IndyCar battles are brewing on Belle Isle

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit – Helio Castroneves plans to turn disappointment from coming up just short of winning the Indianapolis 500 to running up front this weekend in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle.

Castroneves was overtaken by Takuma Sato in the final laps Sunday, finishing second. It would have been Castroneves’ fourth Indy 500 title.

Still, the 42-year-old Castroneves left Indy with the points lead, then topped the field Friday in practice, circling the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course with a time of 1:15.15, with Graham Rahal second (1:15.35) in his United Rentals No. 15 Honda.

Castroneves has won three times on Belle Isle, earning his first career victory way back in 2000, then repeating in 2001 before finally getting his third win on the island in 2014. He finished second in the Indy 500 in 2014 too, to Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“We did everything we could, unfortunately it was just a little bit short,” said Castroneves of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. “The good news is that we lead the championship and that’s something we work really hard on.”

Krupa: At 42, Castroneves still a happy warrior

Rahal, 28, hopes to qualify up front and earn his first win of the season.

“It’s a track that’s been good to me, had a couple of podiums here,” Rahal said. “Today, started off on the right foot and the United Rentals car seems to be very strong, very competitive right off the trailer. The first session I didn’t change anything, didn’t need to, but definitely as the track heated up in the afternoon it got slippery.

“It’s going to be tricky out there. It’s bumpy, you guys know that, and it’s going to beat us up good. We’ll just have to go out there tomorrow and test it and hopefully the car will be nice and reliable and we’ll get to the end and have a good day.”

Rahal knows he’ll have a challenge on his hands in facing Castroneves.

“Helio’s one of the best and Penske is always the standard, particularly when it comes to bumpy street circuits,” Rahal said. “Their shock department is always the standard and you’re always trying to keep up with them so I’m pleased with what we had today.

“Helio is one of the best, one of all-time greats with the amount of poles he has and everything else, obviously wins (29), Indy 500s.

“We’re all still working hard to keep up. Actually it gives me a lot of hope that I can be here for a long time.”

Practice round

Sato, 40, has had a busy week, attending the Indy 500 banquet Monday night, then going on a whirlwind tour of New York and Texas before arriving in Detroit Thursday.

Sato had the sixth-fastest time in practice Friday. His Andretti Autosport teammate, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, topped the charts early on in the afternoon practice with a time of 1:15.43 before crashing into the wall, causing damage to the back end.

Brown back on track

It’s rare to see a 54-year-old CEO of a large spirits company taking the streets at 175 mph, but that’s exactly what Patron CEO Ed Brown was doing Friday morning in the IMSA series.

Brown is wearing numerous hats this weekend, driving his No. 22 Tequila Patron Nissan Dpi car with teammate Johannes van Overbeek while also overseeing his various Patron bars and hospitality suites on Belle Isle.

Brown doesn’t just stroll around the course as an also-ran. He showed his talent last season by winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.

“Five years ago, I won my first professional race in one of these at Laguna (California) and that was a great day, but nothing like winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring in the same year,” said Brown, who has been CEO of Patron for 20 years, driving for the last 15 years.

“It’s not always easy since the kids are a lot younger than I am and I have a full-time job doing other things, but I love to do it and really love IMSA. I haven’t been back to Detroit in a couple of years so I’m really glad to be back here. It’s a great town for Patron and a great town for racing.”

Brown does have the ability to practice at home, in his $50,000 racing simulator that he has in his 40,000-square foot oceanfront home in Florida.

Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix race director Bud Denker is thrilled to have Patron back on as a sponsor.