With the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 now in the memory books, the Verizon IndyCar Series rolls into the remainder of the 2015 campaign with its only doubleheader weekend event next on the docket. After hosting as many as three doubleheader weekends during a season (Detroit, Houston, Toronto), there is now just one with the Chevrolet Duel in Detroit at the Raceway at Belle Isle street circuit.
The questions entering the weekend are simple. Can Juan Pablo Montoya ride the wave of momentum from his second Indy triumph into his first American open wheel championship since 1999? Will Australian Will Power bounce back from his near miss at the Brickyard and re-claim the upper hand in the fight for his second consecutive IndyCar title? And can Honda make up for a lack of performance to make a dent in the dominant form shown by Chevrolet through the first six races? With the event in Motown being the last quasi-double points race weekend until the season closer in the Sonoma Wine Country in California, these two races on Saturday and Sunday could play a role in the path the championship chase takes up to Labor Day weekend.
Montoya, who also won the season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, takes a 25-point lead into the first leg of the doubleheader in Detroit, yet the tight and twisty 2.35 mile circuit has not been a place of success for the Colombian. Despite competing for both Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Montoya’s best effort at Belle Isle to date was a 12th place effort in the first half of the doubleheader one year ago. The second race in the 2014 edition was just as off pace when he placed 13th. In contrast, while Montoya stumbled, Power at Detroit last year was dominant, winning the opening race on Saturday and then backing it up with a second place finish in the Sunday leg. In fact the reigning series champion has placed eighth or better in four of his five efforts in Detroit to date.
Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who is currently third in the points table has also had his moments in Detroit, claiming a win here in 2012. The New Zealander also has already one score on his street circuit hard card entering rounds seven and eight, having outrun the Penske cars last month in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. While both Montoya and Power claimed a race win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, Dixon had less luck. The Target-backed driver started on the front row in both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 500-mile race, however contact in the former on the first lap ended his charge in the Grand Prix, while in the main course Dixon settled for fourth despite leading 89 of the 200 laps. Such results should only make the Iceman much hungrier with two chances to pounce this weekend.
One Ganassi driver that did strike gold in May was Charlie Kimball, who has vaulted to eighth on the table after earning top fives in both Indy events. Kimball, who suffers from Type I Diabetes could provide a great deal of exposure for the Verizon IndyCar Series, a circuit that is in need of star American drivers, if he can continue his current string of success. Another American who is also making noise in a positive way is Graham Rahal, who has led the way for the Honda challenge against the Chevrolet powerhouse. Rahal has finished fifth or better in the last three rounds and is only two points behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves for fourth in the standings.
Also looking to turn recent fortunes around this weekend are CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden who sneaked into the top ten for the first time ever at the Indy 500, while Marco Andretti’s run in the 500 was a far cry from the difficult start he has stumbled through to start the season. Opportunity is also abound in the Motor City for Conor Daly, who replaces James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a team that earned their maiden IndyCar Series victory with Simon Pagenaud in 2013. Daly essentially gets a redo in Detroit, after seeing his second career start in the Indy 500 end before the green flag was even waved due to a fuel leak-induced fire.
However, whoever is to be successful in Motown this weekend, must be able to have a good grid position as overtaking has proved difficult despite the inclusion of a second long straightaway in recent years.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for updates throughout the weekend.