Scott Dixon wins bizarre Belle Isle GP
DETROIT -- Leave it to the Izod IndyCar Series to turn a boring race into well, something completely different.
Approaching the halfway point of its scheduled 90-lap distance, the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was a parade, led from the start by Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Then came a two-hour red flag to repair a disintegrating track surface, sending most of the crowd estimated at 50,000 home. The race finally resumed at 6:53 p.m. for a 15-lap sprint, during which Dixon was again untouchable.
He earned his 28th career Indy car victory by 1.963 seconds over teammate Dario Franchitti, who made two places on each of the last two restarts and salvaged a rather miraculous second-place finish from what had been a terrible weekend.
Rookie Simon Pagenaud was third, completing a podium sweep for Honda at archrival Chevrolet's home race, while IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power dropped from second to fourth place in the restarted segment.
Franchitti moved from sixth to second during the final 15-lap segment but had no answer for Dixon.
"That's two weeks in a row I've been angry after qualifying, for very different reasons," Franchitti said. "We had to go off strategy a bit. I tried to get Dixie on the last restart, but he was in a class by himself this weekend. That was a pretty impressive performance, and he deserves it."
The Target Ganassi teammates moved up to second and fourth place in the IndyCar Series championship as Dixon's feast-or-famine season continued.
The 2008 IndyCar champion claimed his first win to go along with a trio of second places and a pair of DNFs.
"That was a nice way to come back," Dixon related. "The last two weekends have been a big jump for us in the championship and for our team morale. Hopefully we can ride a bit of a wave.
"Will's still got a 30-something-point lead," he added. "But hopefully we can work with Honda to keep pushing him."
Dixon's sternest challenge came over the last few laps from his teammate, but he was able to pull away to a relatively unchallenged win.
"I really don't know where Dario came from, and I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " Dixon said. "Then there was a rain shower -- I almost spun and I took my hands off the wheel at Turn 7 when I thought I had lost it. If I could have gotten my gloves off I probably would have chewed all the way through what's left of my nails. I'm just glad we were able to get the finish in."
In its 30-year history with Formula One and Indy cars, Detroit GP has served up some strange circumstances before -- remember the Mario and Michael Andretti crashing into a safety truck during the 1989 race on the original downtown street circuit?
"This feels a little different," said Michael Andretti, who is now team owner for Hinchcliffe. "I feel bad for him. I can't ever remember anything like this happening before -- big holes. But stuff like this happens."
It's a shame what happened, but it's nothing you can plan for. We need to focus on the positives. It was a sold-out event with a lot of enthusiastic fans, and I can guarantee you the same problem won't happen again next year.” -- Scott Dixon
Hinchcliffe's car tore a 12-inch chunk of asphalt out of the track, and when several other entries reported damage to bodywork or suspension components, INDYCAR officials quickly realized the surface was breaking up at several points on the circuit.
Baseball-sized chunks of pavement were showered into a trackside chalet at Turn 9, where AutoWeek magazine was entertaining guests.
"I've never seen anything quite like this, and I don't know what they are going to do," Hinchcliffe said. "We had these big pieces of tar just sort of ripping up from Lap 5. It launched the front end of the car in the air and I was just a passenger at that point."
Hinchcliffe's teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay said he hit a huge piece of asphalt as early as Lap 18 when he drove off line in an attempt to pass EJ Viso.
"I hit something that felt like a wheel almost -- it was huge," said Hunter-Reay, who finished seventh. "Next time I came around it was popped up at a 90-degree angle. You didn't want to go anywhere near it."
The damaged track contributed to the accidents involving Hinchcliffe and Sato, and finally brought out the red flag. Organizers quickly filled the holes with a fast-drying compound similar to what was used at Daytona International Speedway earlier this year after a fire damaged the track surface. The repairs to the track worked as hoped at Detroit and there were no further problems in the final 15 laps.
"I've got to take my hat off to Bud Denker and the Penske organization for fixing the track," Franchitti said. "It was absolutely the right decision for race control to stop the race when they did, and the track was definitely in a safe condition for the end."
Roger Penske, who was instrumental in reviving the Detroit GP after an economy-induced three-year absence, said: "To me, this is a bump in the road we didn't expect."
Even without the lengthy delay, the race itself was certainly no work of art for INDYCAR. The lack of exciting action can be put down to the Belle Isle temporary circuit, which features no long straights or obvious passing zones with 14 corners spread over just 2.1 miles.
But as an overall event, the revived Detroit GP must be viewed as a success, with large enthusiastic crowds on Saturday and Sunday, when all 30,000 grandstand seats were sold.
"It's a shame what happened, but it's nothing you can plan for," Dixon said. "We need to focus on the positives. It was a sold-out event with a lot of enthusiastic fans, and I can guarantee you the same problem won't happen again next year."