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Speed is talk of Indy 500, Detroit Grand Prix

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit – As the engineers at Chevrolet and Honda continue to push each other in at hunt for more horsepower, the cars are faster in qualifying and practice on the big oval with the long straightaways this month, for the Indy 500.

The enhanced speed is the talk of the IndyCar Series.

More pace also suggests the dual grand prix in Detroit the following weekend, on the tight, 2.3-mile road course, will feature more chances for overtaking and deeper braking in some of the corners.

And some enhanced viewing spots for the Detroit Belle Isle races this year will be all the more desirable, as a result.

“IndyCar is very interesting these days,” said Simon Pagenaud, the defending IndyCar Series champion with Team Penske, who was at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park Tuesday to promote the races.

“There’s a very strong competition between Chevrolet and Honda, and it’s incredible what these guys do to the engines, week in and week out.”

IndyCar rules prohibit significant changes to the engines, in part, to hold a bit of a lid on the cost of the expensive sport. But Pagenaud said it is amazing what the racing crews can accomplish.

“There’s a very fine area as to what you can do on an engine and, despite that, the engineers manage to find 40 horsepower every year,” said the 33-year-old Frenchman. “So, it just goes to show you how incredible the technology is.”

As for the quick turnaround between the starkly different Indy 500 (12:19 p.m., Sunday, ABC) and the two Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (3:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4, ABC.), Pagenaud smiled at the thought.

“You know, that’s actually part of the fun,” he said. “That’s what IndyCar racing is all about.

“We have the chance to race on super-speedways and short ovals like Phoenix, and then we go to street courses like Detroit, St. Petersburg, Long Beach and we get to show our skills as a team, engine manufacturers and drivers. That’s what makes this series very different from any other in the world.”

Four races into the 16-race season, Pagenaud, in his Chevrolet powered Dallara chassis is leading for the driver’s standings, 10 points in front of Scott Dixon, in his Honda-powered Dallara chassis for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Pagenaud’s team mates, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Will Power are third, fourth and fifth, also running Chevrolet power.

But the Hondas have been faster at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Dixon grabbed the pole, and Honda powers 14 of the top 18 qualifiers.

Power qualified ninth. A fifth Penske driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, qualified 18th.

Castroneves qualified 19th, Newgarden 22nd and Pagenaud 23rd.

“It’s just the nature of competition, you know?” Pagenaud said, as a matter of simple fact.

“We didn’t have the speed this month in qualifying mode,” Pagenaud said. “I think it will be different in the race. You can’t always be the fastest.”

The off-season for the part-time Raceway at Belle Isle Park featured grinding the front and back straightaways to smooth the surface.

Race chairman Bud Denker said he expected those portions of the racing surface in the fastest parts of the track to be “much smoother.”

The “Prix-mium” seating area, new to the spectator areas of the track this year, provides access to the long back straightaway, where the highest speeds occur.

“So we’ll be able to have fans watch these guys go from 165 miles per hour into the braking zone, which they’ve never been able to do before,” Denker said.

Anyone with a “paddock pass” for the event will be able walk right up to the 92-year-old James Scott Memorial Fountain, with its 125-feet tall central spray and 510-feet diameter bowl, and rapscallion donor.

“So far we’ve given back about $13.5 million to Belle Isle that’s investment we’ve left behind for people who use the island year round,” Denker said.

He pegged the local economic stimulus at $45 million.

“Beyond that is the fact that those shots you see overhead on ABC and their partners of Belle Isle and the riverfront, you can’t put a value on that,” he said. “It’s like a postcard from our city to the world.”

Denker said he is aware of opposition to the races, including a demonstration set for Saturday.

“There’s a minimum number of people that always express their concerns. I expect that, no matter what you try to do, in this city,” he said.

“So, we listen to them.

“And, next year, we are going to start our load in, our build-up, two weeks shorter. So, instead of being on the island for 11 weeks, it’s now nine weeks.”

While the races clearly prevent some people from enjoying parts of Belle Isle for a portion of the year, Denker said the economic benefit “far offsets some of those complaints.”

Indianapolis 500

When: 11 a.m. Sunday

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

TV: ABC

Defending champion: Alexander Rossi

Detroit Grand Prix

When: June 2-4 (IndyCar races June 3-4, both at 3:30 p.m.)

Where: Belle Isle

TV: Both on ABC

Defending champions: Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power

Tickets: detroitgp.com