IndyCar’s Belle Isle track getting facelift
It’s October in Detroit, so the unofficial state flower – the
construction barrel – is still in full bloom.
It was definitely true on Belle Isle, where workers were pouring
and smoothing asphalt on Tuesday – a beautiful sight for a group of
”This is great,” said new series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
”I’m really excited to see the way this place is getting
In June, the IndyCar series returned to Belle Isle, only to have
the Detroit Grand Prix shortened when the track began to fall
apart. Even after a two-hour red flag to fill holes and replace
long strips of synthetic rubber, the drivers were only able to
complete 60 of the scheduled 90 laps.
For many races, that would have been the end of their
affiliation with the series, but when it is Roger Penske’s baby,
things are different. Not only will the tour come back to Belle
Isle in June, it will do so for a doubleheader – a 70-lap race on
Saturday and 70 more laps on Sunday.
”This is a huge event for the city of Detroit,” said Grand
Prix Chairman Bud Denker. ”Not only are we going to have a better
track, thanks to millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades, we’re
going to have a bigger track with the expansion from 2.1 miles to
2.35 miles. And to celebrate that, we’re going to be the host of
the first IndyCar doubleheader – what we’re calling the `Dual in
The track is going to return to a configuration used in 2000-01,
adding a half-mile straightaway through the tree-lined center of
”I don’t know for sure what effect it will have, but it will
definitely give us another place to pass,” said series veteran
Tony Kanaan. ”That’s a good thing on this track, and it should
make things more exciting for the fans.”
After a short press conference, the drivers jumped behind the
wheels of Chevy Tahoes to drive parts of the track and check out
the construction that is still going on along the riverfront.
”We’re way ahead of schedule,” Denker told them. ”This will
all be done in three weeks, because we need to be finished before
the snow gets here.”
Even before getting out of their trucks, the drivers were
impressed by what they saw.
”There’s a lot more space here, and we’re not driving over
seams all the time like we were last time,” said Oriol Servia, who
finished fifth in June. ”It’s going to be a lot faster and a lot
The drivers watched and chatted with construction workers as a
complete rebuild continued on a road that is used 51 weeks a year
as the public route around the scenic island.
”That’s the reason this was such an expensive project – we’ve
done engineering studies far beyond anything that has been done for
this track or this island before,” Denker said. ”We’ve even done
core samples from around the track and videotaped the sewer lines
to make sure we could improve the drainage. We always have to
remember that we aren’t only building a racing surface, we’re
building something that has to survive as a public road during a
Judging from Tuesday’s reactions, they are well on their way to
accomplishing that goal.
”This looks fantastic,” said Marco Andretti. ”I love racing
in Detroit, and this is going to change everything.”
The reaction of the drivers was crucial, since they will be
asked to drive two full-distance, full-point races here next
”I hurt already,” Servia joked. ”When you race this track on
a Sunday, you wake up Monday and you are sore. Now we’re going to
wake up feeling like that on Sunday, then have to do it all over
Andretti agreed, saying that the most important part of
equipment that weekend will be the team’s massage table, but other
drives focused on the implications of having a pair of races in two
”Most of the time, when you have two races in the same weekend,
they are both half-distance for half points,” said Will Power, who
finished behind Hunter-Reay in the 2012 standings. ”These are two
full races for full points, so the entire championship race could
change for people that have good weekends and people that have bad
It has been less than a month since the season ended, and even
though the drivers were shuttling media members in their trucks,
they found it impossible to completely hold back their instincts.
Andretti charged past Servia heading onto pit lane at the end of
the tour, while Hunter-Reay stayed out on the main track and
”I can’t wait to get back here,” he said.