Commentary

Dual in Detroit uncharted territory

Originally Published: May 31, 2013
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Like the other doubleheader weekends on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit was born somewhat out of necessity.

With former INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard publicly promising 19 races for 2013 and facing a lack of interested venues, the series created three doubleheader weekends with full-length IndyCar Series races on both Saturday and Sunday. Toronto (July 13-14) and Houston (Oct. 5-6) are the other twin-bill weekends on the slate.

Both of the Detroit races will be televised by ABC, with the broadcast starting at 3:30 p.m. ET each day.

Two races in a day or a weekend is not new to the IndyCar Series; twin short races were held 30-40 years ago at tracks such as Michigan and Atlanta, and the concept was revived as recently as 2011, when a pair of half-length races were staged on the same evening at Texas Motor Speedway.

[+] EnlargeMarco Andretti
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesMarco Andretti enters this weekend's Dual in Detroit as the IndyCar Series points leader.

But this is believed to be the first time that two full-length IndyCar races will be contested on consecutive days. The 70-lap, 164-mile Detroit races are expected to last approximately two hours.

A number of procedural twists are being introduced for the doubleheader format. After a single practice session on Friday morning, standard Firestone Fast Six qualifying will take place Friday afternoon.

Qualifying for the second race will actually occur before the first race is run -- during a Saturday morning open qualifying session, with the field split into two groups and 12 minutes of track time for each.

Although it will not be used at Detroit, a standing start for Race 1 will be introduced at Toronto and Houston.

The doubleheader format is a journey into the unknown for drivers and teams. After recent repaving and surface work, the 2.346-mile temporary course should be less bumpy than in the past, but it still promises to be a physical challenge to the drivers. And instead of having a week for their muscles -- arm and neck, in particular -- to recover, they'll have less than 24 hours before they have to do it all over again.

"Physically it's going to be a very challenging race weekend," said second-year driver Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. "There's so much that you need to do as a driver to prepare for one race, and I think that two races just makes it even more difficult with hydration levels, sleep and preparation.

"The great thing is that we get to run two races, which normally we don't get to do," he added. "I think it'll be fun for everyone involved. I always loved running two races as a junior driver."

One group less excited about the doubleheader format: the crews, who will have to go through race-prep procedures twice in the space of 24 hours. The saving grace is that with new engines installed for all competitors last week for the Indianapolis 500, no engine changes are scheduled during the Detroit weekend.

"There are a lot of challenges for the teams and drivers physically," Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal said. "However, I feel it's nothing but positive for the fans. I really hope they all enjoy the show we will put on, and most of all feel they are getting their money's worth."

[+] EnlargeScott Dixon
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesGanassi Racing's Scott Dixon dominated the 2012 Belle Isle race, which was cut short when the track surface broke up.

Rahal's father, Bobby Rahal, won the first Indy car race on the Belle Isle circuit in 1992. The race fell off the CART-sanctioned Indy car series schedule following the 2001 season, but was brought back to life under IRL sanction in 2007, with none other than Roger Penske as the promoter.

Even Penske's presence and his attempts to use the Belle Isle event as a way to revitalize Detroit were not enough to weather the economic crisis, so after two years, the race was shelved again until last year.

That 2012 race was memorable for the wrong reasons, dominated by Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon and called to a halt at two-thirds of the scheduled distance because the track surface broke up.

For the second time since he brought the event back in 2007, Penske paid for major renovations to Belle Isle, resurfacing major parts of the track that also serve as public roads in the park the rest of the year. As part of the track upgrades, INDYCAR is reverting to an extended version of the track (2.346 versus 2.1 miles) that was originally used from 1998-2001.

The new layout adds a longer straightaway between Turns 2 and 3 and eliminates a fiddly series of corners that tended to stack the field up.

"It's going to lead to some good racing with more passing, which is exactly what we need at this track," said Team Penske's Will Power. "The racing should be even tighter this year."

After competing for the IndyCar Series championship the past few years, Power finds himself embroiled in a 16-race winless slump and 14th in the standings, 79 points behind series leader Marco Andretti.

Power isn't the only former heavyweight struggling in 2013, as four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti is even further back, ranking 17th.

With a double helping of points on offer, a big weekend in Detroit could vault either of those drivers back into championship contention.

"I'm not sure any of us know what to expect in Detroit this weekend -- this will be a first for everyone, really," said defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished third in last week's Indy 500 and is fourth in the 2013 standings.

"It's two full races for two sets of points … a long weekend, but there are 100 points on the line, and we need to capitalize and get as many as we can for the DHL Chevy."