Sponsorships up, but attendance short of goal

Gregg Krupa and David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Attendance clearly suffered on Belle Isle, amid the significant rains that hit southeastern Michigan on Saturday and Sunday.

The officials figures likely will be announced within days, according to spokesman Merrill Cain, of Penske Racing.

But while Penske Corporation vice president Bud Denker had said 110,00 fans were expected for the weekend, with 40,000 expected Saturday and Sunday. However, attendance Sunday clearly lagged.

The Detroit Grand Prix never makes money, Cain said.

But despite the rain-affected crowd Sunday, there was good news this year. Corporate sponsorships rose from 56 to 70, a 25 percent increase.

"You can remember in 2012, a few years back now, we had a pothole problem, out here," Denker said. "We're well beyond those days, now.

"If we were without our partners, we would not be able to have this event out here.

"The real positive thing is corporate sponsorship, that's what really drives this event. In fact, our revenue stream, 80 percent of it is corporate sponsorship, 20 percent is ticket sales."

Denker also said the chalets, purchased by companies, were sold out.

Rahal improves Sunday

Graham Rahal was pleased to reach the podium for a third time this season, but disappointed he was penalized for blocking Takuma Sato late in IndyCar Race No. 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Sunday afternoon on Belle Isle.

Rahal had reason to be happy with his day after a crash early in Race No. 1 resulted in a 21st place finish Saturday on the 14-turn, 2.3-mile road course.

"It (Saturday) helped a lot," Rahal said of finishing third behind race winner Sebastien Bourdais and Sato on Sunday. "Yesterday was brutal. That's the nice thing about this doubleheader. At least this year I'm leaving here getting on the airplane on a good note.

"We're fourth in points, just six points behind (Scott) Dixon and one ahead of Helio (Castroneves). We're up with the big boys now and we have to be good with everything."

Yes, Rahal is Honda's top driver in the series with runnerup spots at Alabama and the Indianapolis Grand Prix, along with a fifth place spot at the Indianapolis 500.

Still, the penalty stung.

"It was a really good day today," Rahal said, "I was pretty pleased with everything, but I was very disappointed with the penalty. I don't think it was deserved, based on what the rules are you are allowed to move before the person behind you does and right after I got the wheels spinned I moved to the far right, and that's allowed, but apparently not today, so unfortunately we had to give that position to Sato, but at the end I'm proud of my team."

Drivers competing with Chevrolet power have won six of the eight races, but Andretti Autosport driver Carlos Munoz won Race No. 1 with Honda power Saturday and Honda drivers finished second through ninth Sunday.

"Rain is the ultimate equalizer," noted Rahal, feeling the elements aided Honda drivers. "Honda's working hard and I'm proud to be associated with them. We've had a hell of a year and I think we can win races."

Karam's up-and-down day

Rookie Sage Karam seemed to be having a good start to his day when he was the top driver during the first qualifying session for Race No. 2.

But, Karam's bid for the pole ended when the second group of drivers failed to get its 20-minute session in due to heavier rain.

Karam, 20, was among a half-dozen drivers making their first start on the Belle Isle course, including five rookies. He ended up starting 20th in the No. 8 Comfort Revolution for Chip Ganassi Racing, passed four cars on a single lap to move to 13th on Lap 11, but ultimately hit the back of Jack Hawksworth's No. 41 Honda on Lap 56, ending his chance for a strong finish. He finished 12th.

Karam grew up in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of IndyCar greats Mario Andretti and his son, Michael.

"I grew up right across the street from the Andretti family," Karam said. "We were just family friends, there was no financial help or anything like that."

Karam talked of his ability to get to the IndyCar series at such an early age.

"I put in a lot of hard work, never giving up, we had some success at an early age racing go-karts around the country when I was eight-years-old," Karam said. "I started racing cars when I was 12 and drove for Michael (Andretti) actually when I was 15 in USF 2000, then 16 and 17 in Star Mazda, raced IndyLights for Schmidt (Peterson Motorsports at age 18)."

Now, Karam feels blessed to be competing for the strong team of Chip Ganassi Racing which showcases three-time series champion Scott Dixon and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan.

Ganassi Racing's team had a tough day with teammates Charlie Kimball forcing Dixon off the track and into the wall, ending his day. Dixon finished 20th and is now 53 points behind series points leader Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske.