IndyCar: Detroit delivers after heavy pre-race criticism

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, Detroit, IndyCar (Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press)
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, Detroit, IndyCar (Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press) /

After 20 races on the streets of Belle Isle, IndyCar moved back across the Detroit River to take over the streets of downtown Detroit this weekend.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear is one of five street races on the 2023 IndyCar calendar. Coming in at 1.645 miles in length, it is the second shortest street course in series history.

The course features some of the tightest low-speed corners on the schedule, but the long straight between turn two and the turn three hairpin allowed the drivers to open things up.

A new street course meant that there were a lot of questions going into the weekend. Drivers were pushing the limits of the track to answer those questions during the three practice sessions.

The story of practice leading up to Saturday’s qualifying session was the drivers’ struggles to get a clean lap in. A mixture of traffic and learning the limits of a new course led to consistent yellow and red flags — and a lot of frustration.

Those practice sessions and the lack of clean runs within them led to plenty of driver criticism. Drivers were unhappy with how difficult the track was to get ahold of.

During the Peacock broadcast of Saturday’s qualifying session, several drivers compared the experience to what went down in year one of the Nashville race back in 2021.

Despite the slow practice sessions, IndyCar qualifying and race day in Detroit were largely successful. 

Qualifying on Saturday did not see the traffic that we so often get in IndyCar qualifying sessions. The sessions were also relatively incident-free. Once drivers had a clear track to work with, things seemed easier to navigate.

Whether the clean qualifying would translate to a clean race day remained to be seen. Once drivers got wheel to wheel, could they get out of the tight corners unscathed?

With the first green flag lap only coming on lap seven of 100 following two early yellows, things were not looking good. However, once things got underway, the racing was some of the best we’ve seen all year.

Yes, 32 of the 100 laps were run under caution. With a new street circuit, there will always be a learning curve. But by comparison, the 2021 Nashville race saw 33 of its 85 laps run under caution. So the Detroit race did not produce quite the level of carnage which some drivers had foreshadowed.

In the end, 19 of 27 cars finished on the lead lap. Earlier this season, the street course races in St. Petersburg and Long Beach both saw less, with 12 and 16, respectively.

As for the racing product, there were 10 total lead changes, while the races in St. Petersburg and Long Beach each had six. Drivers also passed for position a total of 142 times, matching the number in Long Beach and eclipsing the 128-tally set in St. Petersburg.

Amazingly, the split pit lane never came into play. During a season when pit lane has defined drivers’ weekends on several occasions, the split lanes could have been — interesting.

Coming off the heels of a great Indy 500, Sunday’s race wasn’t exactly set up for success. But in front of a sellout crowd, IndyCar delivered.

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There are only two more street course races on the 2023 calendar, one in Toronto on Sunday, July 16 and another in Nashville on Sunday, August 6.