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Drivers looking forward to return to Belle Isle

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — With the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center, it seemed a good time to promote the Dual in Detroit doubleheader set for June 3-5 on Belle Isle, and IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais were on hand to do just that Friday.

Dixon enters the 2016 season as the defending Verizon IndyCar series champion, overtaking Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya — the Indianapolis 500 winner — in the final race of the season.

“Each year you set two goals and we came through with winning the championship,” said Dixon, a 35-year-old from Australia whose other goal is to win the Indy 500. “How last year finished and the excitement and how it played out was very exciting for our team. Not so much for Juan (Pablo Montoya).

“I think we went into the last race fourth or fifth in points and we had to have a lot of things go our way and ultimately we came out on top. To end on tight points and win it with most victories throughout the season (3-2) was definitely one of the most dramatic finishes to a championship that I’ve been involved with and happy it went our way. I was a little sad for Juan Montoya, but that passed pretty quickly.”

Bourdais won Race No. 2 on Belle Isle last year after having a bad showing (14th) in the first race of the weekend.

“Last year was a very strange weekend for us,” Bourdais said. “We had the most miserable day on the first day and we turned it into gold the next day by winning the race. It was a really nice end of the weekend for us in Chevy’s backyard and I couldn’t be happier for that. It was obviously very good memories for us and we’re just very much looking forward to coming back.

“The track has received quite a few upgrades and improvements over the years and it’s a very challenging and fun one to put together when you’ve got the car where you want it to be.”

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles called Detroit “a special place” during a Grand Prix panel discussion in the Cobo Center Atrium.

“And the motor-sports industry obviously, and Team Penske is (special) and we wanted this to be races that are unique. It does put a little bit of a burden on the teams and the drivers and all that, but I think just as Indianapolis has its own unique and historic attributes, the doubleheader here on Belle Isle is developing into something that we really want to protect.

“It’s a very special place for us and we think we can figure out ways to make the 100th running (of Indianapolis 500) just propel us into Detroit with the next race in the Verizon IndyCar series.”

Dixon, who competes with Chevrolet power, knows the slate is wiped clean and he must fight hard to do it all over again. He also won series championships for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2003, ’08 and 2013 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.

And, Americans showed they are now a factor in the fight for the championship with Graham Rahal winning two races and finishing fourth in points, former series champion Ryan Hunter Reay winning twice and finishing sixth and Josef Newgarden also winning two races and placing in a tie for seventh. Marco Andretti was ninth in the standings and Charlie Kimball, 11th.

“I don’t know how many Americans there are, four or five, but it’s probably the most Americans we’ve had in the field in quite a few years,” Dixon said. “They are all very good, too, so it adds to the competition so it’s great for the series to see them all doing well.”

The IndyCar season begins at St. Petersburg March 13 with momentum following Dixon’s championship-clinching win at Sonoma.

The Milwaukee Mile, which in years past followed the Indianapolis 500 before Belle Isle took over that role, is no longer on the schedule. The series also will not return to New Orleans. Road America, Phoenix and a Labor Day weekend race on the streets of Boston are added to the schedule.

Bourdais finished 10th in points with two wins, at Detroit and the Milwaukee Mile.

“It’s a shame to see Milwaukee go away since it was a traditional track for us,” Bourdais said. “We’re all happy to go back to Road America since we all believe that track should have never been left off the schedule to begin with.”

And, of Boston, Dixon said: “It’s such a massive sporting town and on the East Coast, too, an area that we need to be in so I’m really excited for that race. Even the layout, downtown on the waterfront, it’s going to be cool.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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Dual in Detroit

When: June 3-5, Belle Isle Raceway Park

Notable: This is the Verizon IndyCar series’ lone doubleheader with 70-lap races run on consecutive days. ... Carlos Munoz and Sebastien Bourdais won last year’s races.

Tickets: Go to DetroitGP.com or call (866) 464-PRIX