Randy Bernard may have been ousted as CEO of IndyCar after last season but part of his legacy lives on in the first of this season’s doubleheader race weekends. The Dual in Detroit may not have resulted in the track on Belle Isle being literally torn up as it was in last year’s race but the cars certainly were torn up after Sunday’s race.
Let’s start with a look at Saturday’s leg of the doubleheader. The race started with EJ Viso on his first career pole after Dario Franchitti took a ten-spot grid penalty after an engine change during Indy 500 practice. However, Viso wouldn’t even lead the field into turn one as Mike Conway caught him napping and took the lead around the outside.
Further back in the field, AJ Allmendinger went for a ride over the back of Scott Dixon’s car in what would be a rarity for this race but not Allmendinger this weekend. While this caution on the first lap might normally have indicated a sign of things to come for a street race, this was a fairly clean race with only three cautions. The second caution was for debris. The third caution was the most exciting as Marco Andretti bumped Sebastian Saavedra into the wall and received a double bird for his troubles.
The racing in the mid-pack was exciting with Scott Dixon carving his way through the field after having to replace his rear-wing due to Allmendinger removing it. There was also an epic battle over the latter stages of the race for third place between Dixon, Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves. At the front, though, passing was a result of pit and tire strategy. Ryan Hunter-Reay got by Conway at one point as the pair went on alternate strategies. RHR did his middle stint on reds while Conway was on blacks. This allowed RHR to take off early in the stint but lose all his speed and the lead to Conway as the reds fell off. As the final round of stops cycled through, Conway stormed out into the lead and was never to be seen again.
Conway’s win was in only his second start of the season. He ran for Rahal at Long Beach and was drafted into Dale Coyne for this weekend. His performance this weekend is likely to earn him a look from someone else this season. Hunter-Reay held onto 2nd place. And Justin Wilson fought a tooth and nail battle to score the final step on the podium to put both Coyne cars on the podium.
Scott Dixon finished 4th but was right on Wilson’s gearbox. Castroneves and Franchitti followed in 5th and 6th, respectively. Josef Newgarden showed that his Sao Paulo performance wasn’t a fluke by finishing 7th. Will Power’s winless year continued with an 8th. The Rahal boys rounded out the top ten with Graham Rahal leading James Jakes home.
Race two started as race one ended though it was by coincidence rather than design. Mike Conway started on pole for the Sunday race after scoring the pole in race two qualifying on Saturday morning. It was both Conway and Dale Coyne Racing’s first pole positions.
As with Saturday’s race, the 2nd place starter got the jump on the polesitter with Will Power getting the early lead on Conway. Also similar to the first round of the doubleheader, AJ Allmendinger couldn’t complete a single lap of the track. This time he put it in the wall at Turn 2 which ended his day.
On the restart, Conway got by Power and tried to set sail into the distance. The only problem was that this race was littered with cautions. On lap 10, Simona de Silvestro hit the wall after suffering a tire puncture. The subsequent restart on Lap 14 saw Ed Carpenter run into the back of Alex Tagliani to bring out the third caution which only lasted a lap. There was a debris caution on Lap 20. Takuma Sato brought out the 5th caution on Lap 24 when he was knocked into the wall by Tristian Vautier.
The last caution of the race was on Lap 28 but it was also the biggest caution of the race. Heading into Turn One on the restart, Sebastian Bourdais spun Will Power in front of the field and the resulting stack-up basically blocked the track and saw ten cars receive some damage. Power was less than impressed with Bourdais’ driving and had to be physically restrained by the safety crew so Power had to settle for throwing his gloves at the Frenchman’s car.
For the first third of the race, it was all Conway but cautions threw his planned pit strategy for a loop. Having to pit under that 6th caution, Conway fell well back in the field and lost his lead to Tony Kanaan. As pitstops cycled through, Simon Pagenaud was the big winner on the day as he got out front and stormed away from the field.
Pagenaud’s victory was another win for the increasing unpredictability of IndyCar. It was his first career win and the first win for Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports in the IndyCar Series. Conway came home in third after being hounded and passed by James Jakes who scored his career best finish with a 2nd in the second half of the doubleheader.
Scott Dixon didn’t have to claw his way from the back to the front on Sunday but still only managed to finish 4th. Teammate Dario Franchitti completed the Honda sweep of the top five by finishing 5th. Marco Andretti was the top Chevy man in 6th. Charlie Kimball led at one point but could only manage a 7th. Helio Castroneves took over the points lead this weekend though he fell back into a tie with Andretti after his 8th on Sunday. Graham Rahal swept 9th place on the weekend which isn’t something to be excited about but it beats being AJ Allmendinger. And Sebastian Saavedra avoided Marco Andretti en route to rounding out the Top Ten.
It looks like the owners and Chevrolet will get their wish as IndyCar will implement aero kits for all races starting in 2015. This is part of IndyCar’s new innovation timeline that was announced this weekend by President of Competition Derrick Walker.
The innovation plan starts next season with engine tweaks allowed to level the playing field in addition to the start of aero kit introduction. As noted, aero kits are deployed in full force in 2015 along with a redesigned undertray to reduce the potential for lift. As 2016 is the year of the 100th Indy 500, engine and tire development work will be undertaken to push cars to the 237 MPH qualifying speed mark to set a new track record. Both 2017 and 2018 are earmarked for incremental developments of aerodynamics and engines.
The fun really kicks in for the 2019 season which is the earliest that IndyCar would consider launching a new chassis and engine formula. That means that the DW12 could last us at least seven seasons. That’s not a particularly bad thing given how racy it is. I’m just a little worried about the chassis showing its age at that point in time. After all, the old Dallara IR-03 chassis was very long in the tooth by the time it was retired after the 2011 season.
The next round of the 2013 IndyCar Series is just a few days away as the ICS teams hit the track for a super speedway Saturday night race. It’s a return to the Texas Motor Speedway for the Firestone 550. Last year’s race was a very unique affair thanks to the new aerodynamic configuration that saw drivers having to really work their cars for the length of the race. As such, road course specialist Justin Wilson was able to take the win in an absolutely fantastic race.
We’ve only had one oval race this season so we don’t have a very solid idea of what to expect this weekend. However, we know that Honda isn’t dead after they swept the weekend in Detroit. I think that we’ll finally see a Penske or Ganassi win since they’re due to win one race at this point of the season. They make up just over 20% of the car count so they should win one of every five races. We’re now on Round 8 without a win. Statistically, they have to win soon.