IndyCar’s experiment with doubleheaders gets its big test in Detroit on the weekend, and the jury is still out on whether it’s a good idea.
So far, there are three camps. Some drivers and owners have been skeptical, while others are in favour of the new plan. There are also some who are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Sam Schmidt driver Simon Pagenaud.
“There are a lot of points available, obviously. Detroit is a race track I really enjoy being at, driving on. So, yeah, it should be an interesting weekend.”
The drivers will also have two-for-one races in Toronto in July, and then when the series puts on its inaugural event in Houston in October. Doubleheaders were the idea of now ex-IndyCar boss Randy Bernard, who came up with the format as a way to have more races in fewer stops, as well as reduce costs.
With the two-in-one weekends, IndyCar can have a 19-race season at only 16 venues. It also means that the series can claim to have two races in Canada, even if both happen on the Exhibition Place street circuit in Toronto.
IndyCar had a second Canadian stop in recent years in Edmonton where the cars raced on a temporary circuit at its City Centre Airport. Unfortunately, the race proved to be a money loser for the promoter, who pulled the plug after last year’s race.
Drivers expressing reservations about the two-race weekends, include Oakville, Ont.’s James Hinchcliffe. The No. 27 Go Daddy driver for Andretti Autosport isn’t the only experienced road racer to be concerned. Former Formula One driver Justin Wilson, now with the Dale Coyne outfit, is also in the hesitant camp.
Many in the paddock seem lukewarm to the idea because they feel the format promises to be tough on drivers and crew, who must complete two qualifying sessions and then two full race distances in three days.
Eponymous team owner Roger Penske, who is also the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix promoter, shrugged off any suggestion that it would be a difficult weekend.
“You know the NASCAR guys run Nationwide on Saturday and do Cup [the next day] without a problem,” he said in an interview at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Indy 500 weekend last week.
“The drivers have to run 500 miles here [in the Indianapolis 500] – they can certainly run 250 on Saturday and 250 on Sunday.”
The doubleheader weekend in Detroit will have the usual knockout qualifying session on Friday where the pole sitter will be decided in the final Fast Six round. There will be a second qualifying session on Saturday morning where the field will be broken into two groups and placed on the grid for Sunday’s race according to their best times in the one session. A few hours after qualifying is done on Saturday, the teams will complete the first race. On Sunday, they will cap off the weekend with the second full-distance event.
One of the big goals for the drivers and teams on these weekends will be avoiding crash damage, which will become a critical part of getting through the doubleheader with a good points haul. With a maximum of 100 points up for grabs (50 per race win), an ill-timed accident could prove disastrous.
So, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that the drivers will take it a bit easy in the two qualifying sessions and perhaps even the first race on Saturday to ensure they don’t get caught up in any incidents and lose valuable points as a result.
“The biggest thing is if you crash in qualifying, then you can’t really go racing,” said Pagenaud.
“It’s going to be very important to take as much risk as possible without crashing the car because that would be quite dramatic on the event itself.”
The crashes that usually happen on street courses like Detroit and Toronto can be costly in both time and equipment. With concrete walls lining most of the circuits, any mistake can end in disaster and leave crews to rebuild a car from the wheels up. Should a crash happen in Saturday qualifying in Detroit, the team’s mechanics would have only a few hours to put their Dallara back together.
The only break the drivers get in Detroit is that the doubleheader starts will be 20 laps shorter than the 90 they were slated to complete when it was a single event last year, although the total number rings in at an extra 50 laps over the previous race distance.
On the other hand, having two races should help the gate.
“It’s great for the promoter – it’s going to be a home run for us in Detroit,” said Penske.
“If we can race twice a weekend, why not? We are there and sit around most of the time so having two races just makes it that much more fun.”
The City of Windsor also hopes to share in the spoils after becoming a partner in the Detroit event earlier this year. There will be shuttles taking fans across the Canada-U.S. border for the two races.
DTM Back in action
Canadians Bruno Spengler and Robert Wickens will be back on track in Austria this weekend in their respective Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) cars in the third stop of their 10-race season.
Defending champion Spengler hopes to extend his points scoring streak to nine consecutive races going back to last year.
BMW driver Spengler scored podiums in the first two races and is only one point behind early championship leader Mike Rockenfeller of the Audi squad who has 29. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Although he took a season-high four wins last year, Spengler hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium so far in 2013.
On the other hand, Wickens would like to add a second podium to his first career top-3 DTM finish scored two weeks ago on the English Brands Hatch circuit where he finished third. Mercedes driver Wickens is eighth in points with 15.
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