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May 28, 2014 - 05:46 PM
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2014 Detroit: Chevrolet IndyCar Race Preview
Posted by: newsla on May 28, 2014 - 05:41 PM
IndyCar Weekend Team Reports
2014 Detroit: Chevrolet IndyCar Race Preview

The Chevrolet Indy Duel in Detroit will mark the Verizon IndyCar Series’ fifth visit to Detroit, and it’s third since 2008. The Motor City hosted Indy car racing from 1989-91 in Downtown Detroit. The race moved to Belle Isle Park from 1992-2001 and 2007-2008 and returned in 2012. The 2014 event will mark the 15th year for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) to compete at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park and the team’s 16th and 17th races.


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The team’s highest start of second place came in the inaugural running on Belle Isle in 1992 by Bobby Rahal and last year by James Jakes in Dual 2. Bobby Rahal brought the team its highest finish with a win in 1992 and Jakes added a third podium for the team last year with his second place finish. In total, the team has earned three podiums (James Jakes 2013 & Max Papis 2000 – 2nd), four top-five finishes and 12 top-10’s here (chart available). Prior to 2014, the team prepared a total of 23 entries for drivers such as Bobby Rahal (1992-1998), Mike Groff (1993-94), Raul Boesel (1995), Bryan Herta (1996-99), Max Papis (1999-2001), Kenny Brack (2000-01), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2007-08) Takuma Sato (2012), Graham Rahal (2013) and James Jakes (2013). The No. 15 National Guard entry for Graham Rahal will bring that total to 24 in 2014.

Last year in Detroit Jakes earned his best series start on Friday of fourth place, started third due to an engine penalty for Franchitti but finished 10th in Saturday’s race after struggling with the handling of his race car on red alternate tires and drove into runoff area which dropped him to 21st at one point. He bettered his qualifying record with a second place start for Sunday’s race, led four laps but six caution periods contributed to multiple pit strategies. He gained ground by leading Laps 55-58 of 70 before his final stop, came out in second place and held off a hard charging Mike Conway, who won Dual 1, to earn a career-best finish in Indy car. Rahal qualified 14th for Saturday’s race (engine penalty, started 23rd) and 15th for Sunday’s race and finished ninth in both.

The Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit will mark the first of three doubleheaders on the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. The series will race a pair of 70-lap races Saturday and Sunday on the 2.36-mile temporary street circuit, posing a unique challenge for drivers and teams. Doubleheaders will also take place in the Toronto and Houston street events. While the forecast will be perfect for spectators, National Guard driver Rahal concedes that it will be physically demanding for the drivers.
“Its going to be tough; its going to be a brutal weekend for us physically because every day looks like its going to be nice and sunny, and hot. Based on that, this is going to be one of the most demanding weekends that we will ever compete in. But it’s the same for everybody. I feel like my physical preparation is pretty good, and physically I can compete with everybody out here. I can tell you that with 85-degree days and a full race distance, we’re all going to sleep well on Saturday and Sunday night.”

The event will be Graham’s fifth and sixth race here. He qualified 14th for Dual 1 in Detroit in 2013 but started 23rd due to an unapproved engine change at the previous race in Indianapolis. He gained three spots on the opening lap and another two on the first restart on Lap 4. The team elected for an alternate strategy and the timing of the caution flags worked in the team’s favor and Rahal was able to climb 14 spots to finish ninth. He qualified 15th for Dual 2 in Detroit and finished ninth… In 2012, he qualified seventh with Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing but had a 10-grid penalty for an unapproved engine change and started 17th. He was eighth when he made his final stop on Lap 45/60 but during the red flag stop to repair the track, a clutch problem surfaced and he was unable to continue and retired in 19th place… In 2008 he drove for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and progressed to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying for the first time in his series career and qualified sixth. The team chose the same pit strategy as then race leader Dixon which almost worked but a late race fourth caution botched the plan and he had to stop for a splash of fuel with three laps to go and dropped to 13th.

Rahal was in sixth place in the late stages of the previous street course race – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- and looked to move up further once the pit cycle was complete but he was hit from behind by rookie Mikhail Aleshin and dropped to 13th, where he finished. Both he and teammate Oriol Servia felt the team had made vast improvements with the handling of the race car for race day. Rahal is hoping that carries over to the Raceway on Belle Isle street course.
“I think quite a bit of our Long Beach setup should transfer to Detroit. At the end of the day the street courses are all pretty similar. Once you get the car in a close range, you shouldn’t have to change it all that much. I think we are starting to get closer to that range. We have more development and work to be done but I feel like what found in Long Beach should be a good starting point in Detroit. Now we are back to a single car team which means more pressure on me to do all of the heavy lifting on my own but I think everybody will rise to the challenge.

“We have had a lot of bad luck this year and everyone is fired up. We’re obviously not happy about our point standing but if you look at the season from the standpoint of our potential finishes, it’s encouraging. At Long Beach we would have had a top-five had we not been punted and at the Indy road race we would have had a top-five at a minimum if we hadn’t been punted. To have the issues that we had in the Indy 500 too put us further behind. We need some luck. I think we’re going to find that we are relatively competitive at times but we definitely need some help from Lady Luck. The guys are excited and fired up. We all want to go out and win like never before. I think everyone is going to see a team this weekend at Detroit that is eager to compete and run up front like we should.”

After competing on the streets of Long Beach, the series has raced on the smooth surfaces of Barber Motorsports Park and Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s newly-configured road course and the 2.5 mile oval. The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit marks the return to the challenge of the tight confines and bumpy surfaces of city streets.
“Detroit is always a pretty tough place. It’s going to be pretty rough and bumpy as street courses are. I don’t know what changes have been made from last year but I’m sure there will be some things and we’re going to have to adapt to the situation. I feel like we had a great car in Long Beach in the race so I feel pretty positive about developing from there and see how competitive we will be going forward.”

This year there are two 45-minute practice sessions rather than one last year. What are your thoughts on that?
For the 2013 race, there was only one 75 minute practice session on Friday, followed by qualifying for Saturday’s race. This year the series has scheduled two 45-minute practice sessions with three hours in between to make setup changes. Rahal believes this will allow the teams more time to prepare and improve the show.
“I think it’s a great change. We need to go out and learn about how to improve and make our cars better. I appreciate the series doing that because it’s definitely something we need. I think it will help to have qualifying Saturday and Sunday mornings before the respective races. It’s a good change.”

Bobby Rahal competed in downtown Detroit from 1989-1991 with two second place finishes to his credit. When the series moved to Belle Isle, he won the inaugural event in 1992 and went on to compete there through 1998. In total, he competed in Detroit 10 times (three downtown, seven on Belle Isle) with one win (1992), three podiums (2nd - 1990, 1991), four top five finishes and five top-10’s. A chart is available upon request.

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