BELLE ISLE, Mich — Alexander Rossi is having himself a weekend thus far on the streets of Belle Isle. On Friday morning Arrow McLaren SP formally announced in the media center that Rossi will pilot one of their papaya orange race cars for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season in beyond in a new multi-year deal. A few hours later, Rossi found himself 3rd on the speed charts in the opening practice session of the weekend around the 2.35-mile scenic Detroit area race track. On Saturday morning, the American driver shot to the top of the timing charts with a top lap of 1:15.8101-seconds in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda.
Rossi looks like a strong favorite to end his 43 race skid in Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, USA, INDYCAR Radio Network) as he’s qualified in the top 7 in 7 of his last 8 tries here on the island including 4 of his last 5 efforts being on the front row. Being 3rd and 1st respectively in practice so far this weekend gives him a strong shot at pole this afternoon.
Simon Pagenaud (1:15.8803-seconds) was second in his No. 60 Dallara-Honda. The 2013 winner here was also 4th fastest on Friday. His teammate and three-time Belle Isle race winner Helio Castroneves (1:16.0412-seconds) was 4th in his No. 06 Dallara-Honda. Josef Newgarden improved from 16th on Friday to 3rd (1:15.9118-seconds) on Saturday while rookie David Malukas (1:16.1180-seconds) rounded out the top 5 in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda.
Messy Weekend So Far
Friday’s practice saw 2 incidents in the 45 minute session. Saturday morning’s was even worse. We saw 5 stoppages in 45 minutes. The first occurred just 3 minutes into practice for Kyle Kirkwood finding the Turn 7 tire barriers following contact with David Malukas. Kirkwood took responsibility for the incident. The second red came at 9:03 am local time for Jimmie Johnson’s spin in Turn 2. He luckily didn’t hit anything.
The third red flag came at 9:10 a.m. ET for Dalton Kellett making hard contact in Turn 13. At 9:23 a.m. Will Power spun at the exit of Turn 12. 9 minutes later Simon Pagenaud stopped on track in Turn 6.
Between 90 minutes of practice, we’ve had 7 red flags.
Rough Session For AJ Foyt Racing
A day after Kyle Kirkwood topped the speed charts, he found the Turn 7 wall just 3 minutes into practice. It ended his practice without turning any laps. He went from 1st to last. Then, Dalton Kellett had his 2nd incident of the weekend with crashing hard in Turn 13. That plus having a 6 spot grid penalty from crashing in the Indy practice last Monday has him with a tough last couple of weeks.
Improvement From Team Penske
I wondered where Team Penske was on Friday. They were only 8-14-16 on the timing charts. While they’ve only won 2 of the last 12 Belle Isle races, they are 2-0 on street courses this season. However, both of those were among their 3 race win streak to start 2022 off with. They’re 0-3 since and after Friday, I wondered if they’d be winless in their last 4 leaving Detroit.
On Saturday morning though, they put 2 cars in the top 6 of the speed charts and looked like legitimate contenders again.
Andretti/Meyer Shank Cars Look Like Early Favorites
While we still have to qualify, I’d say after 2 practice sessions that the Andretti Autosport and Meyer Shank Racing alliance cars are the favorites. They took 6 of the top 13 speeds on Friday and half of the top 10 on Saturday including 3 of the top 4 at that. Among the 3 in the top 4 were both MSR cars with Simon Pagenaud now being 4th and 2nd respectively in the 2 practices and Helio Castroneves 7th and 4th respectively himself. Between the tandem they have 4 Belle Isle wins with Castroneves having 8 top 10 finishes here in his last 9 tries and Pagenaud 3 in the last 5.
Devlin DeFrancesco has quietly had a good weekend in being 13th on Friday and now 8th on Saturday.
Track Record Not Likely To Fall
Through the first six races of the season, we’ve seen pole records fall in half of them. Among the 3, 2 of which were on street courses. However, after seeing both sessions this weekend, I don’t necessarily think a pole record is coming on Saturday afternoon.
Alexander Rossi set the top lap so far of 1:15.8101-seconds. The track record is 1:13.6732-seconds. So, unless they can gain over 2 seconds in qualifying in a few hours, I don’t think we’re going to see our 4th pole record fall in 7 races run in 2022.
Honda Powers Way To Front In Chevy’s Backyard
Chevy may have went 1-2 on Friday but Honda took the next 5 spots and 10 of the top 13 in Session 1. On Saturday morning, it was Honda’s turn to go 1-2 and take 4 of the top 5 spots. Is this Honda’s race to lose again?
Chevy started off 4-0 on the season but Honda swept the Month of May in Indy. They’ve also won 4 of the last 6 races in Motor City and would love nothing more to pick up a 3rd straight win on the season on Friday too.