Marcus Ericsson wins Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in wild fashion, main takeaways

BELLE ISLE, Mich – From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat at the end of Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. Will Power played the strategy game to perfection with him pitting for the first time of the race on Lap 20. He had to do so with him starting seventh and the guys ahead of him all having fast race cars. 

So, as Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta pulled off the track and pit early on, Power stayed out. When Felix Rosenqvist brought out the first caution in frightening fashion on Lap 25, it handed the win essentially to Power. 

Newgarden, had an early issue and was pretty much out of contention at that point. Rossi, O’Ward and Herta were in the drivers seat to duke it out for the win, but that yellow bunched everyone up. Scott Dixon, Santino Ferrucci, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe had yet to pit and would have to when the pits reopened. 

Power, was the first one on the next strategy up as he sat in 10th and was anxiously awaiting to get back going so he could cycle to the lead. 

He’d have a lengthy wait though. Rosenqvist’s throttle stuck on his No. 7 Chevrolet and he slammed into the tire barriers in Turn 6 in scary fashion. The tires and the concrete wall behind was damaged as badly as his car which prompted a red flag to get displayed for well over an hour. 

Rosenqvist, was awake and alert but was transported to a local hospital for non life threatening injuries. 

We’d go to the red flag at 2:46 p.m. ET and re start at 4:04 p.m. ET. The red flag lasted 1-hour, 18 minutes and 36 seconds. 

When we got back going, everyone in front pit which allowed Power to take over the lead on Lap 28. Other than his last pit stop on Lap 48, he’d lead the rest of the way. Until Romain Grosjean crashed in Turn 9 on Lap 64. INDYCAR elected to red flag the race for the second time of the day and force everyone down pit road. 

In the past, we normally would have just run the race out under caution which likely would have allowed Power to win. Unfortunately for Power, when the call was to refire the engines, his No. 12 Chevrolet wouldn’t. 

That allowed Marcus Ericsson and everyone else to drive past as Ericsson held off the field on a four lap shootout en route to his first career NTT IndyCar Series win. He’s the fourth different driver to earn his first career victory this season as well as the seventh different winner in as many races run in 2021. That ties a series record. In fact, if you go back to the final two races of 2020, we’ve had nine drivers win the last nine races. 

Ericsson, crossed the finish line 1.7290-seconds ahead of Rinus VeeKay for VeeKay’s second podium of the season and fifth top five of his career. He’s had a top 10 in all but two races run in 2021. 

O’Ward stormed back to finish third in his No. 5 Chevrolet for his third podium of the season. He’s also now scored 11 top fives and 17 top 10’s in 29 career starts in the series including five top fives in seven races this season alone. 

Takuma Sato was flying before the final caution but his tires were shot at the end and went from second to finish fourth in the end in his No. 30 Honda. It was Sato’s first top five finish of the season and 27th of his career. Sato, now has three straight top five results in the last three years in the first race of the Belle Isle doubleheader weekend. 

Graham Rahal charged hard to round out the top five while Santino Ferrucci was sixth to put all three RLL cars in the top six in the end. 

Here are my main takeaways. 

Cautions/Red Flags Changed Everything

Was the red flag in the end fair? Well, while some may like it and some may not, according to the rule book, it is. INDYCAR has the discretion to stop a race if they feel like they can restart the race again and go to the finish. In this case, the cleanup for Romain Grosjean’s crash wasn’t going to be too lengthy. Would it exceed the final six laps to finish this race? Most likely. But, if you red flag it, you can get the debris cleared off and return to action for a thrilling finish. 

While I get some may wonder what’s the difference between the crash that ended last year’s Indy 500, well there’s a big disparity. Spencer Pigot badly damaged the pit attenuator. It was going to take a very long time to clean that up. There was debris scattered everywhere. This crash was far different. If it was going to be a lengthy cleanup in this scenario, I fully believe INDYCAR wouldn’t have red flagged the race. 

But, with this situation being different, INDYCAR chose to red flag it. They did so a few years ago in the second race of the weekend, so they remained consistent. 

That’s the key. Consistency. It seems like so long as the clean up isn’t too much, then the series will red flag the race if it’s win a predetermined window at the end. 

So, was it fair? I get the drama surrounding it, but according to the rule book, it is. The part that I can see being frustrating is the cooling aspect on pit road as the Aeroscreen makes things so hot inside of the cockpits. How much did that play into Power’s issue of refiring?

That’s all new still and one that will be studied on how to handle this further I’m sure.

Bad Luck For Andretti Autosport Continues

Andretti Autosport’s bad season just can’t turn around no matter what they do. At Indy, they qualified well but that didn’t amount to anything. The first caution for Andretti driver Stefan Wilson cost Alexander Rossi any shot at an Indy 500 win. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a brake problem on his final stop, Colton Herta’s car tailed off as the race went on while Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe just didn’t have enough to contend for a win. 

That comes after Hunter-Reay and Herta being collected in an opening lap crash in the season opener at Barber, Hinchcliffe crashing in both Texas races, Rossi being on the wrong strategy in Barber and having a run-in with Graham Rahal in St. Pete. 

But, heading into Belle Isle, they were more confident. Hunter-Reay told me earlier this week on how good these tracks are in the seconds half of the season for them including this weekend in Detroit. They looked good in practice on Friday, qualified well on Saturday morning, but unfortunately that didn’t translate well over to success in the race. 

It was bad luck actually. 

Rossi, started second, went off strategy early and was shaping up to win this race as the lead driver among that group on his strategy. Then, the caution for Rosenqvist comes out and out the window with their strategy. They’d have to pit when the red flag was lifted and gone was any shot of a win. He’d finish seventh when it was all said and done. Herta was on the same strategy as Rossi and went from a likely top five, maybe even a podium, to 14th.

Same thing happened to Hinchcliffe. He was in the top three when the caution fell. His strategy was ruined too. Hunter-Reay got into the wall early on and had damage from it. He’d finish 21st, five laps down as a result. 

7-14-17-21 for them. They had the pace, not the luck. 

Penske 0-for-7 Now To Start 2021

Team Penske won the final three races of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. They’re 0-for-7 to start 2021. They came to Indy with a second place finisher in each of the first four races, but struggled once again at IMS. They went 4-6-8-11 in the GMR Grand Prix, then 3-12-20-30 for the Indy 500. 

This weekend was at another one of Penske’s playgrounds in Belle Isle. The Captain wasn’t wanting to go 0-for-4 on his own tracks in a two week span including winless through the midway mark of the season either. 

Well, rookie Scott McLaughlin crashed in practice on Friday, qualified last on Saturday then got into the wall again during the race. He’d finish a disappointing 19th. 

Josef Newgarden qualified fifth but had early race troubles but rebounded to finish 10th. 

Simon Pagenaud qualified ninth and was on a great strategy before fading to 12th. 

Will Power had this race won before that fluke caution/red flag call in the end. His car wouldn’t refire and he went from a sure win to 20th. 

10-12-19-20. Not a good day in the end. Can they rebound on Sunday?

Dixon Caught Out By 1st Caution Again

Scott Dixon is running out of luck it seems. Dixon, was always the one benefitting from lucky breaks throughout his career. While, it takes putting yourself in the right place at the right time to catch good breaks, Dixon has been out front twice now when a fluke caution has ruined his day. 

It happened two weeks ago in the Indy 500. He was leading and running low on fuel when Stefan Wilson crashed and brought out the first caution of the day when he wrecked on pit road. Dixon, had to pit for emergency service under that yellow which saw his No. 9 Honda struggle to get refired as a result of that. He’d fall a lap down and never become a factor again. 

Well, here he was in an alternate strategy on Saturday trying to make up for an 11th place qualifying effort this morning. He started the race on the Firestone primary tires. It paid off in the sense that he took over the lead on Lap 12 and was pulling away. If that caution doesn’t fly on Lap 25 for Felix Rosenqvist’s frightening crash, does Dixon’s call pay off?

Instead, we’ll never know. The first caution of the race for two straight events now costs him strategy as Dixon finished eighth as a result. 

Ganassi Lands 3rd Driver In Victory Lane For 2021

Chip Ganassi Racing brought four full time cars for 2021 with three full time drivers. Jimmie Johnson will drive all road/street courses in the No. 48 Chevrolet while Tony Kanaan will handle the duties in that ride for the ovals. Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson will drive the other three cars full time and go for a championship. Well, as we sit here seven races into the season, all three have now won a race and all three currently sit in the top seven of the standings. 

Palou is the current points leader as he won the season opener at the Barber Motorsports Park. Dixon, sits third in points as he won the opening race of the Texas race weekend. Ericsson, is seventh after winning Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. 

This was Ganassi’s 116th career INDYCAR win as they look like the clear cut favorites as the best team in the series as we near the midway mark of the season with Sunday’s race. The thing is, heading into Saturday’s race, they didn’t appear to be very solid. 

Dixon, was the top qualifier for them in 11th. Ericsson, qualified 15th, Palou 21st and Johnson 22nd. That’s not very Ganassi like. 

Johnson, looked pretty good early before a mechanical issue took him out of contention. Dixon, Ericsson and Palou would run the first stint long. Ericsson, hit pit lane on Lap 19 but Dixon and Palou were too late as they were caught out by the Lap 25 caution. 

Ericsson, was running in second among the top group now, one spot behind Will Power. Then, Ericsson was gifted his first career victory when Romain Grosjean crashed in Turn 9 and brought out the second and final caution as the series decided to make a controversial decision to red flag the race. 

Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet wouldn’t refire so Ericsson inherited the lead as a result. He’d lead the final laps en route to being the fourth first time winner in seven races this season. 

Hell Of A Comeback For RLL

Takuma Sato made some enemies on Saturday, but he doesn’t care. Sato, started 16th and was on the right strategy when he found himself battling for a podium finish in the end of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. 

Sato, passed Rinus VeeKay for third with seven laps remaining. He was sitting there chasing down Will Power and Marcus Ericsson before the caution came out for Romain Grosjean on Lap 64. They’d red flag the race with him in third. Could he really win this race?

Well, Will Power’s car didn’t refire on pit lane and he moved from third to second on the ensuing restart. Unfortunately, his tires struggled for grip on that restart as he slid from second to fourth in the closing laps. Still, it was his first top five of the season and a much needed momentum boost for him heading into Sunday’s race 2. 

Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci pounced in the end and came up to come home fifth and sixth respectively. If you told them they’d put three cars in the top six before the race, they would have probably looked at you kind of funny. They may have had good race cars, but they didn’t have good starting spots on a track that’s difficult to pass on. 

See, they struggled in qualifying. Sato started 16th, Rahal 20th and Ferrucci in 21st. Sato pitted with Will Power’s group as he first hit pit lane on Lap 18. Rahal and Ferrucci were running their opening stint long. They got caught out on that frightening Lap 25 caution though. 

Still, both had varying strategies and it paid off. 

Ferrucci, ran the Firestone alternates 27 laps. It paid off in the sense that he had a great race car and was there in the end to pass everyone back and is 2-for-2 in top 10’s this season. 

Rahal, went with primary tires on his first two stints. That meant he was the only one on Red tires at the end. That also paid off. The red tires are quicker and that Rahal was in the end in comparison to everyone else. 

He pit on Lap 53 for red tires. Everyone else was pitting between laps 43-48. Rahal was among the last to pit and had a shorter final stint than most. That’s how he got away with his strategy and with skill and talent there he was earning his fourth top five in the last five races run. In fact, if not for an unfortunate racing incident with Alexander Rossi in St. Pete and for his tire literally coming off while exiting the pits at Indy, he’d have a top seven result in literally every race run this season. 

Rahal, is there. If luck would go his way, then watch out. Don’t count him out just yet. Hell, all three RLL cars now at that. In the end, they had the three best cars at the time of the checkered flag. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s