In the passenger seat with Grand Prix driver
“They’re gonna kill me for this,” says Simon Pagenaud as he downshifts and punches the accelerator of the white Chevy SS he’s manhandling on the Detroit Grand Prix race track on Belle Isle.
The souped-up sedan eats up a short bit of track before the renowned IndyCar champion backs off the gas. It’s only the second time Pagenaud has driven this year’s track. And he’s having fun trying to make those gathered on the island for a ride around the track sick while he flies through the course at 120 mph.
Belle Isle is, after all, the place he won his very first IndyCar race at the 2013 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
“We’re gonna give the brakes a rest here,” he says, slowing into a turn halfway through the 2.3-mile course. But rests are short-lived in a race track, and in a breath, the engine roars and Pagenaud is guiding his car into another hairpin turn. “Pretty fast cars, huh?”
Detroit hosted its first Grand Prix in 1982 as a Formula One race. This year, from June 2 to June 4, seven races ranging from Super Trucks to sleek, speedy IndyCars will whip around the island track from morning until early evening.
Pagenaud joins a list of champions on the track, including Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing and Will Power of Team Penske. Teammates Ricky and Jordan Taylor from Wayne Taylor Racing also will drive.
Claude “Bud” Denker, executive vice president of human resources for Penske Automotive, said Tuesday the races will bring $45 million in consumer spending to the city of Detroit.
The drivers will hit 165 mph when competing next weekend. Tickets for guaranteed seats range from $65 to $105 for adults. General admission tickets are $40. Children under 12 get in free.
The drivers said the Belle Isle track presents a challenge, since it’s a “street course,” and mixes a slew of turns and straightaways.
“We get to show our skills,” Pagenaud said.
And though the warm-up laps Tuesday were leisurely compared to what the drivers push the cars to during a race, the air smelled of burned rubber and brake pads sizzled during the test laps.
“No puke?” Pagenaud asks as he guides the SS cruise to a stop near the Belle Isle Casino. “That’s sort of disappointing.”
And then he peeled out with another victim in tow.