BELLE ISLE, Mich — We saw a frightening crash on Lap 25 that showed not only is racing a very dangerous sport but also one that’s as safe now as ever before. Felix Rosenqvist crashed his No. 7 Chevrolet into the tire barriers in Turn 6 which the impact was so severe, his car got airborne and sent tires even higher and further which also created damage to the concrete wall several feet behind.
Rosenqvist, was hospitalized and held at a Detroit area hospital overnight for further evaluation, but he has no life threatening injuries and by all accounts will end up being okay.
That was the danger impact of Saturday’s Detroit Grand Prix in which treated us to not only a wild and chaotic event, but one of the most thrilling that we’ve ever seen on the 2.35-mile Belle Isle street circuit. See, normally the racing on Belle Isle is difficult. It’s hard to pass and creates a lot of follow the leader racing.
Well, Saturday’s show proved to us all that the racing within the NTT IndyCar Series today is as good as ever. Strategy calls in these races have opened up what has made road/street course racing as exhilarating as high speed ovals.
There’s just so much strategy at play from literally the drop of the green flag that you better be paying attention or you might miss something crucial. You can’t take a nap or leave too far from a room that you’re watching from because something is likely to happen on track or on pit road.
Take Saturday as a prime example.
You had a two stop vs. three stop strategy. That interesting in itself. But, you also had yet again varying strategies among those groups.
21 of the 25 starters on Saturday elected to start on the Firestone alternate tire. It’s quicker but was degrading really quick on the abrasive street course near downtown Detroit. Then you had the top starters electing to get off these tires quickly and I do mean quickly.
Lap 3 saw leader and pole sitter Pato O’Ward hit pit lane to go on the Firestone primary tires. Lap 4 saw sixth place starter Colton Herta do the same. Lap 5 was second place starter and at the time leader Alexander Rossi’s turn. Lap 6 was third place starter Romain Grosjean’s chance to join their strategy.
Josef Newgarden did it too. He started fifth. He had a problem with his left rear wheel that literally fell off and had to pit again. He’d fall a lap down but use a different strategy later to come back to finish 10th.
Ryan Hunter-Reay started eighth and pit on Lap 2. He got into the wall shortly after and saw his race ruined. I just mentioned six of the top eight starters there.
Fourth place starter Ed Jones stayed on track to run his three stop strategy a little longer. So did seventh place starter Will Power and ninth-10th place starters Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais.
11th place starter Scott Dixon did the same but he was on a two stopper and started the race off on the Blacks. He could do longer than everyone else and he did too. Graham Rahal, Santino Ferrucci and James Hinchcliffe were on his strategy.
That’s why we saw so much action early. Jones took over the lead when Rossi pit. His tires were falling off hard. Power, passed him for the lead two laps later because of that. Dixon was on the longer lasting tire and passed Power four laps later.
All the three stoppers had pit by Lap 21. So did a few of the guys that stopped early for a second time. Then, a caution flies for Rosenqvist on Lap 25 and hurt those that had yet to pit as well as the ones who didn’t pit for a second time yet but pit on the early cycle.
Three strategies. Three scenarios and one part of the race that was pleasing. After a lengthy red flag ended, the top nine cars had to pit. Power was shown in the lead. Marcus Ericsson was second. O’Ward, Rossi, Dixon, Herta, Rahal, Ferrucci and others were flying through the field to come back. That was fun. Power, Ericsson, Rinus VeeKay and Takuma Sato were up front battling hard to keep them at bay.
Ferrucci, ran the red alternate tire longer than anyone on that first stint. He said he could come back from the back again and he did. He finished sixth.
Rahal, went totally different and went primary tires on his first couple of stints. He then would have to do the opposite and be the only one on reds for the final run to the checkered.
That paid off.
Rahal and Ferrucci were the the last to pit on Lap 53. Everyone else hit pit lane at least five laps prior. Rahal, had a shorter life on reds and it worked in his favor. He finished fifth.
Power, had the race won but you get the final caution for Grosjean’s crash and the consequent red flag. Talk about drama. Then, Power’s car wouldn’t start. More drama. Ericsson, was handed the lead and he didn’t give it back.
He’d earn his first career Indy Car victory and become the fourth different first time winner in just seven races run this season. Speaking of which, we’ve had seven different winners in those seven races and all hailing from seven different countries.
If you go back to the end of the 2020 season, we saw Will Power and Josef Newgarden win the final two races. We’ve had Alex Palou (Barber), Colton Herta (St. Pete), Scott Dixon (Texas 1), Pato O’Ward (Texas 2), Rinus VeeKay (GMR Grand Prix), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500) and now Ericsson (Belle Isle 1) each win in the last nine races.
Do we get a 10th on Sunday?
Saturday was further proof that INDYCAR is the best racing on the planet. We saw 222 on track passes in just 70 laps run in race 1. That’s the second most ever at Detroit. This was a race for the ages. So was the Indy 500. So was almost every other race run this season.