Conway Leads Coyne 1-3 To Win Detroit Round 1

Photo: Marshall Pruett

The drivers who bet on Reds–Firestone’s Red alternate tires–early today in Detroit wished they put their money on black.

And the gamble, taken by Dale Coyne Racing on which tires to use (and when) with race winner Mike Conway, was nothing short of brilliant.

’s rule that mandates each driver must complete laps on both Red and Black tires during a race left teams with a few options to choose from heading into the first of the weekend’s doubleheaders, and in hindsight–and leading into Sunday’s race–there’s now one clear strategy to follow.

The Reds showed a steep decline in performance after just a few laps, creating the possibility for some to start on Reds, to run slow on that stint, and charge to the finish during the final two stints on Blacks.

The most popular option proved to be a sequence of running Blacks/Reds/Blacks, giving up the middle section of the race, while very few, including Conway, opted to go like hell during the first two stints on Blacks while trying to build a giant lead and deal with the recalcitrant Reds in the sprint to the checkered flag.

That call by DCR strategist/engineer John Dick was, as most drivers realized during the race, the only way to go.

Firestone’s Black primary tires were as much as 1.5 seconds per lap faster than Reds which helped Conway–the former full-time IndyCar driver making a one-off for DCR–to take complete command of the event as he scored the team’s third win in its fourth decade of competition.

Conway’s Blacks, along with inch-perfect driving delivered on a moment’s notice, allowed him to lead most of the first 55 laps of the 70-lap race, and when he did bolt on Reds to close out the race, the major drop off in performance that sunk so many other drivers never materialized.

It was a perfect drive matched with perfect strategy.

“I can’t thank Dale enough for making this possible,” said Conway, who will start tomorrow’s Race 2 from pole. “They’ve given me a great car all weekend. The car was amazing on the blacks and even on the Reds. Amazing pace and great job from the crew guys.”

The Briton, who won the 2011 Long Beach Grand Prix for Andretti Autosport, held as much as 20 seconds over Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay on his way to a 12.9-second victory over the reigning IndyCar champion, while his DCR teammate Justin Wilson rounded out the podium.

With a massive lead built on Blacks, Conway maintained much of the gap he amassed on Reds–even as RHR used his Blacks to draw down that gap in the closing laps, but the American couldn’t extract the same level of speed from the primaries that Conway found.

“The DHL Chevy was great but the middle stint on Reds…we just fell out of it,” said RHR. “We were as quick as [Conway] on Blacks; we were reeling him in on Blacks and were pulling him in by about two seconds (per lap) at the end but he was too fast. It’s obvious the backs are better.”

Wilson, starting back in 16th, worked his usual magic to climb up the running order, but had to hold on in the final laps as a charging Scott Dixon nearly took third across the start/finish line.

“It was tough,” said Wilson. “Scott was coming fast and I knew he was good. I just tried to hit my marks and make sure I didn’t make a mistake. He had a couple of runs on me, and I just tried to position my car in the middle of the road so it made it harder for him to pass. I was just sliding around there at the end. It was good fun. I’m really pleased for Mike to get the win. It’s great to get Dale Coyne Racing 1-3 on the podium, both cars there.”
Dixon led Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in fifth and his teammate Dario Franchitti in sixth.

Like Conway, Dixon’s drive was nothing short of brilliant as the Kiwi made multiple pit stops in the first few laps to have repairs made after Penske’s AJ Allmendinger rode over the rear of his car and flew into the barriers.

“I [went] to the back of the field there twice and had to drive through it,” said the Ganassi Racing driver. “Tough day, tough weekend for qualifying. At least we start 10 or 12 spots further up tomorrow so we should be looking good.”

Allmendinger, who was uninjured in the crash but appeared to damage his thumb while climbing over the fence to safety, will race tomorrow and served as the only serious accident of the day.

“I jammed it once I tried to clear the fence there,” he said. “I had guys on both sides of me. I had Scott Dixon in front of me; it’s my fault. I feel bad. We’ll try again tomorrow and hopefully it’s good enough. I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden improved the most positions on Saturday, hauling his No 67 from 24th to seventh.

“Not a bad day,” he said. “We had a strong car. I think we need to probably tweak it a little bit before tomorrow. We did a great job from where we started and the team had great pit stops and a killer strategy, so well be trying to work really hard tomorrow to replicate that.”

In addition to Allmendinger, Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Saavedra and Barracuda Racing’s Alex Tagliani also found the wall, ending their respective days but without the scary visuals or extreme impact. Saavedra, taking a page from Team Penske’s Will Power, was shown giving Marco Andretti–the driver he blamed for punting him into the wall–the double bird while standing trackside as the Andretti Autosport driver circulated under caution.

And with Hondas finishing 1-3, 4, 6-7, 9-12, the Japanese manufacturer eased some of its pain by winning the Chevy-sponsored race after losing the Indy 500 to the Bowtie Brigade. Honda also won the 2012 Detroit race–sponsored by Chevy–with Scott Dixon.

So far in 2013, Chevy won both Honda-sponsored races at St. Pete and Barber, creating a fun bit of additional rivalry between the brands.

Round 2 from Detroit kicks off on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Results Saturday of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit #1 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.35-mile Raceway at Belle Isle Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (2) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
2. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
3. (16) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
4. (15) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
5. (12) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
6. (11) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
7. (24) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
8. (9) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
9. (23) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
10. (3) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
11. (6) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
12. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
13. (19) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
14. (25) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
15. (20) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
16. (17) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
17. (1) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
18. (22) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
19. (7) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 68, Running
20. (18) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 67, Running
21. (21) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 66, Contact
22. (10) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 32, Contact
23. (5) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 28, Contact
24. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 19, Mechanical
25. (13) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 90.753
Time of Race: 01:48:45.4309
Margin of victory: 12.9707
Cautions: 3 for 14 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Conway 1-23, Hunter-Reay 24-43, Conway 44-52, Wilson 53-55, Conway 56-70

Point Standings: Castroneves 182, Hunter-Reay 179, Andretti 178, Sato 168, Wilson 161, Dixon 154, Hinchcliffe 143, Kanaan 141, Pagenaud 126, Kimball 122.