Cute name, isn’t it? Because, you see, it sounds like “duel”, as in a battle, but really refers to the “dual” races of the…oh, never mind. We all get it.
Yes, less than a week from the thrills of the Indy 500, the IZOD IndyCar Series takes a jaunt north to Belle Isle, where a pair of weekend races will both count for full points. That means a potential huge points swing from this weekend, as the first part of a trying June schedule makes this as much an endurance contest among teams as anything.
We’re looking a twin 70 lap races, coming out to about 164 miles each. The races are on ABC, which is great news for those without cable, but also disappointing for those who enjoy the more robust coverage we see from NBC Sports. Get used to it; every race except Milwaukee between now and the start of July is ABC-bound. Let’s hope they kick up the coverage, and give the racing we’ve seen the enthusiasm it deserves!
Whether you’re headed to Motown or watching from Couchtown, here are some storylines to follow this week:
Qualifying/Rules: Yes, there will be two rounds of qualifying, one for each race. The first, held Friday afternoon, will be along traditional Firestone Fast 6 guidelines. Qualifying for the second race will be held Saturday morning, well before Race 1, with the cars split into two groups simply to manage traffic. The second round of qualifying will simply slot all cars from fastest to slowest qualifying laps. Don't sweat it; it'll all make sense soon enough.
Additionally, SONAX will be offering a $50,000 bonus to any driver who can win both races, so that's something to keep in mind.
Mojo For The 500 Champ?: Tony Kanaan has had a whirlwind week of public appearances, and now he'll take back to the track as our most recent Indianapolis 500 winner. Dario Franchitti managed a very good result here last year after winning Indy; can Kanaan keep his momentum going? He was a sharp P6 in Detroit last year, and is still very much in the title hunt, currently only 44 points behind Marco Andretti. If he can string together a few more excellent results, he could become a title contender few foresaw in their season previews.
Panther Problems: Let's put it plainly: JR Hildebrand is out, Ryan Brisoce is in for this weekend. Hildebrand finished last at Indy following an early crash, and now we get to see if Briscoe can hack it in a seat where Vitor Meira, Dan Wheldon, and now Hildebrand apparently didn't cut it for owner John Barnes. Best of luck with that task.
Ganassi’s Gnashed Teeth: Well, that certainly wasn’t the Indy 500 Chip Ganassi wanted. Between Dario Franchitti crashing late, Ryan Briscoe never really running up front, and Scott Dixon being essentially a non-factor on the day, it was a dreadful month one of the “Big Three” teams. Charlie Kimball was really the only bright spot, overcoming early mechanical woes to grab his second straight Indy Top 10. Still, there are reasons for optimism. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti finished 1-2 at Belle Isle last season, and neither driver is going to be shut out forever.
Built To Last: Last year’s race was marred by a crumbling road, and James Hinchcliffe’s somewhat famously going on an in-car rant about the same after a large chunk of the same ruined his day. Thankfully, the course has been renovated since then (with Hinch coming up for a few smart photo ops during the construction), and the course should be quite a bit smoother. Also of note will be the passing areas—this car has been racy even where it shouldn’t have been, so we’ll have to see if it does the trick once again.
Mikey In Michigan: Mike Conway will get a turn in the Dale Coyne #18 TBA Special this weekend, bringing his street course savvy to a course where it could be very richly rewarded. Paired with Justin Wilson, who has having himself an excellent season (and has won in Detroit before), Coyne should be a blast to watch this weekend. It sounds as if the second Coyne car might do a bit of the driver carousel from this point forward in the season; if nothing else, it’s usually entertaining, sort of like a really good cameo in a TV series. Let’s hope some of the series favorites get their turn in the cockpit—and I wouldn’t mind seeing Ana Beatriz again for a big oval or two.
A Seabass Century: Sebastien Bourdais is preparing to make his 100th American Open Wheel start, and it’s great to still have him around. At only 34 years of age, he should have plenty of good years ahead of him, and it would be tremendous to see what he can do with a consistent program under him. He didn’t have much luck at this track last year with his brand-new Chevy power, but hopefully #100 can net him some good results. Dragon Racing has really struggled with results this year, with both Bourdais and teammate Sebastian Saavedra out of the Top 20 in points.
The Championship Points Battle: I did an article for INDYCAR Nation this week on closeness of the points battle for the season title, but to give you the summary: yes, it’s still just about anyone’s title to win or lose. Marco Andretti leads by 11 points, but Takuma Sato has looked extremely sharp on the twisties this season, as well. Meanwhile, drivers Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson, and others lurk, with any weekend still capable of shaking things up in a major fashion. Meanwhile, two drivers we thought would challenge for the title this year, Dario Franchitti and Will Power, sit glumly outside the Top 15, with a frankly stunning victory drought for both drivers still continuing. “Unexpected” is the new expectation in IndyCar this year, apparently.
To Servia With Love: What IndyCar fan doesn’t love Oriol Servia? He’s the pro’s pro, the journeyman driver who can always be counted on to give the best performance possible in whatever circumstances. He’s also extremely hard-luck when it comes to teams. Sadly, this has extended to Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, who has punted on the rest of the season. The racing goes on, but we can’t wait to have Servia and the team back out there. Fingers crossed good things come out of this.
Pole: For Race #1, I’m liking Simon Pagenaud. Just have a feeling.
Winner: Oh gosh. Let’s say Scott Dixon for one, and Helio Castroneves for the other. The Ganassi and Penskes have been too quiet. It can’t last forever, right?
Dark Horse: Let's go with one of the Coynes (Conway was P9 here a year ago), or possibly Charlie Kimball.
Mazda Road to Indy Update: No Firestone Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, or USF2000 cars this week; we won’t see them again until Milwaukee. However, this is an excellent opportunity to show the end of the Freedom 100 yet again. Seriously, someone give Peter Dempsey a ride in next year’s Indy 500; Pure Awesomeness could be the sponsor.
Don’t forget, Fantasy Picks are due Friday morning by 10 am ET! Your three drivers will count across both races, so you could either have a points bonanza this week, or get leapfrogged in short order if you choose poorly. I’m thinking we’re going to have to do a trophy or something for our eventual season winner.
I'm moving this weekend, so I might be a bit scarce online, but have an great weekend, and let's see who the winners are come Monday morning.