One week after Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson won the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, the stars and cars of IndyCar were – for the first time in many years as a single-header weekend – on the streets of Belle Isle, in the middle of the Detroit River, for the Detroit Grand Prix.
The 2022 iteration on what is a bumpy, narrow and ultimately unforgiving temporary street circuit will be the last on Belle Isle, with the event heading downtown from next year.
First, though, there were 70 laps of racing action, and there’s some silly season action as well to break down.
Will Power wins
Sunday’s main event could be described as a race of competing strategies, and in the end it was Toowoomba’s favourite son who held on despite fading soft red-wall tyres, winning the race on a two-stop strategy from his 16th starting position, fending off a charging Alexander Rossi on a three-stop strategy with the more durable black tyres. It was a bold strategy call from Team Penske, and it worked, even though Rossi was able to whittle away a gap of more than 16 seconds Power had amassed after his second and final stop on lap 51.
Somehow Power held on to take the twin chequers after dominating out front for 55 of the 70 laps. His margin of victory was just over a second. Rossi was of course filling his mirrors, and Queensland-born Kiwi Scott Dixon occupied the final step of the podium.
Importantly, the win sees Power return to the top of the IndyCar points standings, leading Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson by just three points.
Power’s win was a redemption of sorts for the Australian, who had a Detroit win in the bag last year before a red flag was thrown, following which his car would not refire.
Detroit 2022 has to rank up there as one of Power’s best wins – he has 41 of them now, and Sunday was his first win since the Indianapolis road course race last August – for how he managed to make his red tyres last for the final 20 laps while also holding off a charging Rossi.
Oh, and his celebration, featuring Belle Isle’s iconic fountain, was one to remember.
One day, in the not too distant future Will Power will be the answer to a motorsport trivia question about the last winner on Belle Isle. His win is a fitting send-off to what has long been a popular IndyCar stop, even if the racing hasn’t always been superb.
Rossi to Arrow McLaren SP
The worst kept secret in the IndyCar paddock was confirmed on Friday with the news that Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500, will leave Andretti Autosport at the conclusion of the current season to link with Zak Brown’s McLaren outfit, driving alongside rising star Pato O’Ward. This is a huge shot in the arm for both team and driver, and I hope Rossi’s near-comical run of bad luck doesn’t follow him to his new home.
Details surrounding the team’s third car are yet to be finalised, with Felix Rosenqvist currently driving alongside O’Ward.
Rumours across the weekend suggested that reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou might be headed there to replace Rosenqvist, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire during his tenure. I don’t understand why Palou would leave the powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing, where he’s winning races and already has a championship, but the business of motorsport is a strange one, and following the ups and downs of this story across the North American summer will be very interesting.
One thing is for certain: whoever gets the nod, it’s going to be a fearsome line-up and hard to beat no matter where the series races.
Kirkwood to Andretti Autosport
The poorly kept Rossi-to-McLaren secret was all but confirmed a day before the official announcement when Andretti Autosport confirmed his departure from their team, to be replaced in 2023 by Indy Lights standout Kyle Kirkwood, who has been plying his trade with AJ Foyt Racing this season with mixed results. There simply wasn’t enough room at the Andretti inn for 2022.
With Rossi on the move to what he hopes will be greener racing pastures, it was a no-brainer for Andretti to bring the young American back into the fold, and it instantly makes the squad younger. It’s 23-year-old Kirkwood, alongside Colton Herta (22), Devlin DeFrancesco (22) and the ‘old man’ of then group, 36-year-old Romain Grosjean, for 2023. I can’t wait to see what Kirkwood does with top-notch equipment next year.
It was a super weekend for Kirkwood, who, aside from the good news about his 2023 campaign, topped opening IndyCar practice on Friday and captured GT pole for the IMSA sports car race as well, winning on Saturday.
McLaughlin finishes 19th
It was a day to forget for the Supercars legend, who locked up big time on the 18th lap and thereafter struggled to rejoin the track, experiencing a coming together with a tyre barrier. He pitted immediately but went a lap down and never seriously threatened from that point on.
It must have been a long and frustrating afternoon circulating around the brutal Belle Isle circuit out of contention.
McLaughlin sits tenth in the standings following Detroit, 82 points behind Power, and he will be hoping to recapture the rich vein of form he was in to start the season.
Farewell, Belle Isle
It will be strange being in Detroit next year for an IndyCar race and not going across to Belle Isle, but based on less-than-rave reviews from those who attend – horror stories of long waits for a ferry ride across to the track being one of many – the downtown event will be a little more fan-friendly and accessible. Still, I’ll miss the physical and mental test that Belle Isle represents, even if I won’t miss the mostly processional events.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the new layout races, and running in the shadows of the General Motors Chevrolet headquarters, who sponsor the race, can only be a good thing. Hopefully having the race downtown (with lots of areas where trackside access won’t require a ticket) will bring in more casual fans.
Next stop; Road America
The greatest natural terrain road course in North America, bar absolutely none, is next on the IndyCar schedule. Road America is 6.515 kilometres of bad-fast speeds on an undulating track full of character in the middle of the Wisconsin countryside. The circuit – famous for the Kink, Canada Corner and the Carousel – is a favourite of both drivers and fans. Aside from Indianapolis, there is no greater exhibition of an IndyCar’s strengths.
Alex Palou is the defending winner.
Green flag for IndyCar at Road America is Monday, 13 June, at 2:30am (AEST).