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Two-time Detroit Grand Prix winner Graham Rahal and four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears preview the Indy 500 and the doubleheader races on Belle Isle. The Detroit News

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Detroit – Scott Dixon is one of the most respected drivers in IndyCar, with five series championships, including 2018.

Dixon, who drives the No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, returns to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix this week as one of the defending champions, winning Race 1 last year on Belle Isle’s 2.3-mile street course.

He had a runnerup finish on the island in 2017 and a pair of fourth-place finishes in 2013 – the first year of the doubleheader – when he went on to win the series title.

Honda drivers have owned Belle Isle recently, with Graham Rahal sweeping both races in 2017, followed by Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) taking the checkered flag last year.

“I’m always excited to be here,” said Dixon, 38, on Thursday during the Detroit Grand Prix media luncheon at the Roostertail restaurant. “Last year was a good Race 1 for us. We kind of slipped up a little bit in Race 2.

“Detroit is fun. (Drivers) either like it or they don’t, and I really enjoy it. It’s a fun format. It’s definitely pretty grueling for the teams and everybody involved, and also hard coming off the back of the Indy 500, but it is what it is.”

It was two years ago when Dixon limped into Detroit after experiencing a horrific crash in the Indianapolis 500 where his car went airborne before coming down on the inside wall after failing to avoid Jay Howard’s car, which hit the outside wall and careened down the track into Dixon.

Remarkably, Dixon finished second in one race on Belle Isle the following weekend.

“It’s been a good track for us,” Dixon said. “The last couple of years have been interesting. Graham dominated in ’17 with the two race wins, but I think that’s what everybody tries to come here to do, win both of them.”

More: Detroit Grand Prix continues to build on impressive history

More: Graham Rahal, Detroit double winner in 2017, eager to return to Victory Lane

Dixon was the first driver in IndyCar series history to sweep both ends of a doubleheader when he won both races at Toronto in 2013.

IndyCar showcased a new aero kit package last year and Dixon’s team made a smooth transition with nine podium finishes (top-three spots), including wins at Detroit, Texas and Toronto.

“I think we were pretty consistent,” Dixon said of the 2018 season. “We still only had three race wins, but the field was pretty tight. I think where we really capitalized was the days that were quite bad. If you take the Indy road course, for instance, we qualified 18th or 19th but were still able to be really fast in the race and pass our way to second. That’s where I think you’ll see, and have in the past, championships have strictly been won in that fashion. Some years it’s meant to be and last year was one of those.”

Dixon has more wins (43) than any active driver in the series but is still searching for his first win this season, losing a lead late in the Indy Grand Prix earlier this month to Simon Pagenaud, who went on to win not only that race, but also the Indy 500.

Dixon, who was 17th at Indy, is fifth in points with three runnerup finishes.

Honda drivers had won three of the first four races of the season, including then-18-year-old rookie Colton Herta in Austin, before Pagenaud’s sweep at Indianapolis.

“The last two years we’ve had some pretty spectacular batches,” said Dixon of the rookies in IndyCar. “(Robert) Wickens last year was definitely outstanding and I think this year with Felix (Ganassi teammate Rosenqvist) and with (Colton) Herta.

“Herta has been strong out of the box. It’s great for competition, but also for the sport and the future of it too, especially with kids like Colton because it’s a legacy thing with his dad (Warren native Bryan, a two-time Indy 500 champion car owner). It’s a very well-known name. He’s got a lot of talent. He has a very bright future so it’s good to see.”

Colton Herta finished eighth in the season opener at St. Petersburg, then won the second race of the year at Austin, but has suffered multiple DNFs since, including an early exit in the Indy 500.

Rosenqvist already has four top-10 finishes, including a fourth at St. Petersburg.

Santino Ferrucci, who turns 21 Friday, has enjoyed three top-10 finishes during his first full season with Dale Coyne Racing, putting on a strong showing in the Indy 500 (seventh place). Ferrucci was a substitute driver on Belle Isle last year while filling in for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi, finishing 22nd in Race 1 and 20th in Race 2.

Wickens had an outstanding rookie season last year, earning four podium finishes and finishing eighth and sixth on Belle Isle before suffering a terrible crash at Pocono, where he broke both legs and revealed himself as being paralyzed from the chest down.

“I think he’s on the road to recovery,” said Dixon of Wickens, who hopes to not only walk again, but also race again. “I spent some time with him out in Colorado and his training is intense. I’ve never seen anybody work harder than him. He’s an amazing talent, immensely strong as a person.”

Detroit Grand Prix highlights

FRIDAY

7:30 a.m. – Gates open

7:45 a.m. – Trans Am Series Practice 1

8:30 a.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Practice 1

11 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Practice 1

Noon – Trans Am Series Practice 2

12:50 p.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Practice 2

3 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Practice 2

4:30 p.m. – Trans Am Series Race 1 qualifying

5:15 p.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

SATURDAY

8 a.m. – Gates open

9:15 a.m. – Trans Am Series Race 1

10:45 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 1 qualifying

11:45 a.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship open grid fan walk (pit lane)

12:30 p.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Race

12:45 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series drivers autograph session (Firestone Fan Village within Meijer Fan Zone)

3:30 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 1

6 p.m. – Frankie Ballard concert (Entertainment Stage within Meijer Fan Zone)

SUNDAY

8 a.m. – Gates open

10 a.m. – Trans Am Series drivers autograph session (Heritage Exhibit Tent)

10:45 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 2 qualifying 

11:45 a.m. – Trans Am Series Race 2

1 p.m. – Stone Temple Pilots concert (Entertainment Stage within Meijer Fan Zone)

2 p.m. – 30th Detroit Grand Prix celebration activities

3:30 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 2

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