand. Marco Andretti's eighth-place finish at Indianapolis vaulted him to 14th in the championship on 147 points. Graham Rahal rounds out the top fifteen on 144 points.

The injured Sébastien Bourdais is on 136 points; two ahead of Mikhail Aleshin and Aleshin is a point ahead of Carlos Muñoz. Ed Carpenter sits on 105 points after starting second and finishing eleventh at Indianapolis, six points ahead of Charlie Kimball and ten points ahead of Spencer Pigot, who will be back in the #20 Chevrolet this weekend after driving for Juncos Racing at Indianapolis.

Juan Pablo Montoya is on 93 points after running the two Indianapolis races and Conor Daly is the bottom of the full-time drivers with 88 points.

Bourdais' Replacement
Dale Coyne Racing may have another new face in the #18 Honda this weekend, as Sébastien Bourdais will be out indefinitely after fracturing his pelvis and breaking his hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying accident. Doctor's initially said Bourdais' season is over because of the injuries but the Frenchman is aiming to return for the season finale at Sonoma. Bourdais had won each of the last two years at Belle Isle.

As of Thursday morning, Bourdais' replacement had yet to be announced but two names have popped up as favorites for the #18 Honda. James Davison could retain the seat after replacing Bourdais for the Indianapolis 500. Davison has two road course starts in IndyCar, which came at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in 2013. He finished on the lead lap in both of those races. Davison has raced at Belle Isle before. He made two starts there in IMSA's GT Daytona class and finished second in class there in 2015 when driving for TRG-Aston Martin. He also made one Pirelli World Challenge start at Belle Isle.

Former Sauber and Haas F1 and current Techeetah Formula E driver Esteban Gutiérrez has been linked to the #18 Honda. The Mexican driver has finished tenth, eighth and 11th in his three Formula E starts this season after joining the series at its Mexico City round. There are three scheduling conflicts between IndyCar and Formula E. The Texas, Toronto and Mid-Ohio weekends fall on the Berlin, New York and Montreal Formula E weekends; all three of those Formula E races are doubleheaders.

Gutiérrez has never raced on an oval and the only IndyCar track he has experience on is Road America when he competed in Formula BMW USA in 2007. He won and finished second in the two races on the famed road course. He was the 2010 GP3 Series champion and Alexander Rossi was his teammate at ART Grand Prix that season.

Oriol Servià, who will be driving the #16 Fifth Third Bank Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this weekend, has also been mentioned as a possible option for the oval races.

Update: Esteban Gutiérrez will drive the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda this weekend at Belle Isle.

Doubleheader Fatigue
This will be the fifth year the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix has been a doubleheader, the last remaining doubleheader since the format was reintroduced during the 2013 season. No driver has swept the Belle Isle doubleheader in the previous four editions.

Sato is attempting to become the first Indianapolis 500 to win the succeeding race since Juan Pablo Montoya won at Milwaukee the week after his Indianapolis 500 triumph in 2000. Since Belle Isle became the race after Indianapolis in 2012, only once has the Indianapolis 500 winner finished on the podium at Belle Isle and that was Dario Franchitti in 2012. Since the doubleheader format was adopted in 2013, the best finish for an Indianapolis 500 at Belle Isle is tenth. Juan Pablo Montoya finished tenth in both Belle Isle races in 2015 and Alexander Rossi finished tenth in race one last year.

Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay both failed to finish in the top in both Belle Isle races after they won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

While Indianapolis was not one of Sato's better tracks prior to his victory, Belle Isle has been just slightly better. He finished second in race two in 2015 and started on pole position for race two in 2014 but his average finish at the track is 14.667 and he has only one other top ten besides his runner-up two years ago.

Chevrolet Heads Home
Belle Isle is the home race for Chevrolet and the American manufacture has won the last three races on its home turf but only five of the nine Belle Isle race since the race and Chevrolet returned to IndyCar in 2012.

Honda won the first three races at Belle Isle since it returned in 2012 and won the rain-shortened race one in 2014 when Carlos Muñoz stayed on slick tires the longest. The street circuits have been one of Honda's strong points this season with the manufacture taking victory in both previous street course races this season with Sébastien Bourdais at St. Petersburg and James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach. Honda led all 90 laps at Long Beach.

Last year, Chevrolet led 134 of 140 laps at Belle Isle but Conor Daly finished second in race one with Dale Coyne Racing to Bourdais, who was with KV Racing. Daly started 16th on the grid in race one. For race two, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud finished 1-2 and combined to lead 50 laps but Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified second for the race and finished third while Daly went from 21st on the grid to finish sixth.

While Honda has won both street course races this season, the manufacture's only pole position this season came at the hands of Scott Dixon for the Indianapolis 500. Honda's most recent pole position on a street circuit was in 2014 for race one at Houston with Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud was driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the time.

Joining IndyCar for the final time this season will be IMSA's WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. This weekend will see the Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes join IndyCar on the Detroit street circuit. Twenty-eights cars are spread across the three classes.

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan and Ricky Taylor are four-for-four in 2017 with victories at Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach and Circuit of the Americas. The Taylor brothers have won three of the last four years at Belle Isle and they have 141 points and a 22-point lead over the #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa. Fittipaldi and Barbosa won at Belle Isle in 2012. The sister Action Express entry, the #31 Cadillac of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, won at Belle Isle in 2015 and they trail the Taylor brothers by 30 points.

A surprise fourth in the championship is the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca-Gibson of Misha Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson, 31 points behind the Taylors. The Canadian-South African duo has not finished on the podium but has finished fourth in the last three races and finished fifth at Daytona and they are four points ahead of the #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan of Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel.

Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez sit on 97 points in the #55 Mazda, four ahead of the #22 ESM Nissan of Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown with the #70 Mazda of Tom Long and Joel Miller on 90 points. The #90 VisitFlorida Racing Multimatic/Riley-Gibson of Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens are on 79 points. Tom Kimber-Smith and José Gutierrez reunite in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier-Gibson after Gutierrez had to miss Long Beach duo to European Le Mans Series duties and Kimber-Smith missed Austin due to a personal matter.

Like the Taylor brothers, the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French and Pato O'Ward are undefeated this season, as this duo has won all three Prototype Challenge races. The PC class did not contest the Long Beach round. On 108 points, French and O'Ward have a 20-point lead over Don Yount and Buddy Rice but Rice will not be at Belle Isle with Ryan Lewis replacing Rice in the #20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca. The #26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca is on the entry list but both drivers are listed as TBA.

GT Daytona has 15 entries. The #33 Riley Motorsports - Team AMG Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating lead the championship with 133 points after two victories, a second and a third from the first four races. Bleekemolen and Keating won last year at Belle Isle. They have a 24-point lead over the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan, who have three consecutive podium finishes. Balzan won with Scuderia Corsa at Belle Isle in 2014.

Daniel Morad sits on 99 points and he will be joined by Porsche development driver Mathieu Jaminet in the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche. The #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers are on 93 points, two ahead of the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi of Lawson Aschenbach and Andrew Davis. Tristan Vautier has two podium finishes and is on 90 points, is tied with the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Jeff Segal and Oswaldo Negri, Jr. Kenny Habul returns to the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes.

Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey are on 83 points in the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche, one point ahead of Jen Klingmann of the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW. Bret Curtis joins Klingmann in the #96 BMW. Long Beach winners Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette round out the top ten on 80 points in the #50 Riley Motorsports - WeatherTech Racing Mercedes.

The 100-minute race will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday June 3rd.

Fast Facts
Saturday's race will be the sixth IndyCar race to occur on June 3rd. The most recent race on June 3rd was the 2012 Belle Isle race, a shortened race due to deteriorating track conditions won by Scott Dixon from pole position and Dixon also led all 60 laps.

Sunday's race will be the 11th IndyCar race to occur on June 4th. Last year, Sébastien Bourdais won race one from Belle Isle on June 4th.

An American has not won at Belle Isle since Michael Andretti in 1996.

An American has not won a pole position at Belle Isle since Scott Pruett in 1996.

An American driver has finished on the podium in each of the last six Belle Isle races.

Only twice have there been multiple American drivers on the podium at Belle Isle. Danny Sullivan won the race in 1993 and Mario Andretti finished third. That was Sullivan's final IndyCar victory. In 1995, Americans swept the podium with Robby Gordon winning this race in what was his final IndyCar victory ahead of Jimmy Vasser and Scott Pruett.

Oriol Servia has not raced at Belle Isle since 2012. He has finished in the top five in three of his previous four starts, including a third at the track in 2000, which was his first IndyCar podium finish.

Simon Pagenaud set the Belle Isle track record last year in qualifying with a lap at 1:14.0379.

Sébastien Bourdais ran the fastest Belle Isle race last year at one hour, 40 minutes and 51.6838 seconds with an average speed of 97.857 MPH.

The average starting position for Belle Isle winners is 6.095 with a median of four.

The last three Saturday races from Belle Isle have been won from the position outside the top ten. Will Power won from 16th in 2014, Carlos Muñoz from 20th in 2015 and Sébastien Bourdais from 13th.

The last seven Belle Isle races have not been won from the front row. Prior to that streak the longest stretch without a front row winner at Belle Isle was two races.

The average amount of lead change at Belle Isle is 4.142 with a median of four.

Since Scott Dixon led every lap in the 2012 Belle Isle race, the fewest amount of lead changes in a Belle Isle race is four and the last seven races have had five lead changes or more.

The average amount of cautions at Belle Isle is 4.619 with a median of four. The average amount of caution laps is 16.047 with a median of 17.

Every Belle Isle race has had at least two caution periods. Both races last year had less than ten laps under caution. Only one of the prior 19 Belle Isle races had less than ten caution laps.

Possible Milestones:
Ryan Hunter-Reay is one top ten finish away from 100 career IndyCar top ten finishes.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 124 laps to surpass Al Unser for fourth most laps led in IndyCar history.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 61 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 153 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti and Will Power split the weekend and both drivers start in the top ten in their respective races. Chevrolets sweep both pole positions. Only one non-Penske Chevrolet finish in the top ten all weekend. Takuma Sato gets only one top ten this weekend and he does not finish better than eighth. There will be an incident in turn three that involves at least one American who dramatically gestures with his hands. There will be no need for the wet weather tires on Saturday but wet weather tires might be mandatory come Sunday. Sleeper: Spencer Pigot.