Detroit — James Hinchcliffe knows the importance of this weekend’s IndyCar doubleheader on Belle Isle, which will be run Saturday and Sunday on the bumpy 13-turn, 2.3-mile road course.
After all, Hinchcliffe needs a couple of podium finishes — top three spots — if he has any hopes of getting back into the fight for the series championship.
Hinchcliffe had a strong start to the season with a fourth-place finish at St. Petersburg and a sixth-place showing at Phoenix, followed by a ninth at Long Beach, third-place spot at Alabama and seventh-place finish in the Indy Grand Prix before failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
The failure to compete in the Indy 500 — which awards double points — put him from fifth in the points to 10th, making the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader that much more important to him.
Hinchcliffe showed speed during the second practice session Friday afternoon, coming away with the third-fastest time in his No. 5 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He had a fast lap of 110.611 miles-per-hour, just behind Ryan Hunter-Reay — No. 28 Honda — who set the pace with a time of 110.791 mph and Scott Dixon’s 110.781 mph in the No. 9 Honda.
Hinchcliffe talked about the new aero kit package with the cars and what he expects this weekend. Qualifying will be Saturday morning for Race No. 1, which will be held that afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
John Niyo and Gregg Krupa preview the 2018 Detroit Grand Prix with IndyCar drivers Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Max Chilton. The Detroit News
“I think like everywhere we’ve seen with the less downforce it moves around a lot more, it bounces around a lot more, definitely a big handful around Belle Isle,” said Hinchcliffe, who was 21st fastest in the morning session before bouncing back in the afternoon.
“Obviously, we’re alright this afternoon. We had some problems with the brakes this morning and balance in general, so we were way at the bottom and big credit to the SPM guys. They kind of took a good look at it, got it figured out and got the car solidly in the top five for this afternoon.”
Hinchcliffe was heartbroken by not making the Indy 500 field, now needing a good showing for momentum heading into the rest of the season.
“Obviously with what happened last week we’re very motivated to come here and have a strong weekend to try and recover some of the points that we lost at Indy,” Hinchcliffe said.
And Hinchcliffe, a 31-year-old Canadian, feels that this is his second home track, aside from Toronto.
“Yes, it’s almost like a second home race," he said. "It’s great."
Hinchcliffe has enjoyed success on Belle Isle in past years, including a fifth-place showing in 2014 and a third-place finish in Race No. 2 last year.
Josef Newgarden of Team Penske was the top Chevrolet driver (110.463) and he was followed by Marco Andretti of Andretti Herta Autosport (110.415, Honda) and Graham Rahal (110.286, Honda), who swept both races of the doubleheader last year.
Speeds were supposed to be slower in the corners due to less downforce with the new aero kit package, but Rahal didn’t notice a big difference.
“Like Turn 1 and Turn 2 was still pretty darn fast in this car, and really the pace didn’t feel much different,” Rahal said. “You know, there are areas for sure it’s got less grip, Turn 9 and 10 and around the fountain area and stuff, it’s less grip. But it still seems pretty good.
“The concrete is pretty slippery here to get going, so you’re definitely sliding around a lot more. Mix in the car a little bit for sure, but overall I would say that the surface requires a lot more reaction.”
Said Hunter-Reay: “Anytime you come here, even if you’re happy with your car you feel like you’re sliding around. I think it’s just because of the concrete surface and sudden drop-off making this track so much smoother over the past four years and making it raceable where you have passing opportunities in the brake zones.
“I think, overall, here it’s just very tough to be accurate with the car lap after lap if the tires fall off because you’re sliding around so much. Placing the car accurately over a race is one of the most difficult things about Detroit.”
Ganassi's high praise for Penske
Chip Ganassi has been Roger Penske’s biggest rival the last few decades, a reason he has so much respect for what Penske has accomplished during his legendary career as a car owner.
Ganassi, who turned 60 last week, took a few minutes after the opening practice to talk about Penske, who won his 17th Indianapolis 500 last Sunday when Will Power reached Victory Lane.
Penske, the 81-year-old Bloomfield Hills businessman who is known in the racing world as “The Captain,” was also inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last week.
"Obviously, he’s setting the standard right now and we all need to catch up a little bit,” Ganassi said. “We have a lot of fun. We have a great rivalry. We keep each other honest, try to anyway. We enjoy a good relationship, but we enjoy beating each other too.”
When asked to comment on Penske’s Hall of Fame induction, Ganassi said: “Roger is obviously a candidate in the Hall of Fame of Life, let alone the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He’s set the standard Monday through Friday as well as Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you know referring to his business as well as this.”
Ganassi drivers have won 103 races, including four Indy 500s and 11 IndyCar series championships during his 29 years as an IndyCar owner. Dixon was his last series champion in 2015.
Penske drivers have won 141 races, 10 Indy 500s and seven IndyCar series championships since Ganassi became a car owner in the series in 1990. Penske drivers Power (2014), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Newgarden (2017) have earned series titles three of the last four years.
Ganassi and Penske are both car owners in the NASCAR series.
"Wherever we show up I've got to beat Penske and you know when you beat him you've done something," Ganassi said.
Ex-Wolverine gets chance to kiss bricks
Quinton Washington helped Team Penske win the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, then enjoying the celebration with Penske, Power and his wife, Liz, and the other crew members with the kissing of the bricks located at the start/finish line.
Washington, 28, played defensive tackle for the Wolverines and Brady Hoke earlier this decade when they played in a BCS bowl game, earning a win over Virginia Tech. He started 10 games in 2012, then another six in 2013.
Washington has been with Power’s team for four years, handling the fueling duties during the pit stops and having no problem since he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs nearly 270 pounds.
“It’s like the Rose Bowl of IndyCar, the biggest race of the series and around the world so it’s an exhilarating feeling winning that, being a part of that,” Washington said. “That’s one of the best feelings in the world, getting a chance to kiss the bricks. Not many people get the opportunity to do it.”
DETROIT GRAND PRIX
Where: Belle Isle
IndyCar: Dual IndyCar races on Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.; each day, 70 laps each
8:45 a.m. — Trans Am Series Race 1
10:05 a.m. — Super Truck Series Race 1
10:55 a.m. — IndyCar Series qualifying for Race 1
12:30 p.m. — IMSA SportsCar Championship
12:45 p.m. — IndyCar drivers’ autograph session
3:30 p.m. — IndyCar Series Race 1
5:45 p.m. — IndyCar Series post-race ceremonies
10:45 a.m. — IndyCar Series qualifying for Race 2
11:45 a.m. — Trans Am Series Race 2
2:05 p.m. — Super Truck Series Race 2
3:30 p.m. — IndyCar Series Race 2
5:45 p.m. — IndyCar Series post-race ceremonies