IndyCar doubleheader returns to Belle Isle on June 11-13, joined by Indy Lights, IMSA

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Bud Denker can’t wait to kick off summer with the running of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader on Belle Isle June 11-13 after an absence of the NTT IndyCar series event last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can bet his boss, legendary Bloomfield Hills businessman Roger Penske, feels the same way.

The Detroit Grand Prix will return to Belle Isle on June 11-13.

The IndyCar series will showcase 70-lap races on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course on consecutive days June 12 (Saturday) and 13 (Sunday), with both races televised nationally by NBC.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Indy Lights series also will have races with Indy Lights — competing on Belle Isle for the first time since 2012 — holding races on Saturday and Sunday, opening the day’s schedule each day with IndyCar races to follow, capped off by the IMSA event on Saturday evening.

“It was a tough year last year all around, motorsports and sports all around,” said Denker, who is president of Penske Corporation and the race director of the Detroit Grand Prix. 

“ ... When you think 750 people at a Red Wings game, 8,000 for a Tigers game," Denker said, "I’m excited that fans will be back, so I’m excited to get these events, whether it be the Tigers, the Grand Prix back to Detroit to feel some sense of normalcy and celebrate Belle Isle, to celebrate our downtown.

“The only unknown for us, as you can imagine, is how many fans we can have. We don’t know that because of the state’s requirement. We’re working with the state to understand that. We do know the Tigers are 20%, and the good news for us is we’re an outdoor event, have 2.4 miles of area that encompasses, so we’re not jammed together.”

The IMSA series was supposed to be held the previous weekend on Belle Isle to allow teams and drivers the opportunity to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but that race in Le Mans, France, has been delayed to August, allowing the IMSA drivers to join Indy Lights and IndyCar series for a five-race weekend.

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (Race 1) and Scott Dixon (Race 2) of Chip Ganassi Racing earned wins in the IndyCar doubleheader in 2019, with Newgarden winning the series championship in 2019 and Dixon in 2020, his sixth series title.

The IndyCar series opens April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Indianapolis 500 set for May 30.

Denker feels like things are getting closer to normal.

“There’s a sense of normalcy back in my life, back to traveling again, traveling to Georgia tomorrow, was on the plane a couple of times earlier this week so we’re back to doing what we do," Denker said.

“Earlier this week I was in Colorado and Indianapolis of course, we go to Indy once a week, Roger and I for preparations for the (Indy) 500. We’ve never been off work. We’ve been here in the office since June 8. We’re probably one of the only companies in America I think that’s done that because we consider ourselves essential because we’re out there with our trucks, servicing cars and selling cars and doing business.”

Denker says Penske, 84, is at the office "every day."

“He’s the strongest guy here," Denker said, "the Energizer bunny, always going. This morning at 7:30 we were in here for a meeting on a Zoom call until 10. Then met again until noon and have another Zoom call this afternoon at 4:30.

“From the first day of COVID last year we haven’t missed one day. We were in here the throngs of March, April and May, and every day we met in the conference room. Back then we were concerned with liquidly, concerned about our business, our people. We furloughed 59% of our workforce around the world in April and May. That’s tens of thousands of people and have now brought most of them back. We have about 10% less than we had pre-COVID, become more efficient.”

Penske also opened Indianapolis Motor Speedway to vaccinations.

“We’re opening the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway up April 1, and we’re going to vaccinate 100,000 people in 15 days,” Denker said. “You never get out of your car, you drive through the Formula One garages. We have 20 Formula One garages. You drive in, put the window down. You have four people in a car, four people get shots and you keep going. It’s also Johnson & Johnson, where you need just one shot.

“We did 16,000 two weeks ago at the Speedway to try it out. Four thousand a day, all drive through, eight minutes a person coming through. You never got out of your car. Registered in advance. The governor said it worked so well, just announced it yesterday that beginning April 1, we’re going to do 100,000 over 15 days. He’s also lowered the age effective March 31 to 16 and older, like we’re doing here on April 5th to 16 and over and that’s going to help a ton.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com