Detroit — Just days after qualifying for Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500, a few IndyCar drivers took a side trip to Belle Isle.
And why not? A week after the most prestigious race on the circuit, the teams head to Detroit for the Belle Isle Grand Prix from June 3-5.
Simon Pagenaud, who finished 11th in points his first year with Team Penske, said it doesn’t hurt to get a little seat time on the 14-turn, 2.3-mile course.
“It does help you,” said Pagenaud who, along with Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Carpenter, was driving media members around the course in a Chevrolet SS and Cadillac CTSV. “We only get to drive one time a year on this track since it’s not a permanent track, so when you can come back here, you can remember the corners better, you see the details of the track.”
And for Pagenaud, well, there’s another reason he doesn’t mind taking in a few laps on Belle Isle.
“This is the scene of my first win in IndyCar,” Pagenaud said.
Pagenaud (2013) and Bourdais (2015) are former winners at Belle Isle.
Pagenaud did say, however, there are some challenges.
“It’s a very physical race track, especially coming after three weeks of driving around the oval (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) which is very smooth, and everything is steady,” he said.
“Then all of a sudden you come here to a street fight. This is what a street course should be about, bumpy, the walls are very close to each other, and you’re driving on the ragged edge the whole time.”
Pagenaud, leading the points race, is coming off three straight wins heading to Indianapolis.
He will start eight alongside Penske teammate and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Juan Montoya won the race for Penske last year.
“Coming to Team Penske, the cars are much better at the Speedway than anything I had seen,” Pagenaud said.
“I had never had a teammate with the experience in the past ... now I have the King of Indianapolis in Helio, and Montoya is amazing on ovals, so that helps me a lot to improve.”
Pagenaud led last year’s Indianapolis 500 with 30 laps remaining, but finished 10th.
In addition to owning his team, Carpenter drives during oval events. He will have three drivers in the Indianapolis 500, two on Belle Isle.
Josef Newgarden, one of Carpenter’s drivers, was sitting on the pole before James Hinchcliffe knocked him off in the final minutes. Newgarden will start from the middle of the front row, JR Hildebrand is 15th and Carpenter is 20th.
“It’s fun being involved with the pole and having a chance to go for a pole at Indy,” Carpenter said.
“I won two in the past and know what that feels like, know what the pressure is, what he was going through being on the hot seat. We felt like we left it all out there.
“I think (Newgarden is) one of the top five all-around guys in the sport for sure. Josef has a really strong car and I’m happy with my car for the 500 so it should be a good showing.”
Carpenter said he plans to name a second driver next week for Belle Isle.
This is Penske’s 50th year in racing.
Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
When: June 3-5
Where: Belle Isle, Detroit
Events: Truck Series (three races), Trans Am Series (two), IndyCar (two), SportsCar Championship Series (one)
IndyCar races: 3:30 p.m. Saturday (Dual I) and Sunday (Dual II)
Tickets: detroitgp.com or (866) 464-7749