As IndyCar driver hits streets, it's all about corners
Detroit — Amazing what a street car, like one straight out of a Chevrolet showroom, can do in the hands of a trained professional.
Settling into the passenger seat of the SS, I pulled the seat belt across my stomach and clicked it in.
I looked to my left at the driver, defending IndyCar champ Will Power of Team Penske.
The only thing different about the car was the insertion of high temperature, competition-grade braking fluid to withstand the searing strain it was about to endure.
What was different about the driver became apparent almost immediately.
As Power pulled away from the Casino on Belle Isle, on to the Indy car track where he will race in the Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix May 30 and 31, the street car became beast.
The SS suddenly was all snarly and growling.
Then, with the champ's foot suddenly stomping down on the throttle, it let out a beastly roar.
Flying into the first turn with a sharp swerve to the left, the blue-and- white striped curbing thumped by rapidly, like the staccato popping of automatic weapons fire under Power's seat.
As he cut it surgically close, the tires screeched with shrieking complaint.
As a Detroit boy, all I could think was, ah, speed; glorious speed!
And just think: no cops!
In the first right-hand corner, Power put the passenger-side mirror close enough to the jersey barriers of the outside wall that I thought for a moment about the proof of insurance in my wallet, before blissfully recalling that for this one bright, shiny moment in an otherwise fairly pedestrian life, it was of absolutely no consequence.
Corner by corner, the excitement spiked, and it was about 110 miles per hour on some straights.
But the ecstasy was in the curves and turns.
"That's a particularly fun series, right there, in an Indy car," Power said as the SS completed corners seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11, a particularly tight sequence.
It's not about speed
Driving any car at high speeds on a track, particularly an Indy car, is a day in the office for Power. But the thrill is not gone.
"Going fast, it never was about speed to me," Power said. "It's more about speed in corners.
"How fast and how well can you put a lap together? How fast you can you be in a corner?
"It's more that than anything else.
"I have to say, though, Indianapolis always gets your attention because of the speed. It's dangerous because things really happen quick at that speed."
Power was in Detroit after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, where safety is now a matter of overwhelming concern. Four major crashes, including three in which drivers in cars have flown significant distances after spinning on the track, have spread concern throughout the sport.
The chassis received a huge redesign in the off-season, to provide more exciting racing. A problem may have resulted.
At the high speeds obtained on the big ovals, unlike the considerably slower speeds of the Belle Isle circuit, if the cars are suddenly moving backward, they are getting airborne.
IndyCar officials ordered a reduction of the turbocharger boost to decrease power and the removal of aerodynamic panels. But even with less speed and power, drivers are uncertain what will happen Sunday with the throttle let out full.
"I think the race is going to be very similar to what we've had in the past few years," said driver-owner Ed Carpenter, who went airborne in his car, along with Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden, in other incidents.
"At the end of the day, the potential is always there for something bad to happen. But this isn't something that sport's never seen."
Carpenter, who won the 500 last year, Castroneves and Newgarden were all uninjured. But James Hinchcliffe, after a mechanical failure sent his car hard into a wall and nearly flipped it, suffered a severe thigh injury that required surgery Monday.
"What we do is dangerous, and we all know that," Carpenter said. "We accept it. It is part of what we do.
"Do we want to see that? No. You know, we always want it to be safer. But I am confident there'll be a permanent solution. Is it going to happen before Sunday? I'd say that's highly unlikely."
Things were a lot safer running street cars around Belle Isle, where a mile and a half of new concrete has been laid down since last year. Three years after some asphalt portions of the surface were tossed up in the air by competing cars, like so many divots in a golf tournament, almost the entire track is now concrete.
Power said it is now one of the better road tracks in the series.
"They've improved the track this year," he said. "It's smoother, faster. There's more passing opportunities."
Power said his current goals are winning the Indianapolis 500 and then defending his championship. He was guarded about Sunday.
"Obviously, IndyCar made the right decision, with the circumstances," he said, about restraining power and making aerodynamic changes.
"It's like we've all said: It's up to the engineers to really understand what it is and not react too quickly until we truly do understand why the cars are flying.
"A lot has changed," he said, of the redesign. "The body work has changed. The floor has changed.
"So they've got to look into that and understand why."
Chevrolet Dual in Detroit
When: May 29-31, Belle Isle, Detroit
What: IndyCar doubleheader (Saturday and Sunday)
2014 winners: Will Power (Race 1) and Helio Castroneves (Race 2)
Tickets: Starting at $35, available at DetroitGP.com or (866) 464-PRIX