INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, USA, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Is Moving Away From The Island Good For The Race?

It was unveiled back in November that beginning in 2023 the NTT IndyCar Series race weekend in the Motor City will be moving away from Belle Isle Park and back into the streets of downtown Detroit. Due to that change, the June race weekend will be the last in Belle Isle.

Is this a wise move?

I mean the first time there ever was a race in the Motor City was in 1982 and it was on these streets of downtown. That was for a F1 race. That lasted until 1988. In 1989, CART came to town to replace F1 and they raced on the street course in downtown for three years.

A year later, CART moved from downtown to Belle Isle and would remain there through 2001. They didn’t go back in 2002 and wouldn’t again until Roger Penske got involved. Thank the Super Bowl at Ford Field for that.

Penske, was on the Super Bowl XL committee and strived to bring an INDYCAR race back to his hometown in 2007. That worked. Then came the economy drop out which greatly affected the Detroit area.

INDYCAR stopped going again in 2009 but returned in 2012. With the current contract ending at the end of 2022, Penske Corp, who not only run the series but also promotes the race, is wanting a fresh start and that’s to move the race back downtown.

Is this the best move for this race moving forward?

They see how well the street course races are going in St. Pete and Long Beach as well as how well Nashville went and thought that moving the race to downtown Detroit could spark more fans instead of racing on the island.

Next year’s race should provide a much larger attended event but it makes you wonder, why does a move a few miles inland make more fans want to come as opposed to a scenic island?

The start of the 2021 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix – Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

Is Detroit The Best Spot For Race After Indy?

This is one that’s been debated for a while. Does going to Belle Isle in the race after Indy hurt all the momentum gained from the Month of May. I mean, it’s no secret, the biggest peak of the annual INDYCAR season is the Month of May. You get the biggest attended race with the most viewership all month.

The big key is, how can you minimize the drop off going into June? You’re not going to keep all the casual fans. That’s not expected. But, how do you keep some of them around and what’s the percentage that you’d like to retain as new fans moving forward.

That’s why the spot after Indy is so key which is why the question being asked is, is Detroit the best place to go to?

The race after Indy for years has been on network ABC or NBC. This week it’s on USA.

This year will also mark the 10th time in the last 11 years that Belle Isle has served as the race after Indy. The only exception was 2020 when Indy was moved to August, Belle Isle left off the schedule and World Wide Technology Raceway as the new venue post Indy.

But, since Belle Isle was brought back in 2012, it’s annually served as the race at the Indy 500. Prior to that, it was Texas doing so in a two year reign with the final year (2011) being two weeks after Indy, before Milwaukee was long as the race in that spot.

Most want Milwaukee back, but that’s not likely happening any time soon. So, as the race moves to the downtown streets next year, is this race the best one served after Indy or is it somewhere else?

Penske selfishly would love to keep Detroit in this place on the schedule. It’s a marquee position. Plus, he gets three straight races under his umbrella since he controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now too.

But, if he takes the promoter hat off and the series leadership hat on, does he still feel this way or does he visit a new race after Indy?

If you go down the road of a change of venue for the week after Indy, you have to have a better option. What’s the better option to keep the momentum going and force the casual fans to want to tune in or even head to the gates to go to the race?

Marcus Ericsson leads the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021 – Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

Is Having A Race 1 Week After Indy Wise?

Last year the Belle Isle doubleheader weekend was moved back a week to help the teams and drivers have a break from a daunting Indy schedule. Now, the race moves back up to a week after Indy, albeit just one, not two races. The thing is, with Road American next week being moved up, this is a three straight week stretch of races and that doesn’t include Indy 500 qualifying, a weeks worth of practice leading into it, the GMR Grand Prix a week before that and two weeks prior to the road course race being in Barber.

Basically, from May 1 through June 12, INDYCAR will have had something every weekend minus one.

Belle Isle used to at least have a light at the end of the tunnel and at least Road America is better than the Texas heat a week after, but this is still a grueling stretch for all involved.

So, is it wise to race a week later or should you take a break?

The attention train is on you so I see the point of keep moving. Why break the momentum? But, with how much work does into this in May, wouldn’t a week off to recharge the batteries be wise too?

What’s the balance here?

Does This Stretch Make Or Break Championship Hopes?

In furthering the point above, this stretch of races could make or break anyone’s title dreams. Yes, no one truly focuses on the championship until now anyways as you have pre Indy 500 and then the Indy 500 itself, then the championship push after.

However, with Barber, Indy road course, Indy qualifying, double points for the Indy 500, Belle Isle and Road America all within this stretch, that’s essentially seven races worth of points on the line between May 1 and June 12.

That’s 29% of your scheduled races in this span but if you include the Indy 500 and the points for the top nine in qualifying as well as the double points for the race itself, there’s 309 points before pole and laps led bonuses available for the taking.

Can Marcus Ericsson go back to back? Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

Why Is Winning After Indy So Hard?

The races following the Indianapolis 500 haven’t been kind to the winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” especially the doubleheader races that have routinely followed the Indy 500 since 2013.

Since 2011, the Indy 500 winner has an average finish of 10.2 in the doubleheader races that follow Indianapolis (Dan Wheldon didn’t compete in Texas in 2011 and Helio Castroneves in Belle Isle last year) and has only finished on the podium twice in that span – Dario Franchitti finished second at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in 2012, and Will Power finished second in the second race at Belle Isle in 2018.

It’s been 24 years in fact since Arie Luyendyk won the Indianapolis 500 and the race that followed it at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997, and that was just the fifth time a driver had won the “500” and the race that immediately followed it since 1980.

So, what makes it so difficult to go back-to-back?

Part of it is the rigorous schedule you have to go through post Indy win. You have sponsorship activations, media tours, more media tours, photo shoots, talk shows, trips across the country and very minimal downtime.

While you’re doing so, you don’t have time to study up on the next race. You’re basically being pulled in multiple directions with your normal race week routine disrupted.

By time you get into your car on Friday at Belle Isle for practice, you’re drained and feel distant from the team.

That’s why it’s hard to go back-to-back.

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